BLISTERING gales meant less hales as the parishes of St Michael and St Paul fought each other to a virtual standstill in this year’s traditional Shrovetide football match held at Alnwick Pastures.
Large crowds gathered outside Alnwick Castle on Tuesday afternoon to see the Duke of Northumberland throw the ball from the Barbican, heralding the start of the annual spectacle.
It was then carried to the field in a procession led by the Duke’s piper, where both teams then assembled to do battle on the furlong-length pitch.
But the roaring cross-wind made scoring a goal – known as a hale – almost impossible, as the ball curved wildly whenever it was kicked above head-height.
And if that didn’t make play difficult enough, the molehill-ridden playing surface offered no respite amid the slips, trips and crunching tackles over the next hour.
For the duration, play was largely confined to the lower half of the pitch due to the prevailing wind, with numerous scrambles to try to slot the ball between the greenery-clad uprights.
St Michael’s, kicking downwind, had the best of the first half-hour but failed to capitalise as St Paul’s mounted a ferocious defence.
When the time came to change direction, St Paul’s predictably tried to use the jet-stream to their advantage, but again found themselves wanting in the face of a brick wall of opposing players.
With an hour gone and no clear leader, the game went to sudden death, only for St Paul’s – with the increasingly chilly blasts now back in their faces – to break clear for 20-year-old Stuart Imeson to score the winning hale after 70 minutes of relentless action.
Stuart, from Duke Street, said: “It felt great to score after a very long, tough match and it’s my first goal in the Shrovetide game.”
The conditions also meant a cheap day out for the Shrovetide committee who, despite upping the cash prize for each hale scored, actually paid out less than in previous years.
The game being settled, it only remained for good play awards to be dished out to the most deserving participants before a handful of die-hards took the traditional plunge into the River Aln in pursuit of the match ball.
And, in keeping with tradition, it was hauled to the opposite bank by veteran St Paul’s man Steven Temple, arguably the most prolific player in Shrovetide’s living memory.
Speaking after his dip, Steven said: “I said I would retire at 40, but I can’t stay away. Maybe it will be 50.”
Good play awards: Gareth Mallaburn, James Woollett, Sean Angus, Lee Armstrong, James Thorpe, Craig Cairns, Jess Morrison, Jeff Imeson, Judd Donahoe, Danny Donahoe, Dale Ainsley, Craig Robinson, Mitchell Logan, Alistair Miller, Samuel Eastham, Russell Mallaburn, Gareth John.