The Atherstone Ball Game is ‘extremely unlikely’ to go ahead for the first time in its 821-year history due to the global pandemic.
Each Shrove Tuesday, thousands of people from the North Warwickshire town and beyond descend upon Long Street to compete for the over-sized ball in a tradition dating back to the 12th century.
While the event has survived two World Wars and the Foot and Mouth breakout in 2001, it may have finally met its match with Covid-19.
Even with lockdown measures being lifted and a relaxing of restrictions on public events, organisers say it is looking like an impossible task to keep the ball rolling into 2021.
“Everyone knows the nature of the Atherstone Ball Game and what ensues, it is the exact opposite of social distancing,” said Ball Game chairman Rob Bernard. “It’s going to be a near impossible task for us to hold the event as we all know and love it, as much as it pains me to say.
“We’re giving it every chance and are discussing other ideas to keep the game going, because it means so much to the people of Atherstone, but it is looking very unlikely at this stage.”
With Shrove Tuesday 2021 (February 16) under 11 weeks away, the committee has to let the authorities know their decision no later than six weeks before the event is due to take place.
The Atherstone Ball Game is run as a charity with fund-raising events and sponsorship playing integral roles in paying ever-increasing bills, an unseen part of the game which has also been impacted.
“A lot of time and effort goes into making the ball game happen, and that cannot just happen with the flick of a switch,” said secretary Janneen Bernard.
“The day after every ball game we pay our insurance premium for the next year’s event and there’s no refunds on that if it doesn’t happen. We can’t really go around asking businesses and people to part with their money if we do not know the event is going to happen.
“Then that could have a knock-on effect for the following year too as we need to make sure there’s enough money generated to put everything in place for that year’s event.
“The people of Atherstone love this event and we, the committee, are the custodians of 800 years of history. Many in the town look forward to it more than Christmas Day, but this year has thrown us something nobody could have expected.”
2020 hasn’t been a golden year for the Atherstone Ball Game after the 821st edition in February was cancelled midway through after a steward, Martyn Kellegher-Burton, suffered a heart attack. Organisers promptly stopped the event as he received life-saving CPR before being airlifted to hospital.
The father-of-two survived the ordeal and his family felt the warmth of the Atherstone community who rallied to raise £5,000 for Martyn and his young family.
In the short term, the Atherstone Ball Game committee are planning a Boxing Day sponsored walk to help generate funds for the event in the coming years and are open to any further suggestions about the next steps for the event.
Anybody with suggestions can email: Janneenemail@example.com