SHROVE Tuesday has many traditions other than the popular pancakes, and Sedgefield once again became a battleground for the afternoon as people young and old competed for a chance to hold the ball – and claim a free pint.

The game is organised by a secret group of local residents and is kicked off by a village ‘elder.’

The honour of kicking off this year’s ball game fell to local farmer Alan Garbutt. The game starts once the ball is put through the village green bull ring three times and thrown in the air.

Mr Garbutt said: “I am very proud to be chosen but its debatable whether or not I will take part, I used to do it all my life, so it is tempting.”

Monday's snow did not put people off coming in their hundreds to chase the leather ball. One player had travelled more than 200 miles from Kidderminster to take part.

The Sedgefield Ball Game is believed to date back to the 13th century when St Edmund's Church was completed and the stonemason challenged the townsfolk to a celebratory game of football, a time when health and safety was not a priority. The game is played from 1pm - 4pm but the ball goes missing in between when many of the players take a break in the many pubs in the village.

Norma Neal of Sedgefield History Society was among the crowd watching the game. She said: “It’s a tradition that goes through the generations of families, initially played between farmers and the traders each side had their own goal in the form of a beck each side of the town.”

The village is well acquainted with the sport and they make preparations in advance with businesses and houses boarding windows just in case. Former mayor of Sedgefield Mel Carr, who used to take part in the game, was spectating this time around. He said: “It's good natured until about 4pm then things get serious and it can get a bit toasty down the beck.

"If anything is broken we have a whip round and it is paid for, I have seen some shop windows broken and even my house windows but damage is taken seriously by all players and the community chips in.”

Another former mayor, Chris Lines was taking part in the game. He said: Winning the ball game is a bigger honour than being mayor, some people would rather win the ball than win the lottery.”