Football on Boxing Day, the second day of Christmas, is a long-established tradition in England. Englishmen have been enjoying top-division football along with their holiday festivities since 1888. By the way, this is still topped by the history of American football being played on Thanksgiving in the United States, which goes all the way back to 1876—to a time when both the sport and the federally celebrated holiday were relatively new.
Still, every year, while every other major league in Europe is ‘sound asleep’, players competing in the most competitive, highest-ranked of them all, the English Premier League, are training hard, and playing intense matches against each other in the crisp Albion weather. Anyone lucky enough to make it into the Premier League knows that one of the few downsides is that they have to give up the tranquility of the holiday season.
There are a few Hungarian footballers who know that too well.
Zoltán Gera joined West Bromwich Albion in the summer of 2004. At the end of the year, he came on as a substitute for Andy Johnson in the second half in a game against Liverpool, played on 26 December. Alas, that game did not help his and his West Brom side’s holiday spirit, as they lost 5–0 at home after being reduced to 10 men in the 39th minute.
On the very same day, about 188 kilometres (117 miles) away from Birmingham where Gera was playing, in London, another Hungarian player was on the pitch in a Premier League game. Gábor Király also joined his PL club Crystal Palace in 2004 (this is no coincidence, as that was the year Hungary entered the European Union which included the UK at the time, and thus foreign worker restrictions no longer applied to Hungarian players). On Boxing Day 2004, he was in goal for Palace against Portsmouth, donning his signature gray sweatpants. He too got nothing but a loss from Santa Claus that year, although a more modest 1–0 defeat. Striker Sándor Torghelle, also on the Crystal Palace roster at the time, did not make an appearance in that game.
Of the three players from Hungary playing in the Premier League at the time, only Zoltán Gera managed to ‘stick around’ in the world-famous league for long.
Crystal Palace got relegated at the end of the season. West Brom, however, managed to stay up after a vicious relegation battle, and Gera went on to play a total of eight seasons in the Premier League (transferring to Fulham for a while, then back to West Brom), thus playing during Christmas time became regular routine for him.
Tamás Priskin, on the other hand, only got a little bit of a taste of Boxing Day football in the Premier League. He only spent one season in England’s top flight, playing for Watford, in 2006–2007. On Boxing Day 2006, he was subbed in in the last minute against Arsenal. That game ended in a 2–1 defeat at home for Priskin’s side.
KIrály did return to the PL for a few games in a short-term loan stint with Aston Villa—and that short loan just happened to be in December-January of 2006 and 2007. Which means he got to play in goal in another Boxing Day match in the Premier League. Tottenham beat Villa 2–1 then.
As for other ‘one-timers’ in the Premier League, Hungarian players who only spent one season there, Péter Halmosi could have gotten a Christmas game under his belt in 2008. However, he spent all game on the Hull City bench while his team was getting clobbered 5–1 against Manchester City—who had just gone under their acquisition by the UAE sheik a few months prior, a deal which changed their history forever.
Meanwhile, in the one year Ákos Buzsáky was playing in the league, his Queens Park Rangers side happened to not get any games scheduled for Boxing Day 2011.
We Can Root for Szoboszlai, Kerkez This Christmas
With the recent ascendance of Hungarian football, we are in the lucky position to have two solid starters playing in the Premier League from our nation.
Midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai, the 23-year-old National Team captain, signed with Liverpool in a €70-million transfer in the summer. So far, he has played in every single Premier League game in the season.
Unless an unfortunate injury or suspension comes around, he will be on the pitch in a road game against Burnley on the 26th.
Milos Kerkez, a 20-year-old left-back, is also playing his first season in English top-tier football. His team, AFC Bournemouth, is facing Fulham at home on Boxing Day. Kerkez has played in most of the games in the PL so far (sometimes subbed in from the bench). However, an unfortunate ankle injuury has prevented him from taking part in this great English football tradition.
Szoboszlai’s Liverpool is currently second in the Premier League, while Bournemouth featuring Kerkez is sitting in 12th place. Let’s hope they can get a win for Christmas for their fans.