Throwback Thursday No. 15: The Boxing Day Curse Is Broken Against Cheltenham (2004/05)

Yeovil Town 4 Cheltenham 1 – Sunday 26th December 2004

Christmas is usually a time for festive local derbies, but for a long time it was also associated with one thing – the Boxing Day Curse. When I first started going to Huish Park in the 90’s, as far as I was concerned any Boxing Day fixture was a write-off, we never won. My first true exposure to the severity of The Curse came in 1999 with a long trip to Forest Green to see Yeovil get absolutely thumped 3-0 by the Conference new boys. The salt in the wounds was rubbed in by a goal from one David Norton, who had arrived at Yeovil in the summer, got injured, presumably decided he didn’t like the treatment room, and moved to Forest Green when he’d got fit, scoring against us in one of his first games for them.

It was at this point that I learned about The Curse, as Yeovil had not won on Boxing Day since a 2-0 win over Farnborough in 1987. That was during a stint in the Isthmian League (then named Vauxhall-Opel), and in 20-odd years in the Conference between 1979 and 2003, Yeovil only won twice on Boxing Day, both away – 1-0 at Forest Green in 2000 and 3-1 at Weymouth in 1983. In fact 1983/84 was a pretty good year as the win at Weymouth was followed with a 6-3 win on New Year’s Day, with two goals each for Brown, Finnigan and Doherty.

In what you could call the ‘Conference Years’ of 1979-2003, Yeovil played 21 times on Boxing Day and won only three, losing 12 times – that is relegation form in any division. By contrast, New Year’s Day form was generally much better, playing 19, winning 10 and losing only five. Not quite promotion form, but probably playoffs. Although in later years the Boxing Day fixtures tended to be away from home with the New Year’s Day game at Huish Park (apparently at the club’s request), it was not always the case that Yeovil lost away and won at home – against Weymouth in 1988/89, the Glovers lost the home match 3-2, but won away 2-0.

This seems to have been mostly a Conference problem, as in the Southern League days of the 1970’s Yeovil were unbeaten on Boxing Day and won seven out of nine fixtures between 1969 and 1978 (1979/80 being the first year of what is now called the National League).

Depending on where Christmas fell, there would occasionally be games on the 26th and the 27th. Not usually against the same team, as New Year’s Day tended to provide the return fixture, but in 1969/70 Yeovil managed to beat Bath twice in 24 hours, with a 2-0 win away on the 26th and 2-1 win at Huish on 27th! There were occasionally no league games on New Year’s Day due to the FA Cup, which historically had its Third Round day on the first Saturday in January, although these days it tends to be the second. The games against Cardiff in 1999 and twice against Arsenal all led to New Year’s Day league games being postponed.

With Weymouth and Bath both relegated, when Yeovil returned to the Conference in 1997 there was a bit of a shortage of ‘local’ rivals, the first season being played at Cheltenham some 80 miles away. From 1998/99 we got Forest Green for a few years, which is slightly closer but doesn’t feel like it, especially after a 3-0 defeat. The curse definitely felt real then, as even Gary Johnson’s all-conquering team of 2002/03 lost there, almost losing by two goals for the only time that season, until Skiverton’s injury time consolation made it 1-2. It was our only defeat in the second half of the season.

Into the League then and things didn’t start much better, with a dismal 2-1 defeat at home to struggling Kidderminster in 2003. In atrocious conditions which probably should have seen the game abandoned due to heavy water on the pitch, Kevin Gall did equalise to make it 1-1 but not only did the Glovers go on to lose 2-1, but also had to put up with John Williams gloating at the Yeovil fans, as he would do again when he dived for a penalty in the reverse fixture, but Chris Weale had the last laugh in that one as the Glovers won 1-0.

In 2004, and back to playing Cheltenham again, even though Yeovil were in very good form and closing in on leaders Scunthorpe, it was a case of ‘here we go again’ when the visitors took the lead through a deflected shot from Martin ‘Disco’ Devaney. It all turned out alright in the end though, as goals from Gall and Jevons put Yeovil ahead at the break and late goals from Davies and Terry gave the final score a comfortable look. This was a time when Yeovil were on fire, and it seemed like no matter how many goals the opposition scored, Gary Johnson’s men would just score more. Just a couple of days later, they would go in 2-0 down at Cambridge, but come back in the second half to win 5-3. It would be their best run of form of the League Two winning season, winning 13 out of 15 league and cup games (not including the Somerset Premier Cup) and losing just once, down to ten men at Lincoln. In that period, Yeovil  scored 41 goals (an average of almost three a game!) and conceded 19; conceding over one goal a game, but still winning almost all of them. If you wanted to see goals in 2004/05, you watched Yeovil.

In the Conference and below, the festive tradition is to play the same local team twice on New Year’s Day and Boxing Day. This is not the case in the League, as the Boxing Day game tended to be local-ish (Charlton, anyone?), but the NYD game could be anyone. There no longer seems to be any evidence of a curse since that defeat at home to Kidderminster, with Boxing Day (4 wins from 15) and New Year’s Day (3 wins from 11) being about the same. Of course much of these years were spent in League One where the games were much harder so we would expect to win less often than in the Conference. The 3-1 win away at Brighton in 2006, followed by another win at Crewe a few days later came as a pleasant surprise as Russell Slade’s men found form over Christmas and pushed for the playoffs.

The 4-0 win at home against Wycombe in 2009/10 was one of the most comfortable and enjoyable Boxing Days I’ve had at Huish Park, and there haven’t been a lot of good ones! After that though, we went on a dismal run of five Boxing Day defeats in a row including consecutive 3-0 defeats by Bournemouth and an injury time loss at home to Charlton. There were no wins at all until 2017, with a 2-0 win at Cheltenham being our last Boxing Day win in the Football League. The return to the Conference brought a 6-2 win over Torquay in 2019, followed by an absolute hammering at Plainmoor that we won’t talk about. 2020 didn’t happen so that’s fine. This would appear to mean that the 6-2 win over Torquay was our first win EVER at home in the Conference on Boxing Day.

So has the curse returned? Only time will tell. I won’t be putting money on Yeovil to win at Torquay that’s for sure, but New Year’s Day will probably be okay.

Team that day: Chris Weale, Paul Terry, Michael Rose, Terry Skiverton, Colin Miles, Darren Way, Lee Johnson, Kevin Gall, Andrejs Stolcers (sub. Andy Lindegaard 80), Bartosz Tarachulski (sub Scott Guyett 88), Phil Jevons (sub. Arron Davies 68). Subs not used: Steve Collis, Adrian Caceres

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