Boxing Day Blues (Leeds United – NFFC Programme Notes 2012/13)

Although I tend to bask in festive glory throughout the month of December, I’ve had my fair share of Christmas trauma over the years. When I was just eight years old, I was forced to spend Christmas Eve fending off a couple of burglars with a series of booby traps, after my parents had conveniently gone away, leaving me home alone! Lucky for them, I didn’t inform Social Services.

The following year I awoke on Christmas Morning to find that the snowman I had frolicked with the previous night had melted, leaving nothing but a tattered scarf as a memento of our time together.

Despite the emotional scars these experiences left me with, I had finally moved on and begun to enjoy my traditional English Christmases … until this year.

After a promising build up, yesterday’s seasonal celebrations were a huge disappointment!

It all started traditionally enough, unravelling a wealth of exquisitely wrapped club shop paraphernalia from underneath the glimmering lights of the Christmas tree, whilst Mother tinkered with the turkey and Dad recreated the 1979 European Cup Final using only baubles and figurines from the nativity scene. But when we all sat down, just prior to Christmas dinner, it was all too apparent that something was missing!

Where was the film ‘Escape to Victory’?

It is as much a part of the Christmas tradition as mistletoe, mince pies or Micky Quinn, and yet some greasy, Grinch-like, capitalist TV scheduler took it upon himself to banish this cinematic triumph from our screens and replace it with a God-forsaken documentary about a gang of disobedient Americanised jungle animals.

For those too young to have seen the 1981 classic, it’s set during World War II and stars some of the World’s greatest footballers, including Pele, Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardiles and, most importantly, cult hero and renowned ladies-man John Wark. The basic premise of this critically acclaimed masterpiece, which also stars Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone, is that a group of Allied prisoners of war are to play in an exhibition match against the Germans.

The Allies agree to the game, with the intention of escaping at half-time. But their intricately woven scheme is blown to smithereens when the power of football, and the hope of victory against all odds, draws them back for the second half!

The challenge is made greater by the fact that the referee is unabashedly biased, giving every decision the way of the Germans, whilst the commentator glosses over this with sordid propaganda. I suppose it’s a bit like playing away at Old Trafford.

I won’t give the ending of the film away, suffice it to say it is more heart-warming than sharing a cup of chicken soup with Noel Edmonds himself. One year Mother brought in the Christmas ham just as the film was reaching its climax and it began to glow, without the aid of honey or apricot. True story.

Where else will our children get to see Pele score an overhead kick, whilst nursing a broken arm? Where else will our children get to see an assortment of retired footballers out-act Sylvester Stallone? And, perhaps most importantly, without ‘Escape to Victory’ what are us football addicts to do with our Christmas day?

The lack of ‘Escape to Victory’ on Christmas Day had a disastrous knock-on effect. I just didn’t feel it appropriate to mention football thereafter. There was no makeshift game of Subbuteo with a Brussels sprout for the ball and parsnips for the goalframe, nobody bothered to mention that the Christmas Pudding bore an uncanny resemblance to Kris Commons (in terms of both appearance and aroma), and I didn’t even feel it appropriate to do my Fantasy League changes for today’s fixtures.

It may sound harsh, but I blame the whole Christmas Day 2012 travesty on Sepp Blatter. Football and Christmas have always been intrinsically linked. They go together like Morecambe and Wise, holly and ivy, pigs and blankets … and yet somewhere along the way that has been lost!

I thought Christmas was supposed to be about us all coming together to celebrate Jonathan Greening’s birthday, to remember the relative success of the Christmas tree formation and to spare a thought for those less fortunate … the footballers who sacrifice their turkey and tinsel to give us a joyous Boxing Day spectacle. Without ‘Escape to Victory’, I just don’t know what Christmas is about anymore!

In its absence, there was no football at all yesterday. Without even a light-hearted Scottish Premier League match to keep us going, Christmas Day for the football addict was much like one big fat sandwich of cold turkey.

Thank God it’s Boxing Day!

(If ‘Escape to Victory’ was on another channel and I simply missed it, then please disregard all of the above.)





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