The recent surge of rain may have disrupted the local grassroots sporting calendar, but there’s one annual fixture which is sure to kick off no matter the weather.
Alnwick’s annual Shrovetide football match between the parishes of St Michael and St Paul will take place at the town’s Pastures on Tuesday, March 4.
The patron of the Shrovetide committee and its president, the Duke of Northumberland, is expected to drop the ball from the Barbican at 2pm.
Hopefully, it will be caught by committee chairman Tom Pickard. The players and spectators will then march down the Peth, headed by the Duke’s piper, to the match field for battle to commence.
Often, American students from St Cloud State University, who are studying at Alnwick Castle, join locals for the brutal game.
The town fixture is an historic one, with the earliest recorded clash taking place in the streets in 1762. The first game to be played in the Pastures was in the 1820s.
Not for the faint-hearted, the match is played on a one-furlong pitch and players, aiming to score goals – known as hales, often have to scrap it out in wet and muddy conditions.
Last year’s bragging rights went to St Paul’s after local lad Lee Pattinson scored both hales in what was a super-fast clash, lasting just 20 minutes.
The mayhem and madness that is Alnwick’s Shrovetide football was captured in a poem by north Northumbrian poet Duncan Carlisle, who passed away a few years ago.
The writer, from Stott Street, Alnwick, gave the work to Adrian Ions, who is on the Shrovetide commitee.
Duncan, a Rothbury lad and true Northumbrian, worked for the United Bus Company.
Lads and lasses come out to play
It’s the Shrovetide football match today
The Duke has kindly given the ball
For the game between Saints, Michael and Paul.
So through old Alnwick surge and flock
And be at the castle by two o’clock.
The football committee are by the rails,
Sucking sacred blackbullets and biting their nails,
Hoping all the hard work that they’ve done
Results in everyone having fun.
The Duke drops the ball down for the match
And the chairman makes an “electric” catch
It is his honour and duty today
To carry this ball ‘til the start of play.
Now down the Peth by the piper led
Follow the Duke and committee heads
Smart and steady is the gait
All guarded by the town’s last waite.
(Waited were hired by honest traders
To keep out any Scots border raiders).
In the Pastures, there, newly made,
Are the hales with staves so beautifully laid
They stand a quarter mile apart
Constructed like two well-built carts
But see the gap where one must score
About a yard - and nothing more.
At last the game is under way
The giant teams all swarm and sway
The linesmen watch both taker and giver
And keep the ball out of the river.
After the match the ball is thrown
Into the raging Aln foam.
Who gets it to the castle bank
Wins the ball, and then can rank
As Alnwick hero of the day
And is cheered by all upon their way.
By Duncan Carlisle