Hallaton bottle kicking battle too close to call

Master of the Stowe Dave Marlow, of Hallaton, with Jack Burrows, Medbourne's new captain, pictured in front of the Hallaton battlefield
Master of the Stowe Dave Marlow, of Hallaton, with Jack Burrows, Medbourne's new captain, pictured in front of the Hallaton battlefield

The battle of the bottle has reached a tipping point this year – with both villages now acknowledging it’s going to be very close indeed.

The traditional Bottle Kicking event between the Harborough district villages of Hallaton and Medbourne is on Easter Monday.

For last year’s victors, Hallaton, Phil Allan said: “It was close last year and I don’t see this year being any different.”

While for rivals Medbourne, Tom Burrows said: “We came very, very close last year and we believe we are capable of winning this year.”

The ancient tradition of Bottle Kicking returns to Hallaton in just four days’ time.

The rough and tumble match – a mobile rugby scrum with a small barrel for a ball and virtually no rules – is believed to date back to Pagan times.

It attracts a crowd of thousands as the two village teams attempt to scramble over muddy fields to get the “bottle” across a brook and into their village.

The “try” lines are about a mile apart, and the game can last for hours. Last year’s knife-edge contest went on for more than three hours.

There are actually three rules; no eye-gouging, no strangling and no weapons.

Mr Allan, who is chairman of the Bottle Kicking organising committee, said: “I just hope the weather is going to be good for us this year.

“Not that the rain would stop us. Bottle Kicking goes ahead come rain or shine.”

Hallaton is very much the form team in this long-running competition.

“I’ve been chairman for 30 years, and we’ve only lost three times,” said Mr Allan.

“But when I was younger, Medbourne won for eight or nine years running.

“What you find is that winning goes in cycles, and I think the next couple of years will be crucial. The contest has been very close for a year or two now, and Medbourne have got a good lot of younger guys coming through.”

Mr Burrows added: “We believe we can win, and recently we’ve come very, very close. We’ve got a good group of young lads, and hopefully that can make the difference this year.

“Once we get the bottle going in our direction, we’ve just got to keep going.

“It only takes a couple of minutes for the momentum to change.

“This year we’ve got to make sure we finish off the job.”

The origins of the game are lost in the mists of time.

But intriguingly, excavations in the area last year revealed a mysterious chapel, dedicated to the obscure St Morrel, surrounded by skeletons 700-years-old.

Historians think that the chapel – and perhaps the village of Hallaton itself – was the centre of a religious cult around St Morrell.

But even this ancient chapel was built on the site of an earlier Roman temple.

The countryside near Hallaton has clearly been of some religious significance for 2,000 years.

It could be that the game has its roots in some sort of religious ceremony, or linked celebration.

And, finally, it will be long-time Mail photographer Andy Carpenter’s 25th time covering the event this year.