Shrovetide football is back

Action from last year's match.  Picture by Jane Coltman
Action from last year's match. Picture by 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 and mud.

And on Tuesday, Alnwick’s annual Shrovetide football match kicks off in the town 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.

The spectacle will begin at 2pm, when the ball is dropped from Alnwick Castle’s Barbican. It has not yet been announced who will be doing the honours.

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 Michael took the bragging rights in last year’s match, beating rivals St Paul 1-0 in a fiercely-contested game. Shrovetide veteran Lee Pattinson scored the contest’s only hale.

The match is a historic one, with the first recorded game played in Alnwick in 1762. The spectacle was showcased on Robson Green’s popular ITV programme Further Tales from Northumberland in 2016.