The Christmas period is one of the highlights of the football season as there is always fixtures galore.
Christmas Day, however, is a football-free zone. Not so in the past and the final full league programme on a Christmas Day was in 1957 when Sheffield Wednesday drew 4-4 with Preston North End. Sixty years earlier in 1897 Wednesday played their first ever home League fixture on Christmas Day.
It was against Stoke City and was at Olive Grove, Wednesday’s ground until they moved to Hillsborough in 1899. Fred Spiksley’s speed meant he was nicknamed ‘the Olive Grove Flyer.’ But, on this particular day the only dash he made was an early one as he was sent off in controversial circumstances.
The referee for the game was Lincoln’s Mr. West, well known to Fred from his Gainsborough Trinity days from 1887 to 1891 as being so biased that when he acted as the Lincoln City linesman he was reported by teams in the Midland Counties League for intimidation. Fred was not happy to discover that Mr. West had been elevated to referee status and feared he might use his new powers to get his own back on those who had objected to him acting as Lincoln City’s ‘twelfth man’.
Fred had netted a goal on a rock hard frosty surface. This made the ball unusually bouncy and difficult to control. Stoke right back John Robertson, who later captained Liverpool to the League title, was a dashing, daring and slightly reckless opponent who seemed to make no allowance for the treacherous underfoot conditions when he tackled for the ball. From a high kick the ball bounced to a tremendous height and when Fred used his shoulder and ball skills to manoeuvre away from his marker it was a masterful move not appreciated by Mr West who blew for a free kick. When Fred politely enquired why he had been penalised the referee ignored him.
When the Wednesday winger then complained about the decision Mr West simply pushed him over on to the icy ground, causing him to fall on his bottom much to the amusement of the crowd. West then told the player to retreat down the pitch but when he positioned himself back the six yards required under the rules then in place this failed to satisfy the referee who told him to retreat further. Fred stood his ground and informed the referee that he was abiding by the rules. The player was intent on defending the free kick at which point Mr West said that for deliberately ignoring his instructions he was dismissing him. Fred initially refused to leave the field but eventually gave way for what was the first and only sending-off in his football career.
Fred’s dismissal meant he appeared before the FA’s disciplinary committee on 5 January 1897. He was exonerated of any blame and was neither fined nor suspended. Neither though was Mr West.