Sedgefield Shrove Tuesday Ball Game
Yesterday I covered the annual Shrove Tuesday Ball Game in Sedgefield for i-images. To anyone visiting Sedgefield for the first time on this particular day, they might, in all their days, wonder what they have just walking into the middle of…
The game is a tradition that goes back years and years, in line with many Shrovetide ball games, it does get pretty brutal.
Sedgefield game is, on the face of it, un-organised. The first time I covered it, I asked a policeman why they don’t close the roads through the village, as the game often spills onto the tarmac in front of the moving traffic. He explained to me that if the roads were closed, the ball game would become an official, organised event. No insurer on Earth would cover it.
The game starts at 1pm when a large group of people gather around the bullring that is anchored to the village green.
All local, the army of players range in size, shape and age, but most are young men. Footwear is a rather frightening mix of knackered trainers and steel toe capped work boots.
A village elder then appears through a parting in the waiting crowd, with a small leather ball. The ball is then passed through the bullring three times by the elder and then thrown off in a random direction.
That is when the fun starts. The ball is immediately hunted down by the pack. The dull thuds of a mis-placed kicks, steel-toed boots meeting shins, fills the cold February air.
Within minutes, the first casualty. A man is tripped and he slides across a road, his head coming to an abrupt halt between the tarmac and the underside of a Transit van.
Bleeding quite heavily from a gash to the back of his head, some of the ball game participants stop to help him. He eventually leaves the green to seek medical attention.
The match continues all over the centre of Sedgefield, not stopping even for traffic. Some vehicles are hit by the flying ball, but the drivers appear to understand exactly what is happening, all part of the fun of driving through Sedgefield on Shrove Tuesday.
As the afternoon scrambles on, the game claims another victim. This time a young man is knocked out, luckily landing on a soft verge. He got too close to the elbow of another player who was just about to throw the ball. Bang. He was out on the floor like a sack of potatoes. A quick check by some some of the other players and he slowly got back on his feet.
The game starts to die off around 3:45pm before the 4pm finish, and quite unbelievably, I see the man who gashed the back of his head walking across the centre of the village. He is just back from A+E after having his scalp glued back together, ready to see who wins the game.
The finale takes place in a beck away from the houses and over a field on the very outskirts of the village.
There are rumours flying around that the winner has already been decided, but as the group starts to gather next to the water, it is clear this thing is far from over.
Again the ball seems to appear out of nowhere and all of a sudden the pushing and shoving seems to intensify, concentrated to just one spot. Some non-ball related fighting breaks out but it is soon over as the end of the game nears.
Eventually, under an impenetrable wall of bodies, the ball is dipped into the beck three times, and to a chorus of cheers the winner is finally proclaimed.
Please take a look at some of the other images of the day. All pictures are copyright of Tom Banks 2016.