THE annual Sedgefield ball game has been held every Shrove Tuesday for hundreds of years. Reporters Paige McDermott and Georgia Banks joined the locals as they scrambled to take part in the fun.

HEAVY wind, rain, and even some snow failed to stop the people of Sedgefield from holding their annual Shrove Tuesday ball game today. 

Ten minutes before the usual 1pm kick-off, an outsider would have no idea of what was to unfold as the village green was devoid of life. 

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The only tell-tale signs were the boarded-up shops and faces peering out from behind curtains in the surrounding houses.

Minutes before it was about to begin, however, hundreds of locals popped up out of nowhere ready to get stuck in.

As an annual tradition going back hundreds of years, the Sedgefield ball game has only one rule – and that is to try to kick the ball.

Shrouded in secrecy, nobody knows who organises the event or what the ball is made of. The only sure fact is, without fail, people will turn up to play. 

The game is opened once a chosen person, usually an elder, passes the ball three times through a bull ring. 

This year the honour was given to Albert Corbet who swiftly went to the pub – or his home, nobody knows – once the game had begun. 

Health and safety flew through the window as people fell over moving cars, catapulted into wheelie-bins and tossed each other into hedges. 
But it was all in good jest, as 17-year-old Adam Playle said: “It’s funny, I like it. It’s just different. 

“I don’t know what people would expect who haven’t been here before and they drive through the village. They’re probably thinking ‘what on earth is going on?’, but I think it’s good, everyone looks happy and like they’re enjoying themselves.”

Although from an outside perspective it may not seem like a gentlemanly game, it is universally agreed that everyone backs off to give a youngster, like five-year-old Oscar Fairhurst, a chance to take part in the game. 

This was not Oscar’s first time kicking the ball, said his dad Brian Fairhurst, as he has been trying to get the ball since he was a baby.   

Even the former mayor of Sedgefield, Chris Line, was happy to get his hands dirty and lamented the previous year when he couldn’t take part because his “chains would get in the way”. 

He said: “It’s a tradition that’s been going for something like 800 years. It’s a really important part and it brings people together. It’s a bit crazy at times but generally it’s done in good spirit.”

Not even 20 minutes into the game the ball supposedly disappeared to a rival village, and the locals grabbed a quick pint while they waited for the its return.

Four mysterious figures jumped out a car with the ball some time later, and round two commenced. 

At around 4pm, 18-year-old Joe Saunders was declared the winner after a 15 minute scuffle for the ball in the nearby beck. 

The Northern Echo: WINNER: Joe Saunders, 18, proudly emerges with the ball Picture: FLOSSIE MAINWARING-TAYLOR

He said: “I’ve taken part in it every year. I feel like I’ve won the lottery but it’s been hard. I just did my best and nearly drowned in the stream.”

Everyone then clapped each other on the back and headed to the pub – or perhaps went home to have a shower. 

Sergeant Alex Clarke, of Durham Police, said: “Despite the poor weather conditions the event passed off without incident. I don’t think there has been any serious injuries and everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves.”

Seven officers and a dog van were on the ground for the start of the game and Sgt Clarke said in the evening there would be more officers on patrol.

PC Keith Todd, who is due to retire this year, was on the beat for the game for the 21st and last time.

He said: “It’s a good spectacle and occasionally we’ve had issues with the odd window being put out. We’ve had no reports of anything like that this year and all in all it’s been a good day.

PC Todd added it was the coldest game he could remember, and described “surreal scenes” of participants battling in the falling snow.