|Ball Game in Long Street||A 1970 view of the crowds||An 1950 view|
|An 1950 view||Long street in the 1950||Long street in the 1950|
The Shrove Tuesday game has
been running for over 800 years. In 1790 Ralph Thompson of Witherley
“The beginning of the Foot Ball play at Atherstone on Shrove Tuesday. It was a Match of Gold that was played betwixt the Warwickshire Lads and the Leicestershire Lads on Shrove Tuesday; the Warwickshire Lads won the Gold. It was in King John’s reign . . . . . Atherstone being the nearest town to the place where they play’d it it is and has been a custom to turn a Foot Ball up at Atherstone on Shrove Tuesday every Year since that time.”
As King John reigned from 1167 - 1216 it would appear that the game might well have been going for 800 years. Such games were common but very few have survived into the 21st Century. Many times it has been threatened with extinction but even during World War II the Head’s Log Book at the secondary school reported that the school closed for a half holiday every Shrove Tuesday throughout the war.
It was first broadcast on radio in 1934 and televised in 1958 since when it has regularly appeared on Midlands’s television.
The ‘rules’ have changed very little over the years. The ball is thrown to the crowd at 3.00 p.m. and the winner is the person holding the ball at 5.00 p.m., the prize being the ball! Family possession of a ball is taken very seriously in Atherstone with families working as a team for the honour of winning the game. For many years the ball was thrown out by whoever was starring at the Coventry Hippodrome. This had been organised by publicans Margaret and Nino Morando of the “Three Tuns” but that connection ceased when the Hippodrome turned over to Bingo. Nowadays the committee chooses the celebrity and the ball is thrown out of a window at Barclay’s Bank. George Formby, Tommy Lawton and Larry Grayson all threw out the ball but the incident that many people remember was in 1970 when a balcony made of scaffolding poles dropped a foot or two as Ken Dodd was officiating forcing the comedian to scramble back through the window with great agility.
Until the 1970s the ‘pitch’ included the whole of the town with the ball often ending up in the canal but a limit was put on the play and the game is now strictly confined to Long Street. In 1975 the ball was smuggled away by car and held to ransom through the local paper “The Trib” other times a substitute ball has had to be provided when the ball has been ‘smuggled’.
In 1986 the game got out of hand in its final hour and a public meeting was called to decide the future of the game. Many would have been happy to see an end to the tradition but a committee was formed to run the game. The Police had traditionally acted as ‘Referee’ but from 1986 the game has been in the hands of specially selected Stewards helped by a Police presence.
In 2001 the threat was from Foot and Mouth disease. The decision to allow the game to continue only came at the eleventh hour. Ashbourne’s game had to be cancelled because their game starts in the street but then goes onto the fields so it had to stop leaving Atherstone to hog the television time.
|Hat making scene|