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28 October 2014

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Dive for cover - it's the Atherstone Ball Game!

Atherstone Ball Game
Local with the Atherstone ball
Every Pancake Day, windows in Atherstone are boarded up and shoppers dive for cover. Why? It's time for the famous ball game!

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Basic Pancake Recipe:


110g/4oz plain flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
Two eggs
200ml/7fl oz milk mixed with 75ml/3fl oz water
50g/2oz butter


Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour and crack the eggs into it, before whisking the mixture and making sure all flour from the edge of the bowl is mixed in.

Then gradually whisk in the water and milk mixture, make sure all the flour is mixed in, and then whisk again until smooth.

Melt the butter in a pan and remove it, adding two tbsps to the batter mixture and whisking in. Use the rest of the mixture to lubricate the pan.

Get the pan really hot before spooning in the mixture. Two tablespoons should be enough to make one pancaks in a seven inch pan.

Serve with lemon juice and sugar or the filling of your choice.

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It's possibly the most extraordinary sight you will ever see in the area - perhaps even through the Midlands and beyond.

Hundreds of people gathering to knock seven bells out of one another in an attempt to grab hold of a heavy leather ball - and run the risk of being dismembered in the process.

 Atherstone Ball Game
Starting point - Barclays Bank
The Atherstone Ball Game is one of the oldest traditions in the country - the game has taken place every single Shrove Tuesday for 805 years. Not even wars could stop it going ahead!

No one knows exactly where the tradition comes from - whether it came from border disputes or as a challenge between young men from different areas - but it remains and is only one of two such events that survives today.

This year's event takes place on Tuesday, 8 February but remember 2003's game by clicking on the Images button below to launch the picture gallery.

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A sweet start
 The crowd at the Atherstone Ball Game
The crowd gathering at the Atherstone Ball Game
The game sees hundreds of men charge through the town with a giant ball for around two hours and the person holding the ball at the end of the game is the winner.

Every year on Pancake Day, shop keepers in the town centre spend the morning boarding up windows before the crowds begin to gather in time for the games.

The festivities begin at 2.30pm when children gather under Barclays Bank, the traditional starting place of the contest, and they are showered with sweets and pennies from the balcony below.

Then preparations begin for the contest in earnest and hundreds of men of all ages gather under the balcony in time for the start of the game at 3pm when the ball is thrown from the window by a selected dignitary.

Hundreds of men gather outside Barclays Bank for the start of the games at 3pm, when the special ball is thrown from the window.

No holds barred
 Atherstone Ball Game
Winner of the Atherstone Ball Game 2003 - Dave Mitchell
The ball, made by the famous manufacturers Gilbert of Rugby, weighs a mighty four pounds and is filled with water to prevent it being kicked too far.

Tied to the ball are four ribbons, one in red, one blue, one white and one gold, and the participants struggle to gather a ribbon each - and ribbon holders get a prize of £10 at the end of the game.

However, the main prize is the ball itself and it is an extremely physical encounter which preceeds the final klaxon as participants struggle to possess it. The ball may be thrown, carried or kicked and a series of scrummages can take place as the game progresses.

It is a no-holds-barred contest, players are not precluded from any tactic necessary to get hold of the ball and it pays to be of stern stuff if you want to take part!

The winner of the ball receives a prize and is allowed to keep the ball - but the greatest accolade comes in the shape of winning and their are fierce contests between regular winners every year.

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