5 Of The Best: New Year’s Day Games

By Pete H

In our heads, New Year’s Day games are part and parcel of your average football season. It’s almost etched into our souls – much like what we consider to be an obligatory Boxing Day get together. Even better were the good old days when you could set your watch by the fixture computer. You’d take on one of your nearest rivals on Boxing Day… and then do it all over again a week later on New Year’s Day. Sadly, that ain’t such a Football League thing to do. It was more of a ‘Conference thing’, if you catch our drift. And yet that hasn’t stopped us having to overcome the monster hangover with each passing year; Boro’ given the task of getting our new year off to a flying start.

It didn’t always happen like that, however. Some of our New Year’s Day games over the years were like seeing our over-indulgences of the night before performed as interpretative dance. On the flip side, of course, are those various results that made you think “this’ll definitely be our year”; a sentiment that usually lasts for a week or two before resigning ourselves to mid-table or whatever. Hey, the hope still lasts longer than your latest New Year’s Resolution to give up carrots or learn a new dance move. Whatever – we’re drifting off piste. Despite us not having a New Year’s Day game to kick off 2023, here are five of the best Boro’ curtain-raisers to the calendar year.

1. Slough Town (A), 6-1 – 1997

Boro’ were really strutting their stuff during the mid-1990s. After reaching the GM Vauxhall Conference in 1994, our sights were now set on climbing into the Football League. And, for all intents and purposes, we fully earned that right in 1996; winning the Conference title in our second season at that level. The pressure and expectation, however, were now mounting. Heading into the 1996-7 campaign, we had to go up against the knowledge that no side had retained the title since Altrincham in 1981. But we were prepared to give it a bloody good go – confirming our status as the best side in non-league football, while righting the wrong of the previous season.

As the calendar flicked over from 1996 to 1997, we were looking in good shape. We hadn’t lost in the league since the start of November. It hadn’t been a flawless festive period, however. Slough Town came to us on Boxing Day and went home with a point. So, the prospect of us going to theirs on New Year’s Day wasn’t the most reassuring one. In the end of course, we smashed it; Barry Hayles and Stuart Beevor both grabbing a brace as we hit the Rebels for six on their own patch. As one of our great New Year’s Day games, it set up nicely for the rest of a big battle ahead. Sadly, we ran out of puff under the weight of various cup runs – and ultimately fell short in the title chase.

2. Cambridge United (H), 4-1 – 2010

If that Slough result didn’t ultimately bring us the deliverance we craved, here’s one result that did. The 2009-10 campaign was, as we know, a special one in the history of this club. And our festive double-header pit us against Cambridge United; the side that did for us in the semi-finals of the playoffs at the end of the previous campaign. If our memory serves us right, this was one of the very few New Year’s Day games to survive the cold weather in the Blue Square Premier. You can tell that much is true because it even earned a feature on Sky Sports News after the final whistle. Anyway, we’d got the job done in the snow at the Abbey on Boxing Day – what could we do here?

Even better, is what. After a tentative start in the first 20-or-so minutes, Boro’ sprung into life with Yemi Odubade’s 25th-minute effort. Mind you, our guests did draw level on 38 minutes – so we hadn’t really shaken off that early uncertainty. Thankfully, Lee Boylan put us back in front on the stroke of half time; probably (as they so often say) changing the direction of the game. Within 20 minutes of the restart, we put the game out of reach. Boylan added his second after Chris Beardsley had got himself on the scoresheet. To add insult to injury for the Us, they were reduced to 10 men in the final few minutes. In reality, however, they had been well beaten long before that point.

“It looked like men against boys,” said Us boss Martin Ling. “We were lucky to only get two put past us in the second half.”

3. Cheltenham Town (H), 4-1 – 2018

Boro’ were having a funny ol’ season in 2017-8. Our results were up and down – and that showed itself pretty neatly over the festive period too. After tonking Chesterfield just before the ‘big day’, we then lost heavily on Boxing Day to Lincoln City. A few days later, Crawley were on the receiving end of a charitable Boro’ side; winning 1-0 at the Broadfield Stadium. That trip to West Sussex was actually on 30 December – so gave us two days to shake off two successive defeats and get things back on track heading into the New Year.

Our visitors for our first match of 2018? Cheltenham Town.

To be honest, it look as if the rot had set in; Boro’s poor run looking set to continue when Mohamed Eisa put the Robins ahead in no more than two minutes. But then something clicked for us. Matt Godden pulled us level on 23 minutes, before Tom Pett edged us ahead with 10 minutes of the first half remaining; beating ‘keeper Scott Flinders to the ball and rolling it home off the post. Two became three (the Spice Girls’ less successful song) when Danny Newton scored on 69 minutes and the scoring was completed when Pett doubled up with a couple of minutes still to play. The win actually moved us above the Robins in the table, which was – er – nice?

4. Boreham Wood (H), 2-0 – 1992

New Year’s Day games against Boreham Wood aren’t uncommon for Boro’. This was the second time we’d faced off against the Wood at the start of the year. Unlike the previous encounter five years beforehand, however, we weren’t the ones doing the travelling. Nor did Boro’ get on the wrong end of a thumping. Much had changed for us between our two New Year’s Day meetings with our fellow Herts side. It was still a Diadora League Division One fixture. But Cloughie was now in charge at Broadhall Way. We’d also blitzed Division Two North the previous season to earn another shot at that level.

As a barometer of our progress, the fixture computer handed us the Wood on New Year’s Day again. We got it right this time. A brace from Shaun Debnam did the deed for a Boro’ side who were certainly not returning back to Division Two North any time soon. In fact, we’d only lose once in the next FIVE months when it came to the league. And that sort of record unsurprisingly gets you promoted.

5. Aldershot Town (H), 3-2 – 2007

When it comes to our best New Year’s Day games, this one is bittersweet. Under the leadership of Mark Stimson, Boro’ were playing some nice football – even if our league form was, at times, patchy. Earlier on in the campaign, the Shots sent us packing with a 4-0 win down at the Rec. It was, admittedly, a time when Stimmo’s time was only just coming together. But it was also a reminder that we had standards to meet if we were to get promoted from the Conference. By the time the Shots came to us, things were clicking – four wins on the bounce in all competitions seeing us through December and into the new calendar year.

Could we make it five to start 2007 off with a bang? Well, yes – we could. But the bittersweet part is that it was George Boyd’s last game in Boro’ colours. Peterborough United had waded in with big bucks and it was simply too good an offer. They did, at least, give us the chance to let Boydie bow out in style. As such, the game had a celebratory feel to it; even more so when the tricky winger put us ahead in the first half. Karl Beckford’s leveller wasn’t part of the script – but Boydie signed off in style with a mesmeric effort on 73 minutes. He left the pitch to a rapturous reception in stoppage time after Moro made it three. Not even Kirk Hudson’s late consolation could ruin the occasion.

New Year’s Day games: Our overall record

Like is the case with Boxing Day this season, the calendar means we don’t have a New Year’s Day game to add to the count. Up to and – as they say – including 2023, we’ve played 20 times on the first day of the year. Half of them have been wins and more than half have been at home. Goals are usually guaranteed. So too were games against Rushden & Diamonds for a time. Here’s our overall breakdown…

P 20 – W 10 – D 3 – L 7 – F 37 – A 29 — Home: 12, Away: 8

Most derbies:

  • 3 – Rushden & Diamonds
  • 2 – Boreham Wood, Slough Town

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