Festival games are really fun to watch, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be in one like the Atherstone Ball Game. I’ve always followed the Spanish La Tomatina with interest, so when I heard about the Atherstone Ball Game, I had to find out more. Considered to be one of the oldest traditions of England, it is played in Atherstone, Warwickshire, as a part of Mardi Gras celebrations each year. For over 800 years, hundreds of men have gathered on the streets of the town to fight for a giant ball. The man who emerges in possession of the ball at the end of two hours of pushing, shoving and punching, is the winner.
The various traditions followed as a part of the festive day are quite interesting. The preparations for the game start early in the morning, with shop owners boarding up windows for protection. At 2.30pm, children start gathering under Barclays Bank. Pennies and sweets are showered on them from the balcony. Later, at around 3pm, the men start to assemble in anticipation of the ball game. A selected dignitary finally throws the ball into the crowd from a window above, and then all hell breaks loose.
Photo via Warwickshire.gov.uk
The ball itself is worth a mention. Weighing over four pounds, it’s made by Gilbert of Rugby and filled with water so it cannot be kicked too far or too high. Four ribbons are tied to it, red, blue, white and gold. So it’s not just the ball that’s up for grabs, but the ribbons too. Each ribbon holder wins a prize of £10 at the end of the game. The final grabber of the ball is rewarded too, but the ball is considered a prestigious prize in itself. And it should be, given the kind of stuff the winner would have endured to hold on to it. The game really has no rules, so people are pretty much allowed to do whatever it takes to get their hands on the ball. What could be more exciting than that?
Photo via Coventry Telegraph