All you need to know about the centuries-old tradition of Bottle Kicking but were afraid to ask
I’M FROM an old Hallatonian family. It goes back generations and they built the school in Hallaton, writes Charlie Daisley-Smith.
I used to work in The Bewicke Arms pub too. The family name is Daisley and my family has attended the Bottle Kicking for as long as the game has been around, well, near enough!
My grandfather, who attended as a little boy, is now in his 80s, my cousin is a bottle carrier and my brother travels from Yorkshire for the event, bringing the next generation - his three-year-old son.
I’ve always joked that, if I don’t get married at a rugby international, it will be at the Bottle Kicking.
Here’s my take on the event:
Throughout the decades, each spring-time, family and friends from far and wide convene in a little south Leicestershire village for a day that holds more value and importance to some than Christmas.
The brave and the strong will be here: ready for battle, for the great scrum that is to be an entirely personal fight to each individual involved.
For every Easter Monday, Hallaton will defend their honour by having a war with Medbourne in the form of Bottle Kicking!
The day starts off with the children’s parade and a band marching through the village.
The barrels - or the ‘bottles’ in the title of Bottle Kicking - are made of wood and bound with a metal brace. Two each contain about eight pints of ale, filled by two generous landlords from The Fox and The Bewicke pubs, and are sealed by an established bottle kicker, ‘Wacker’ Wainwright, using a cigarette lighter and some wax.
The third barrel - known as The Dummy - is solid wood and painted red, white and blue.
All three barrels are then handed to the custodians: three young lads from the village that march at the front of the parade with the barrels held aloft.
I am personally proud that my big brother is one of the significant bottle kickers that has a time holding one of the barrels during the parade.
The parade and the barrels continue to the church in Hallaton, where a short service is held and the barrels, along with other important items, are blessed.
This would lead you to believe that the day is a Christian one and, in other ways it certainly is.
But Bottle Kicking has its origins in Pagan tradition.
After the service the parade heads to The Green in Hallaton where the barrels are donned in their colourful ribbons, while penny loaves are distributed among the crowds.
The build-up to the game is a great anticipation for everyone and though there is a lot going on there always has to be time for some of the food!
The Hare Pie is distributed to the crowd in front of the church gates - thrown in great handfuls to those daring to stay within the firing line.
It is then up to the field we go, following the excellent piped band, the barrels and what remains of the Hare Pie housed in a hessian sack.
The crowds congregate at the top of the field known to most as Hare Pie Bank, as this is where the remnants of the Hare Pie is thrown by two people swinging the sack.
The brave will then be ready to start the fight and supporters mingle at the safest distance they can manage.
The first barrel is thrown in the air three times to start the match, which is done by The Master of the Stowe, currently David Marlow.
On the third throw, it becomes live and the Bottle Kicking begins.
The rules are simple: There are no rules! Well, that’s not entirely true. There are a few stipulations to be observed: No vehicles or animals are to be used to transport the barrels and no weapons!
There are no team colours, no limit to the amount of players on each team and no age restriction, although my grandfather - in his 80s - is rather more a hindrance than help now.
The game can sometimes be over in a couple of hours or can take a whole afternoon and into the evening.
There is no half-time or rest between barrels - the only break you get is walking back to the start.
All you need to know is who you’re pushing for and which way you’re supposed to push.
The boundaries are not the clearest, there are no goals, flags or markings. But this all adds to the fun. There has been the odd injury over the years but nothing classed as serious.
The anaesthetic for the day is in the form of as much booze as possible.
This doesn’t prevent injury, in fact it generally encourages it, but, it does ensure that you don’t care about it!
My role for the day is as water carrier. It does not sound that important but to the lads it is vital.
I was asked by my cousin’s boyfriend the first time he took part, to bring some lager up the field for him to drink during the match. Not a great idea, he realised, 15 minutes in!
Needless to say, he never asked for lager again. Water is the only way to go. There is also the all-important question when there is an injured soul on the ground: Do they get to have some much-needed water to revive them? Only if they answer the Hallaton or Medbourne question correctly!
As water carrier there are a few questions to be asked when one of yours is down after a bad scrum. Can you see? Can you stand? Can you walk? Is that bleeding going to stop? If ‘yes’ is the answer, they get water, a pat on the back and sent back in again.
Obviously if there’s a ‘no’ in there, they’re allowed a brief rest and then they go back in!
The crowds follow the scrum as it moves. Sometimes the scrum can take out fences as it travels, breaking through barbed wire with a minimum of complaint.
The livestock that normally live in the fields are normally moved for the event though they do leave behind a few gifts which can make the bottle kickers a bit stinky.
But it is all worth it for getting the barrel where they need it to be.
Through the blood, sweat and tears one village will emerge as the champions.
After the game all will return back to The Green in Hallaton to take the winner’s reward - the glory and the pride of beating the other village. They will also show their success by climbing up the slightly awkward Buttercross and drinking from the ale-filled barrels.
After hours of being carried around, the ale in the barrels has become somewhat bad but to the winners it tastes like nectar.
The celebrations or commiserations go on long into the night. Any injuries suffered are forgotten, at least until the following day when the booze and euphoria have worn off. And then it’s all over for another year, except for a little gloating from the winners whenever a member of the losing village is in earshot.
All that take part do so as they want to be a part of something their ancestors did every Easter Monday, as far back as the Domesday Book. Yes, all are welcome and anyone can take part and push for Hallaton or Medbourne. But there are some that will do so because they would not be anywhere else in the world on this day. Its far more than just another Bank Holiday. Through all weather conditions and through every war, recession, depression and crisis, Bottle Kicking has stood firm as part of our heritage and it will continue to do so.
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