Historic Atherstone Ball Game returns to Warwickshire

All eyes will be on Warwickshire for return of historic event to town centre

Just outside the main Co-op is a sculpture that celebrates that for one day, the town goes wild for a couple of hours.

It's one those extraordinary British traditions - and the Atherstone Ball Game is back tomorrow.

A huge amount of effort has gone into ensuring the legendary event can return to its Shrove Tuesday slot for its 822nd staging.

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The sight of hundreds of people thronging Long Street always puts the town back in the headlines as photographers turn out to capture the action.

If you've seen coverage of past events you will know a large leather ball with ribbons attached gets thrown down to the crowd and, like all these great occasions, while it seems chaotic, there are some guiding principles. In essence it's a two-hour match without teams or goals and starts at 3pm and finishes at 5pm - though from 4.30pm the ball can be deflated or hidden.

Traffic is kept away, windows are boarded up and it's not for the faint-hearted - but it's a treasured part of the town's identity and the organising committee have worked hard to ensure it can go ahead after a year off because of the pandemic.

With the countdown under way, chairman Rob Bernard posted on their Facebook page yesterday, Sunday evening: "Firstly we would like to say a huge thank you to all of the Atherstone community that have pulled together to help make this 822-year-old tradition happen.

"Now…. we all love and look forward to our fantastic tradition so respect the game. We will not tolerate mindless thuggery at the start and during the game. The chief marshal and all of his team have the rights to stop the game at any point so please be respectful to all marshals at all times.

"Leave the battle for the ball til half past four! You/we own this unique tradition so please let’s not ruin what we have for our future generations."

In recent weeks the committee members have been gathering sponsorship for the event and the range of businesses and individuals chipping in shows how highly regarded the ball game is.

The rest of the year, Atherstone reverts to being a calmer place, although just outside the main Co-op is a sculpture that celebrates that for one day, the town goes wild for a couple of hours.