Christmas in Britain is a time for traditions: carols, eating too much, drinking too much – and football. Yuletide matches, especially those on Boxing Day, were played even before the 26th of December became a national bank holiday in 1871. Its roots are in the very first game of inter-club football, when two of the oldest teams in the world, Sheffield FC and Hallam FC, played at Sandygate Road on the 26th of December, 1860.
But Boxing Day football might look a little different this year. One hundred and sixty-one years on from that first fixture, dozens of teams will come out of the tunnels in their away kits, regardless of where they’re playing. The gesture is symbolic, and in aid of people who don’t have a safe place to call home, as part of Shelter’s #NoHomeKit campaign.
Home is everything to players and fans, but the sentiment takes on an entirely different meaning for the 17.5 million people trapped by Britain’s housing emergency. That includes the 274,000 people – including 126,000 children – who are currently homeless in England, and the thousands more who are on the verge of losing their homes.
“Right now, 91 families become homeless every day in England,” says Osama Bhutta, director of campaigns at Shelter. “Many will end up in grim emergency hostels where they have to share beds in one cramped room, have nowhere to play or work, and have to queue up to use the dirty communal bathroom. These are the kind of places no one could call a ‘home’.”
Shelter is working around the clock to try to protect people from homelessness, but the scale of the problem means they “can’t do it alone”, Bhutta explains. “Our #NoHomeKit campaign is a simple idea where football clubs and fans ditch their home kits for their away or third kits this Christmas, in support of everyone without a home today.”
Clubs throughout every division of English and Welsh football, including 19 from across the English Football League (EFL) and 42 from the five leagues below, such as those in the Northern Premier League, Vanarama National League and Cymru Premier, will be taking part. Even teams in other sports, including rugby league’s Bradford Bulls, will don their away kit when they take to the field on Boxing Day.
Among the football clubs involved are EFL League Two’s Forest Green Rovers, who will play Newport County on Boxing Day. It’s an away game for FGR, but they’ve got Newport onboard, so both teams will play in their away kit to support Shelter.
Tackling the housing emergency and raising awareness holds special significance to Dale Vince, FGR’s chairman. He spent a decade on the road as a new-age traveller, living in vehicles, but says there were times in his life when he “literally had nowhere”, with periods of homelessness. “Homelessness is a big deal,” he says, “and frequently overlooked [...] It’s a bad thing that we, as the sixth-largest economy in the world, allow thousands of people to be without a place to live, especially in the winter.”
Photo: Morgan Sinclair
Vince said the EFL was supportive of the teams wanting to take part in the #NoHomeKit campaign. But he says he was “disappointed” by the Premier League’s move to block top-flight clubs from wearing their away kits on Boxing Day: “The Premier League weren’t being asked to make it mandatory; they were just being asked to allow the clubs that wanted to do it. It’s no skin off anybody’s nose.”
Bhutta says Shelter was also “disappointed” by the Premier League’s decision not to let its clubs join in fully. Four Premier League teams will be supporting officially, just without changing their kit, and the charity is pleased by the wider backing for the campaign.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of support and enthusiasm for #NoHomeKit from elsewhere, with hundreds of other professional clubs, grassroots teams, brands and football fans already signed up – and hopefully more to come,” says Bhutta.
A Premier League spokesperson said: “The Premier League receives a large number of requests from charities every season, however, we aren’t able to support all centrally. Clubs are entitled to support charitable causes, and we encourage clubs to do so, provided it is in compliance with Premier League rules.”
Football fans taking part in #NoHomeKit are also having a big impact. One Forest Green Rovers supporter is raising money for Shelter by walking from the New Lawn Stadium to Newport’s Rodney Parade over Christmas to catch the Boxing Day match. “This mad idea was sparked to show the impact clubs outside of the Premier League can have, and by raising some awareness and money along the way,” Ashley Williams wrote on his JustGiving page.
“FGR’s stance inspired him to do this himself,” says Vince. “This is a great example of why this is a good campaign idea, because it does reach people, and it does cause some – in his case – to do something really quite extreme, quite committed about the problem of homelessness.”
“Everyone taking part in #NoHomeKit is doing something positive,” says Bhutta, “by bringing the whole football community together to shine a light on homelessness and what we can all do to fight it.”
You can donate to Shelter through its website or by text message. Just click here or text ‘HOME’ to 70455 to donate £5. Think of it like a non-uniform day at school: you wear something to show your support and donate a few pounds to the cause.