Traditional Shrovetide game set for soggy kick-off

Shrovetide football at Alnwick.
Shrovetide football at Alnwick.

One unique football match that, hopefully, will go ahead soon may not have any new French signings but there will be a scattering of participants from all over Great Britain, with a few Americans thrown in.

The annual Shrovetide football match between the parishes of St Michael and St Paul will take place at The Pastures, Alnwick, on Tuesday, February 12, and will continue a tradition that goes back to at least 1762.

Secretary Bob Bingham said: “It is earlier than usual and we are hoping that the ground conditions improve. Conditions have to be pretty bad before we call off the game. I have seen parts of the ground flooded and ducks enjoying themselves and the game still went ahead.”

There is no restriction on the number, or sex, of players who can take part.

The patron of the Shrovetide committee and its president the Duke of Northumberland is abroad and will be unable to start the proceedings but Lord James Percy has stepped in 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.

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 the streets of almost every town and village across Britain.

Alnwick was no different and the game was started by the Duke’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.

An 1818 law included the banning of football in the streets. But this was ignored in Alnwick up to 1827, when a petition was made to the Duke asking for a safe place for the game to be played.

He granted a pitch at the top of the North Peth and also erected the hales or goalposts.

The first game to be played in the Pastures was a year later. In 1847, it becomes a game between the two parishes.

At the annual meeting of the committee, members donated £100 to Alnwick Hospital League of Friends in memory of former chairman, secretary and treasurer Jack Deeble who died recently.