Scarborough Boxing Day Traditions (Fishermen vs. Firemen football match)

Each year people congregate on the South Bay beach in Scarborough. They watch the Fishermen versus the Firemen football match and then usually move on to the Harbour quayside to watch the Crazy Raft Race. Few know the history and origins of these traditions. Most wonder why the Fire Brigade play against the Fishermen. They just watch the comedy football match.  It’s all played in good humour though at times it resembles a rugby match rather than football. The half time is characterised by a team talk complete with cigarettes and cans of beer. At full time scores are settled and players from the opposing team are dragged to the sea and dunked. The good humour continues in the local pubs throughout the day and night.

The story begins in 1893 when huge storms raged on the North east coast. The gales began on the 16th November and continued till they reached Hurrican force on the 18th. There were many ships on the coast. In fact the whole of the Scarborough Fishing Fleet was at sea. Many were away from the heart of the storm in Scottish waters. Slowly the fishing smacks returned to port one by one.

No news was bad news though as one of the smacks – the Evelyn and MAud still had not returned. A report had been received that it was in Bridlington Bay but this proved false. On the 2nd December wreckage was washed up at Easington near the mouth of the Humber. A lifebuoy from the Evelyn and Maud was found. The Lifebuoy contained a piece of whalebone with the words “Ship going down. Sinking fast Evelyn and Maud”. Mrs Mann stated that this was the handwriting of her husband.

The vessel was declared lost and reports were published in the newspaper. The regular skipper of the Evelyn and Maud was John Cross.  He did not sail on this occasion.

With so many of the fishing community widowed and orphaned a fund was set up by the Mayor GL Beeforth. On the 13th December a list of subscribers were published in the newspapers. A football match was organised by three local skippers – Dawson, Snowball and Newland. It was played on Christmas morning between the Fishermen (skippers, mate and deck hands) versus the Firement (the stokers, engineers and cooks). There were 1,500 spectators and a collection raised £9. The match was played at the Ebor football ground. Overall the charity raised £289 when the fund closed on 31st December. The money was placed in savings bank on King Street and the money handed out bit by bit when needed by the families.

Skipper Dawson became a mainstay in the early years of the Football match.  He wore grotesque costumes and so started the tradition of fancy dress. Now comedy outfits are worn. Hats must be worn at all times. The referee blows his whistle if a player is hatless. Often players will pinch the hat of the opposing team players and bury them in the sand.

Nowadays their are very few fishermen and no firemen. The last Steam Trawler left Scarborough in 1960. At one time fishing boats would fill the harbour. Now there are barely enough fishermen to form two teams. Yet the old fishing families still turn out. Some have turned out for years supporting the cause. Fred Normandale has featured in the match for nearly 40 years as either player or referee. Billy Blades has been a team Captain for many years.

The match has always been a good excuse for some hard drinking. Captain Sydney Smith (of the merchant Navy remembers one time when his father played in the match and brought him along. He was told to stand at the end of the bar at the Lord Nelson. Hours later he was still stood there forgotten!

In 1901 the Silver Cup was presented by George Alderson Smith. It is still in use today. In 1904 the teams started to wear the coloured shirts that are in use now. The fishermen play in white and the firemen in red. In 1908 the Mayor kicked off the match – a tradition that continues to this day.

A Comedy Band pays each year. In the 1920’s it was the Butts comic band. In 2004 it was Barry Hampshires Hamps Tramps street band. Other features include the mile of pennies where people put their pennies down on the pavement right along Foreshore Road.

In the age of the modern welfare state the charity is not really needed. But the tradition still continues. The money raised goes to the pensioners, disabled and sick from within the fishing community. They receive bags of meat at Christmas. But each year the charity match found some worthwhile cause. In 1897 £20 was given to Mrs Pashby whose son had just drowned in a recent gale. In 1896 £14 was given tot he local Seamens Mission. In 1903 money was donated to the hospital and to the Lightfoot charity.

Boxing Day Traditions article taken from (