Saturday 21 April 2018

Shrove Tuesday players have a ball

One of the players falls over during the Shrovetide football match in Alnwick, Northumberland
One of the players falls over during the Shrovetide football match in Alnwick, Northumberland

With its blood and thunder tackles, mud slides and an enjoyable lack of rules, one of the few remaining traditional Shrove Tuesday football matches came as a pleasing antidote to the excesses of the modern game today.

While moneybags Chelsea and Paris St-Germain were getting ready for their Champions League clash, hardy souls in Alnwick, Northumberland, hoofed a ball around the Pastures as townsfolk have done for at least 250 years.

The goals, known as hales, are 440 yards apart, meaning a certain degree of long ball play was necessary, while a lack of an offside rule meant there was no debate about players interfering with play.

The pitch, dotted with molehills and reeds, did not lend itself to skilful dribbling, yet there was excitement a-plenty with hearty challenges flying in from players of both sexes and all ages.

A lack of team colours added to the confusion.

Rival parishes St Paul's and St Michael's took each other on, with the latter side winning 2-0. That may have had something to do with them having more than double the number of players.

The game only lasts a maximum of two goals, and umpire David Jackson blew his trumpet to signal the second hale.

After competitors deemed to have played well were handed a shiny £2 coin and the winning goalscorer a crisp £20 note, the ball was hoofed into the adjacent River Aln.

Whoever dives in and carries it out on the other side is allowed to keep the ball.

Alnwick Shrovetide Football committee chairman Archie Jenkins said: "I was a little concerned at the start that St Paul's had 25 players at the start and St Michael's had more than double that. They went on attack immediately and scored the first hale after four minutes, so I thought it was going to be a short game.

"Thankfully, it was another 20 minutes before St Michael's scored the winning hale.

"It was played in a great spirit."

Around 500 people cheered on the teams, whose numbers were boosted by a number of American students.

One of them, 20-year-old Alex Byrne from Redwing, Minnesota, wore a GoPro portable camera to record his exploits.

Mr Byrne was awarded a £2 bonus for a great burst which set up the second, decisive hale.

He said: "This is an awesome game. It's gruelling, muddy, fast-paced. It's great, I love it."

The Duke of Northumberland usually starts proceedings by dropping the ball from the Barbican of Alnwick Castle, though this year the honour was given to the sons of committee stalwart Eric Hately, who died recently.

Press Association

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