It’s another slow day, but as we gear up for the Boxing Day/New Year’s fixtures, I thought it’d be fun to remember some of our past favorites from this season.
My favorite is easy: Boxing Day 2012. Gareth Frank Bale 3, Aston Villa 0. (OK, fine, it was really Spurs 4, Villa 0 because Jermain Defoe scored the opener, but no one remembers that.)
Before this game, I still thought of Bale as being a second-tier elite player—certainly one of the 10-12 best in the Premier League, but not really qualitatively different from Rafael van der Vaart. Modric I saw as being on another level, but Bale was like Rafa—a sublime talent, but not quite “world-class” (whatever that means). He could go completely off sometimes, as he did in the two Champions League ties with Inter Milan, but then he could also sometimes disappear for weeks at a time.
Then the Villa game happened. Up to that point, he had scored six league goals in 18 fixtures. Some were nice goals, to be sure: He had a great free kick goal against Liverpool and his goal against Manchester United was very well taken indeed. But his improvement from Redknapp-era Bale to that season seemed marginal.
But on Boxing Day something changed in how I saw him. Bale got his hat trick, taking his total to nine league goals for the season. Between then and May, he would add 12 more league goals to his total. Put another way, from Boxing Day 2012 till the end of the season, he scored more goals than he had in any single year at Spurs prior to that and he scored ~35% of all the league goals he would ever score at Spurs. And it wasn’t just the number of goals, it was the quality and significance of them.
On January 30, he scored a late goal to equalize against Norwich. On the 3rd of February against West Brom, he scored a belter from outside the box midway through the second half that won it for Spurs. Six days later his brace against Newcastle would give us a 2-1 win. 16 days after that he scored that goal against West Ham.
And he just kept doing it. In the next fixture he opened the scoring against Arsenal. At the end of March he assisted on Jan Vertonghen’s opener and scored the winner against Swansea. Then he assisted on Clint Dempsey’s goal against City and scored the goal that sealed a remarkable 3-1 home triumph over the Citizens. Then came late winners against Southampton and Sunderland. That final goal against Sunderland, of course, would be his final goal at the club before his summer move to Real Madrid.
But just look at that list: From the day of the Villa hat trick through the end of the season, he scored or assisted on nine goals that I can still remember vividly four years later. The outside-the-box howitzers against West Brom, West Ham, Southampton, and Sunderland. The insane vertical runs that set up goals against Newcastle, Arsenal, and City. The bonkers outside-of-the-boot with no backswing curler against Swansea. The even crazier outside of the boot curling assist to Dempsey.
It sounds hyperbolic but I’m not sure it actually is: Within a five month window, Gareth Bale scored or assisted on nine of the 20 best goals I’ve seen Spurs score since I began following the club in 2009. That run started on Boxing Day. And every year when this part of the schedule comes around, I can’t help smiling. What’s your favorite festive fixture memory?