Braving the cold and the mud to honour an age-old tradition, these footballers showed the professionals how it’s done.
Young and old gathered in the shadow of Alnwick Castle in Northumberland yesterday for the annual Shrove Tuesday match in the market town.
Drawing in the crowds since 1762, this year’s kickabout in The Pastures by the Castle was no different.
The weather was brighter than previous years but the pitch was as muddy as ever with no player escaping a covering by the end of the game after a few messy dives.
With members of the rival parishes of St Michael’s and St Paul’s going head-to-head on the pitch, it was a fight to the bitter end when Steve Temple scored the winning goal - known locally as a “hale”.
The day started up at Alnwick Castle with the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland throwing the ball over the castle wall, launching the county’s most bizarre sporting contest.
The ball was then paraded down in a procession to the pitch as hundreds turned out for the annual mudfest game.
With sheep watching in the background, the two rival sides battled it out on the pitch, which was so muddy that the ball stopped moving at points.
In their Alnwick version of football, players score hales and the first team to score two is crowned the winners.
The first hale was scored within the first 10 minutes by Steve Temple for St Paul’s.
This was followed later in the match with an equaliser for St Michael’s, scored by Jamie Hume.
But it was old hand Steve Temple who brought the game to an end with a second hale for St Paul’s, making them this year’s winners and giving them bragging rights for the rest of the year.
Steve, 41, said it had been an excellent game.
“I have scored a few goals over the years,” said Steve, of Alnwick. “It’s a little bit of luck and team work.”
The assistant sports centre manager was then one of the first to jump into the River Aln in another part of the unique tradition when the muddy ball from the match is kicked into the water at the end of the game. Hardy players dive into the water and tussle for the right to carry it across the freezing river.
“I’m going to dive in and I’m actually looking forward to it,” he added.
But Steve was beaten to the ball by his cousin Ali Miller, 20, after event chairman Tom Pickard kicked the ball into the river following the presentation of medals to players.
Ali and Steve fought to get to the ball first but it was council worker Ali who claimed victory.
“I am absolutely freezing but it’s been a great day,” said Ali, also of Alnwick.
“It’s a nice end getting the ball. We are keeping it in the family,” he added.
Steve has managed to win the post-match battle for the ball from the river for the last couple of years but said he was happy to lose to his cousin this time round.
Summing up the day’s activities, event chairman Tom said it had been a great year for the traditional annual event.
“It went pretty well and the weather was pretty kind for once,” he said. “But there’s still quite a bit of water on the pitch.
“There was a good turnout of players, very very young mostly and the spectators too this year. It’s good for the tradition of the game.
“It’s good to see it going strong still,” added Tom.