It’s all kicking off at Shrovetide

Shrovetide football at Alnwick.
Shrovetide football at Alnwick.

FANCY a game of football? There are no prima donnas, the players do get paid but only if they excel and it is all for free for the spectators.

This year’s Shrovetide football game is on Tuesday and all players and spectators are asked to meet outside the Barbican of Alnwick Castle at 2pm where Lord James Percy has agreed to start off proceedings.

Players and officials will march in procession behind the Duke of Northumberland’s Piper to the Pastures for the match.

The first team to score two hales will be declared the winner. The scorer of the winning hale will received £20 and there will be 20 rewards for good play.

It is a game that goes back to medieval times. Lent was very strictly observed and the three Shrovetide days beforehand were a time to let the hair down.

The poorer classes entertained themselves with various games, one of which would be kicking around something, including a pig’s bladder. This eventually developed into primitive football.

Shrovetide football was played in almost every town and village across Britain at one time, mostly in the streets.

Alnwick was no different and the game was started by the Duke of Northumberland’s porter throwing a ball over the castle wall to the waiting hundreds. The earliest recorded match was in 1762.

Damage was done to property and windows – although the Duke paid for repairs.

In the early 1800s, work was being done in towns and cities to carry out improvements, a law was passed in 1818 which included the banning of football in the streets.

But in Alnwick, this law was ignored up to 1827, when a petition was made to the Duke, asking if he could provide a safe place for the game to be played so that it could continue.

He granted a pitch at the top of the North Peth and also erected the hales or goalposts, gave the ball as well as generous prize money for good play and goal-scorers.

The pitch then was more than a quarter of a mile long with the hales four feet seven inches wide. This was later reduced to a furlong in length.

The first game was played in the Pastures, in the shadow of the castle, a year later. Freemen marched through the town with a band leading the parade. In 1847, it becomes a game between the town parishes of St Paul’s and St Michael’s.

Apart from the First World War when the army had a huge camp in the Pastures and the game returned the North Peth side it has been in the Pasture ever since.

At the beginning of the Second World War the game halted and even after hostilities ended it was not until 1952 through the efforts of the then Duke that the game resumed. With the exception of 2001 when the area became the subject of a foot and mouth disease order, the game had been played ever since.