Annual Shrovetide match all ready for March kick-off

The annual shrovetide football game in the pastures below Alnwick Castle.
The annual shrovetide football game in the pastures below Alnwick Castle.

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