The ancient Bottle Kicking contest attracted an estimated crowd of 7,000 on Easter Monday to watch the mass scrum between Hallaton and Medbourne and take in the quirky traditions which surround the skirmish.
And for the third year in a row the best-of-three maul went down to a decider as Hallaton took the spoils 2-1 after coming from 1-0 behind.
As is customary, the winning team celebrated at the Butter Cross in Hallaton and drank beer from two of the barrels. The third keg is a dummy containing no alcohol and is given to the losing village as a booby prize.
For the uninitiated, the 1,000-year-old contest sees the two teams scramble across fields between the two villages in an effort to get their “bottle” – a small beer barrel – across a brook and into their village.
Its origins date back to Pagan times. The story goes that two women from Hallaton were saved from a raging bull when a hare ran past, distracting the bull and allowing them to escape.
God-fearing locals believed The Almighty had sent the hare and so they showed their thanks by donating money to St Michael & All Angels Church in Hallaton on the understanding that every Easter Monday the vicar would provide a hare pie, 12 penny loaves and two barrels of beer for the poor of the village.
But on one occasion, villagers from neighbouring Medbourne intercepted the barrels with Hallaton responding by stealing them back – and a tradition was born.
There are only three rules – no eye-gouging, no strangling and no weapons.
The scrum for the first bottle this year lasted for a stamina-sapping 90 minutes, with one of the Burrows’ family opening the scoring for Medbourne.
The second clash lasted for about 40 minutes with Harry Hollis notching the equaliser for Medbourne.
In the deciding struggle, Chris Potter brought the beer home for victors Hallaton after a tussle which lasted over an hour.
Organising committee chairman Phil Allan said: “It was a fantastic battle but the experience and guile of Hallaton proved to be the deciding factor.
“It all looked lost when Medbourne got the barrel sideways down the lane but Hallaton were able to turn it around.”
Before the battle got under way, the usual customs were observed.
The Hare Pie Parade saw thousands stroll through Hallaton with barrels poking up among the throng. It set off from The Fox Inn pub and finished at the church gates.
The Hare Pie was then blessed by the vicar the Rev Richard Curtis before it was cut up and distributed in the usual fashion – being flung into the crowd.
Other festivities earlier in the day included a children’s parade from Hallaton’s Bewicke Arms pub, a church service and hymns at 11am, and the bottles being decorated with ribbons on the village green.
Proceeds raised from the day will be going to local good causes.
Hallaton is the form team
The victory for Hallaton is the village’s 26th out of the last 30 years, according to the recollections of the chairman of the bottle kicking organising committee.
Phil Allan believes Medbourne has won three times since he took on the chairmanship in the mid-1980s, meaning Hallaton has been victorious 26 times – the event was not held in 2001 due to the f00t-and-mouth disease outbreak.
However, prior to this rich vein of form, it was Medbourne who were the perennial winners. And Mr Allan believes Medbourne’s young guns are becoming an increasing tougher force to be reckoned with each passing year.