The mayhem and madness of a brutal and often very muddy historic sporting spectacle kicks off next month.
Alnwick’s Shrovetide football match between the parishes of St Michael and St Paul takes place in the town’s Pastures on Tuesday, February 17.
The ball will be dropped from the Barbican of Alnwick Castle at 2pm and the players and spectators will then march down the Peth to the furlong-in-length match field.
Prizes of £10 will be awarded to the scorer of the first and second goals, known as 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 town fixture is an historic one. The first recorded match in Alnwick was in 1762. The Duke’s porter threw the ball over the castle wall to the masses to start play.
However, the fierce nature of the game resulted in great damage to property with windows being smashed, and so, in 1818, a law was passed throughout England banning football in the streets.
Despite this, the rebellious locals continued to play, ignoring the ruling up until 1827.
Once this was stopped, residents signed a petition asking the Duke for a safer place to play, which led to the Duke granting a pitch at the top of North Peth. Along with this, he erected the hales and awarded money for good play, with the scorer of the deciding hale taking the ball.
A year later, the first game took place in the Pastures. In 1847, the game evolved into a battle between the parishes of St Paul and St Michael.
And so it continued until the First World War. With the Army having a huge camp on the Pastures play stopped.
The annual event also failed to resume after hostilities in 1945 and in 1949 it was feared it would never be played again, but in 1952 the Duke resumed the match.
In 1967, the pitch moved to its present home beside the river. Since then, the game was stopped only once – in 2001 following the foot-and-mouth outbreak.
A VINTAGE PERFORMANCE
Veteran player Steven Temple was the hero in last year’s Shrovetide football match, scoring two hales to win the clash for St Paul’s parish. His two-hale heroics added to his Shrovetide goal tally, which is into double figures.
HOW THE MATCH UNFOLDED
Temple opened the scoring early on, before St Michael’s equalised through Jamie Hume. With the contest locked at 1-1, Temple slotted home to secure bragging rights for his parish.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
In what was a good afternoon for the family, Temple’s younger cousin, Ali Miller, managed to secure the ball from the River Aln after the game.
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 hale is scored.