Football penetrates every waking hour of our lives, with live televised matches nearly every night and a constant stream of media covering the game in minutiae.
The coverage reaches saturation point over the festive period with scores of live games broadcast over the Christmas fortnight.
Amongst all this one day remains untouched. Christmas Day itself is a rare sanctuary from football – with no live games on television and little in the way of fresh news, football fans can spend a day with their families without the temptation to check their phones for scores or transfer news.
But not in Belfast. When the rest of Europe is busy opening their presents on Christmas morning, the football fans of Belfast flock to Seaview, in the north of the city, to watch the Steel & Sons Cup Final.
The tradition dates back to the 1890s, when football on Christmas Day wasn’t so unusual. Indeed, the Football League played 25 December games until the 50s, while the tradition didn’t die out until the mid-70s in Scotland.
But while all else around them has changed, the County Antrim FA have held firm and the Christmas morning Steel & Sons Cup Final remains, kicking off at 10.45am, often in front of crowd of 3,000 spectators – an impressive figure for the Irish domestic game.
The knock-out tournament starts in August and consists of around 80 teams, all dreaming of walking out at Seaview on Christmas morning. The Steel & Sons is open to sides from County Antrim and the surrounding areas, who play their football outside the top division in Northern Ireland.
Top division sides are allowed to enter their reserve sides, and Glentoran Seconds and Linfield Swifts are two of the competitions most successful clubs. Indeed, Linfied Swifts defeated Cliftonville Olympic in the first ever final back in 1895.
Memorable finals in the modern era include the RUC’s (the police) beating old B Division rivals Dundela 5-1 in the 1993 final and Ards beating Carrick Rangers with a last minute Ricky Billing winner in 2008, highlights of which were broadcast on Sky Sports News.
Other winners include Chimney Corner, Albert Foundry, Harland & Wolff Welders, Shorts Brothers and the Black Diamonds.
Last year Bangor beat Larne 2-1 in front off a sold-out Seaview. The Seasiders joined Larne and Crusaders as the three teams who have won the trophy with both their first and second teams. Glentoran Seconds are the most successful side in the competition’s rich history, lifting the famous old cup 13 times. This year they return to the final to face hot favourites Ards in the Christmas morning final.
For the majority of their existence Ards have been a top-flight club, but relegation from the Irish Premiership in 2006 meant it was now their firsts, rather than their reserves, that play in the Steel & Sons. Ards will be hoping that Christmas morning’s final is their first-team’s last game in the competition, as they currently lead the Premiership promotion chase by seven points.
The competition isn’t without controversy, however. In the second round Ards were beating their local amateur rivals Ards Rangers 3-2 when referee Keith Kennedy sprained his ankle, after he slipped brandishing a red-card at Rangers’ defender Jamie Patterson. As the competition doesn’t have referee’s assistants until the semi-final stage the game was abandoned. Ards won the derby re-match 2-1, with Patterson receiving his second red card of the tie.
With a bumper-crowd expected, this year’s game is the first all-ticket final. Amusingly, the host association have erroneously called themselves the Country Antrim and District FA on the tickets.
While their friends are out paryting the experienced campaigners of Ards and the young hot-shots of Glentoran Seconds are preparing for the big day. So while you’re ignoring football in favour of board games and terrible films, spare a thought for the losing side at Seaview. Their turkey might taste a little bitter.
Keith Bailie is a Belfast based freelance sports journalist, who writes for the Belfast Telegraph and News Letter. He is also on the panel of Northern Ireland's football podcast and blog site thesocialclubni.com. Find him on twitter here.