Prepare for muddy mayhem as Shrovetide football game returns

Shrovetide football returns to Alnwick at the end of the month. Picture Jane Coltman
Shrovetide football returns to Alnwick at the end of the month. Picture Jane Coltman

It’s a sporting spectacle unlike any other, with very few rules, no-holds-barred tackling, a furlong-in-length pitch and plenty of divots, bumps and mud.

And on Tuesday, February 28, Alnwick’s annual Shrovetide football match kicks off in the town once again, for another instalment of the action-packed fixture.

The ancient game is played between the parishes of St Michael and St Paul and takes place in the Pastures, in the shadow of Alnwick Castle.

The spectacle begins at 2pm, when the ball is dropped from the castle’s Barbican. It has not yet been announced who will be doing the honours this year.

Led by the Duke’s piper, the players and spectators then march down The Peth to the match field.

The game is played in two periods of 30 minutes each. If the score is then even, a final period of 45 minutes is played. A period is ended once a goal, known as a hale, is scored.

Prizes of £10 will be awarded to the scorer of the first and second hales, and £20 to the scorer of the third or conquering hale. Up to 20 prizes of £2 will be awarded in recognition of good play.

After the game, the ball is kicked into the River Aln, prompting a mad scramble in the water to reach it first and carry it to the opposite bank.

The parish of St Paul took the bragging rights in last year’s match, beating rivals St Michael 2-1 in a fiercely-contested game.

Teenager Scott Elliott was the hero, scoring the winning hale with a spectacular strike from range. Shrovetide veteran Steven Temple had opened the scoring to put St Paul 1-0 up. Another familiar Shrovetide face, Lee Pattinson, equalised for St Michael, before Elliott clinched victory.

The match is a historic one, with the first recorded game played in Alnwick in 1762.

Last year, the spectacle was showcased on Robson Green’s popular ITV programme Further Tales from Northumberland.