Ryan Giggs wearing a Santa Claus hat

Six stars who shone for United on Boxing Day

Friday 25 December 2020 07:59

Who are Manchester United's all-time heroes in fixtures falling on 26 December? We count down from six to one...

6. Edwin van der Sar 
In four Boxing Day outings for United, the veteran Dutch goalkeeper enjoyed a perfect winning record and was never beaten in open play. Throughout the festivities, van der Sar’s organisational skills were key to the Reds’ invariably excellent results. He ran a tight ship on his very first Boxing Day outing with the Reds – a comfortable 3-0 home stroll against West Brom in 2005 in which the Baggies seldom had a sniff – and he did the same a year later. Wigan’s Leighton Baines smashed in a last-minute penalty to provide the only blemish on Edwin’s personal record, but it was to no avail as United won 3-1. The Dutchman’s outstanding contribution came in 2008 when, jet-lagged from winning the Club World Cup in Japan, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were subjected to an aerial bombardment by Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. Edwin held firm for another clean sheet in a priceless 1-0 win, then repeated the feat in serener circumstances a year on as Sunderland were brushed aside 2-0 at Old Trafford.
Van der Sar keeps Stoke at bay on Boxing Day in 2008.

5. Dennis Viollet
The Fallowfield-born striker was indiscriminate in his goalscoring, bagging 179 goals against 38 different teams in just 293 appearances, so it comes as no surprise to find that Viollet was partial to a yuletide strike or two. On his first Boxing Day outing, aged just 20, the pacy inside-forward notched the only goal of the game as United beat Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, pouncing on a loose ball in the predatory fashion which would become his hallmark. Two years on, in the Busby Babes’ first title-winning season, Viollet saved two of his 20-strong season haul for a 5-1 thumping of Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford, and the following Boxing Day put United 2-1 ahead in a hard-fought 3-1 comeback win over Cardiff City. In 1958, following the club’s first post-Munich Christmas, Dennis, who survived the crash just 10 months prior, sealed a rousing home win over Aston Villa with a searing solo run and impish finish.

4. Dimitar Berbatov 
One of only three Reds to claim a Boxing Day hat-trick, alongside Alex Dawson (v Chelsea, 1960) and Nobby Lawton (v Nottingham Forest, 1961), Berbatov crammed plenty of festive heroics into his four seasons at Old Trafford. The Reds had three Boxing Day fixtures during the Bulgarian’s four seasons with the club, beginning with the vital 2008 victory over Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. While Carlos Tevez’s winner took the points and the plaudits, it was Berbatov’s coolly taken assist which laid the goal on a plate for the Argentinian. Having squeezed in a cheeky clincher at Hull on 27 December 2009, Berba was at it again 364 days later, heading in an early opener against Sunderland and prodding home a deflected second which was ultimately attributed as an Anton Ferdinand own-goal. A year on, there was no such ambiguity as he turned home a clinical hat-trick against Wigan to crown his own remarkable sequence of Boxing Day brilliance.
Berba took home the matchball after scoring a Boxing Day hat-trick against Wigan in 2011.
3. Stan Pearson 
Nobody has scored for United on more Boxing Days than Pearson, the man described by Matt Busby as “absolutely devastating in the penalty box. For an example of the perfect goal-taker, I doubt many could have been in the same class as Stan.” The crafty inside-forward scored on 26 December 1946, 1948, 1949 and 1951 for the Reds, each time making a key contribution to the game’s outcome. Pearson’s scrambled effort after just two minutes of Busby’s first Boxing Day game secured a 1-0 win over Bolton; two years later his powerful effort provided the Reds’ second in a 2-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield; but it was in 1949’s 2-0 win over Arsenal that the Salford schemer took centre stage as his brilliant brace, scored inside half an hour, settled a top-of-the-table encounter at Old Trafford. Two years on, Stan put the Reds two clear against Fulham, only for the Cottagers to nab an unlikely 3-3 draw late on. Nonetheless, Pearson had taken his place in club history.
The prolific Stan Pearson scored on four different Boxing Days for the Reds.
2. Ryan Giggs 
Perhaps predictably, as United’s all-time leading appearance maker, Giggs is the Reds’ definitive veteran of fixtures on this day. Moreover, the Welshman has a staggering record, winning 12 of his 15 Boxing Day encounters, drawing two and losing just once – despite his best efforts when he scored to bring United back into the 2002 defeat at Middlesbrough. Giggs averaged a goal every three Boxing Day games, starting with a fine solo effort against Oldham back in 1991. A delicious chip against Nottingham Forest (1998), a thumping header at Everton (2001) and a clinical hook against Bolton (2004) completed Ryan’s scoring, but his influence extended beyond mere goals. He also provided key roles in goals for Ruud van Nistelrooy (v Everton, 2001), Rio Ferdinand (v West Brom, 2006) and Dimitar Berbatov (v Sunderland, 2010), but invariably brought class and calm in each of his 15 Boxing Day outings. As Sir Alex mused after the Welshman’s virtuoso show at Goodison Park on 26 December 2001: “Ryan’s the best in Europe at what he does.”

1. Brian McClair 
“From a personal point of view, it would be wonderful if we didn’t have games over the Christmas period,” McClair noted in his 1998 autobiography. “However, it’s a bumper time for clubs themselves. An awful lot of people want to go to a football match on Boxing Day afternoon, and who are we to deprive them?” Putting his own feelings aside, the Scottish striker did a sterling job of concealing his festive preferences, comfortably establishing himself as the Reds’ leading Boxing Day goalscorer with a remarkable haul of seven goals from six starts – including a run of braces on three successive fixtures. A second-half pair in a 3-0 stroll against Norwich in 1990 marked the commencement of McClair’s startling run, while the following year’s madcap 6-3 win at Boundary Park contained two goals in the space of three minutes from the crafty marksman.
Boxing clever: Brian McClair knew how to score goals in Christmas games.
Sure enough, when the Reds found themselves three goals behind to Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day 1992, there was McClair to fuel the fightback, reducing the arrears with a pair of clinical headers before Eric Cantona slid home a late equaliser. “McClair was always a threat – he could have had five,” said Owls boss Trevor Francis. Only a flabbergasting close-range stop from Blackburn goalkeeper Tim Flowers prevented McClair from netting a close-range header the following year as well, but Paul Ince was on hand to turn in the rebound and snatch a share of the spoils with two minutes to go. Had that gone in, Choccy’s run would have ended up as scoring on five successive Boxing Days, as the old master was at it again in 1994, firing home the winner at Stamford Bridge less than a minute after Chelsea had recovered from two goals down. A renowned wordsmith and intellect, both as a player and a coach, it is perhaps fitting that one of the definitive wise men of Old Trafford lore should be the outstanding Boxing Day figure in Manchester United’s history.