Liverpool press admit it was worth ticket just to see Stoke City star, the Three Kings and hug for ref


Stoke City signed off from Christmas Day football with the perfect headline.

The big day itself might not be on the football calendar these days but Stoke were actually playing regularly on Christmas afternoon up until 1954, when Johnny King supplied the Three Kings narrative with a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Bury.

There were 18,312 at the Victoria Ground to celebrate, let off the washing up to huddle on the terraces and see Stoke clock up an eighth successive win on December 25, stretching all the way back to 1935.

That run included a brilliant 2-1 home win over Liverpool in 1946 when both clubs were battling fiercely to be crowned champions of England, with 30,518 at the Vic – and the Liverpool stand-in keeper Ray Minshull needing to play so well to keep the score down against Freddie Steele and Stan Matthews in their pomp that he received a standing ovation.

Stoke did lose the return fixture at Anfield the very next day, however, in front of 49,494 – and there were at least another 20,000 locked outside trying to get in. Liverpool would beat Stoke to the title by those two crucial points.

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Potter, the Sentinel’s then Stoke correspondent wrote: “The first of the two encounters showed up Stoke at their best – the 2-1 scoreline by no means reflected their margin of superiority – the second saw the City virtually with only 10 men. Alec Ormston, who injured his knee in the first game, received a further knock in a heavy tackle just after the start of the second and was more or less a passenger on the wing.

“The Christmas Day match proved a classical encounter. On a particularly heavy ground both sides played with top speed, accurate football with Stoke the more forceful and dangerous combination. Highlight of the day was the Steele-Matthews combination, which resulted in the Stoke leader scoring both goals.

“The second match again impressed with its tremendous speed but Stoke’s handicap proved the turning point and second half goals from Albert Stubbins and Barry Nieuwenhuys gave Liverpool their revenge. Had the City had a little more luck they would have at least share the points.”

Matthews, then aged 31, was in captivating form.

Our colleagues at the Liverpool Echo reported: “It was worth a Boxing Day trip to Anfield if only to see Matthews.

“He has been criticised as not a good club player but a careful analysis of everything he did proved that Stoke were never more dangerous than the few seconds immediately after he had been given the ball.

“Matthews toys and trifles with the ball and opposition. The full-back who goes into the tackle, believing Matthews is going to hold the ball, finds it astutely moved elsewhere. Then when he decides to hold off, Stanley holds on and coaxes and cajoles his way through at walking pace.

“It all looks very simple. No player moves faster for half a dozen yards and none does more with less effort.”

A year later, the boot was on the other foot. Matthews had left for Blackpool, who Stoke beat 2-1 with two goals again from his old partner Steele.

In 1950, Stoke made Christmas puddings out of Arsenal, winning 3-0 at Highbury on December 25 and 1-0 on Boxing Day back in the Potteries, when they took a first minute lead and then almost immediately had to put their centre-forward in goal.

Roy Brown was that heroic striker who, having scored in the first game then produced a stunning 89-minute emergency turn between the sticks after Dennis Herod had sprained a wrist as he dived backwards on the frozen pitch to claw a shot from under the bar.

In the age before substitutes Herod dusted himself down, put on a sling and spent the rest of the match on the right wing – hitting the bar with one thunderbolt shot.

“Brown quite obviously enjoyed the experience,” wrote Potter.

“He was not in the least perturbed by the weight which Arsenal put into their attacks in the second half, particularly in the last quarter-of-an-hour, and by punching the ball out, picking it up, pouncing on it and turning it over the bar, he stirred the enthusiasm of the largest crowd of the season, 43,315, who at the end rightly acclaimed him – and Herod too.”

Brown had helped give Stoke the lead before his unscheduled change of responsibilities, linking with Les Johnston to set up Frank Bowyer to unleash a rocket shot past Ted Platt. Johnston and Bowyer had both been on the scoresheet the previous day, too.

Stoke ended up playing 28 games in all on December 25 and picked up 12 wins, four draws and 12 defeats.

That was some turnaround considering they only won one of their first 13 Christmas matches, including a none-too-festive long trip to Swansea. Part of that was probably down to the fact that all 13 of those matches were away from home. Stoke were not allowed to play on Holy Days because the Victoria Ground was on church land.

Liam Lawrence’s hat-trick earns Stoke a 3-3 draw at Barnsley on Boxing Day 2007.

Somewhere in there is Sam Vokes as he’s mobbed by teammates after his injury-time winner against Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day

Boxing Day has produced some crackers too – and none much better nor more important than last year’s 3-2 comeback win over Sheffield Wednesday at the bet365 Stadium.

Stoke were bottom at kick-off, Wednesday in third and the visitors were leading 2-1 when the clock ticked into the 93rd minute. Step forward Tyrese Campbell, Sam Vokes and a noise that could be heard way down the A50.

There was a dramatic 3-3 draw at Barnsley in 2007 with a Liam Lawrence hat-trick on the way to promotion to the Premier League, a decade which involved Boxing Day wins over Liverpool and Everton.

Joselu hugs Mark Clattenburg after Stoke win an injury time penalty to beat Everton 4-3.

Yuletide football just somehow has a knack of delivering entertainment.

There was a 4-3 win at Everton on December 28, 2015, for example, a thrilling, twisting, turning spectacular featuring a unique, deft Xherdan Shaqiri volley, Marko Arnautovic slipping on his backside as he scored the winning injury-time penalty – and Joselu actually hugging referee Mark Clattenburg for giving it. Well, it’s that time of year.





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