Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Shrove Tuesday Football (NZ275515)

Chester-le-Street isn’t the only place in the North-East with a tradition of playing Shrove Tuesday Football, but it is one of the better known. Not for the faint-hearted, this brutish, dangerous game was finally outlawed (in Chester-le-Street, at least) in 1932. Here’s an abridged report of the 1889 clash taken from the Newcastle Daily Chronicle of 6th March of the same year:

Mr Joseph Murray, of Newcastle, as the representative of the Murray family, who have provided the ball for sixty-five years, duly appeared at one o’clock with the ball in his hand. Immediately he threw out the ball the fun became fast and furious, and, contrary to all the traditions of the game, the ball went rapidly up the street, all the efforts of the Down-Streeters failing to stay the attack of the Up-Streeters, who seemed bent upon making a strong bid for victory. Right away the ball went upwards, only to be checked opposite the Lambton Arms, and again at the King’s Head; then it did not stop until reaching Red Rose Hall. There a change took place; the Down-Streeters made a big effort, and, by the aid of vigorous play on the part of a few fresh hands, conspicuous among whom was a well-known “county back”, the ball was brought rapidly down street, and its progress was not checked until it was shot into the half-frozen river Cone. Plunging in, through the ice and rushing waters, several adventurous players succeeded in getting the ball once more into play, at the expense of a thorough wetting. In a few minutes’ time the ball was again forced into the river, and this time several youngsters got it upon the ice and tried to play it there, only to drop through the ice at very soft places and to lose the ball through the holes into the water, all of which caused immense amusement to the spectators. The ball again went up the street after a terrific struggle, and there it remained, in spite of the Herculean efforts put forth by the Down-Streeters. A few minutes before six o’clock the ball was returned to Mr.Murray, who addressed the multitude from the window of the Crown Inn, congratulating them upon the magnificent struggle there had been. An announcement was subsequently made that next year a cup would be given to be held by some responsible person on behalf of the winners.

[this abridged version first appeared in the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore & Legend in April 1889]

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