Monday 26 June 2017

The Hallaton Bottle Kicking contest is one of the strangest ways to end the Easter bank holiday weekend

By Max McLean

Was this the inspiration for the game of rugby?

Well, it’s certainly not an afternoon of Premier League football now, is it?

The Hallaton Bottle Kicking contest marks the traditional way to end the Easter bank holiday weekend around Hallaton and Medbourne.

It’s certainly no picnic, despite the traditional hare pie, fed to the crowd in what is known as the Scramble, which was blessed this year by local vicar Richard Curtis (not him).

The contest sees the two Leicestershire villages of Hallaton and Medbourne ruck and maul over three bottles – small beer kegs – with the aim being to get two of those bottles across your village’s brook to the opposite bank. The winners get to drink the two beer-filled barrels, while the losers get the dummy bottle.

Organisers say it goes back to Roman times – taking place on a field known as Hare Pie Bank, it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted.

“There are injuries, we do have ambulances there,” says Phil Allen, organising committee chairman. “There are broken bones, people do get injuries, but people enter the field at their own risk.”

Allen, who has been involved in arranging the fixture for at least the last 42 years, continued: “The rules are very simple, there aren’t any rules.

“We believe that the Hallaton Bottle Kicking is the longest-running sporting event in Britain, we don’t think there’s anything older.

“Rugby started here in Hallaton – (William) Webb Ellis came to see his uncle, the rector, and then he went back to school, saw what they did in Hallaton, took the ball and ran with it.”

So there you go – a strange old sport that potentially inspired the world of rugby, and perhaps more importantly, the world of the match pie too.

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