Documentary Photographer Stephen Curry is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. These images are from his 20 year project “Shrove Tuesday Ball Game, Sedgefield, County Durham”. To see Stephen’s galleries of projects and photographs click on any image.
I have been documenting the Shrove Tuesday Ball Game in Sedgefield, County Durham, England – my home town – since 1995. Reputed to be a game 700 – 1000 years old (though often debated, evidence could suggest closer to 220 years ), it has local and national historical significance due to age, heritage and being one of very few ball games remaining in the country today.
The aim is to win the ball over the course of 4 to 5 hours. The player’s huge passion for the game and the tradition is evident; the ball is highly coveted and fiercely contested on the day.
The Game Today.
The game itself begins at 12.00pm, when a respected member of the community thrice passes the ball through the bullring set in the village green. The ball is then thrown to the crowd to be contested for the next few hours, being kicked and thrown around, many risking their ankles (and sometimes greater health) as they struggle to kick the coveted ball. With a well spirited, enjoyable atmosphere, the game continues, interrupted only when the ball is ‘stolen’ – taken to a local pub for a brief rest where recent tradition dictates that free alcohol must flow to the bearer.
This continues to approximately 4 P.M. when an attempt will be made to win the ball. Here, things start to become more serious. The ball must be taken to the ‘alley’ (or goal); a stream on the edge of the village, about half a mile away. This, the first stage of winning, is the tough part. The bearer must dunk the ball (and themselves) into the stream, facing stiff competition whilst doing so. This is often an immense struggle to complete, with friends around you being key in success.
Once this struggle is completed, the ball must now be returned to the village green for the small matter of passing the ball back again through the bullring three times – to finally win the game, and therefore, the coveted ball. This itself is another huge struggle, though the contest now is more or less regarded as won, despite the effort required to achieve the final result.
This year the game takes place on 9th February.
By Stephen Curry