Get with the Programme – Christmas Special

West Ham United Programme collector Stuart Allen says Christmas fixtures are nothing new for the Hammers
West Ham United Programme collector Stuart Allen says Christmas fixtures are nothing new for the Hammers...
From the earliest days of West Ham's participation in the Football League in 1919 until the late 1950s, it was standard practice for the fixture calendar to include a game to be played on Christmas Day – unless it fell on a Sunday.

Looking at the records, these matches often involved travelling long distances, with the reverse fixture played on Boxing Day.

For example, in 1928/29 the Hammers were at home to Newcastle United on 25 December and both teams then had to travel up to Tyneside to fulfill the return fixture the following day!

The last instance of the Hammers playing on Christmas Day was in 1958, when the fixture list threw up a far less onerous travel schedule for the holiday period as the opponents on 25 and 26 December were local rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

For this special festive online edition of Get with the Programme I have decided to look back at season 1934/35.

At the time, the Hammers were sitting in a good position in Division Two just two points behind early leaders Brentford, who would go on to win promotion, while opponents Bury were in a comfortable eighth position.

Christmas Day 1934 fell on a Tuesday and so the fixture schedule threw up the prospect of teams playing four games in eight days!

The travelling schedule undertaken by the Hammers at this time is rather interesting and was as follows.
Friday 21 December – Train from Euston at 14.50 with destination Manchester where the team would have an overnight stay before a light lunch and then onward coach travel to Oldham Athletic for the afternoon fixture at Boundary Park on Saturday 22 December.

Saturday 22 December – Get back on the coach to Manchester to catch the 17.45 back to Euston to arrive in London around 21.00.

Monday 24 December – Head back to Euston to catch the same time train as on Friday with the same destination for another overnight stay before another light lunch and then by coach to Gigg Lane, Bury for a 14.15 kick-off on Christmas Day. Then again it was back to Manchester for a train back to London!

Manager Charlie Paynter wanted to keep the team together when they returned to the capital and so they were all booked into a London hotel for Christmas night before presumably having another light lunch and then onward to Upton Park for the 14.25 Boxing Day kick-off against Bury.
The team were then allowed home after the game to see their friends and families with a home game against Hull City to follow on Saturday 29 December.
For the record, the Hammers won both away games at Oldham (2-1) Bury (4-2) before the Boxing Day clash at Upton Park.

The Hammers produced their standard four-page programme for the fixture, with a cover that was virtually unchanged for over a decade until War intervened in 1939.

The back page featured the fixtures and results of the teams, while the expected line-ups were to be found on the inside back page.

Other than a London Combination table and a list of goalscorers, the remainder of the programme featured a general Notes section, which usually carried injury and recovery news, short match reports and info about upcoming fixtures.

At this time an article entitled ‘Players Histories’ also featured. For this fixture the featured player was Fred Wallbanks, who had very recently signed for the Club.

Wallbanks had been a journeyman forward playing for a number of teams before being converted to a left-back at Bradford City.

It was hoped that his wandering days would now be over but it was not to be as he left for Nottingham Forest the following summer, having played in one senior game for the Club – as a right-half!

For the Boxing Day fixture, a large crowd made their way to the Boleyn. Unfortunately although the ground was only estimated to be a quarter full 15 minutes before kick-off, the large late influx of people caused severe problems around the entry points and the gates were closed, with several thousand being locked outside although there was space available inside.

The Club announced that remedies to this problem would immediately be put in place but they did ask that spectators arrive at the ground somewhat earlier to help alleviate the last-minute rush.

As it was, a crowd of 34,496 did gain admittance to see the Hammers continue their good run with two goals from Jimmy Ruffell and one from Vic Watson giving them a comfortable 3-0 victory.

West Ham would have a good season overall, but missed out on promotion back to Division One on the final day.