The sport of bottle kicking is an old tradition which takes place between the Leicestershire villages of Hallaton and Medbourne. It dates back over two hundred years and the winners of the competition are held in high esteem throughout the local community. So what exactly is bottle kicking you may ask? Well on a basic level it involves two mobs from each village competing to get three bottles, two of which are full of beer, over two streams which are approximately a mile apart. The ‘bottles’ are really small kegs of beer which will be drunk later that evening by the victorious team. The only rule to the game is that there are no rules; teams can use any method they desire to get the bottle over the stream.
The day of bottle kicking begins with a parade through both villages, during which a few refreshment stops are had in order to help participants mettle up for the afternoon’s festivities. Then the crowd gathers on a hill between the two villages known locally as Hare Pie Bank. This is in honour of a local legend that says a hare prevented a bull from killing two women by distracting the bull. The hare didn’t seem to get much thanks for his efforts as the consumption of hare pies are now part of the tradition.
After the first bottle is thrown up in the air by the master of ceremonies, both teams from the villages begin a massive scramble to clutch onto it and the holding team will then attempt to move it in a rugby-like scum by any means possible. Shoving, mauling and eye-gouging are all part of the fun of bottle kicking, as the bottle moves over hedges, ditches and barbed wire in an attempt to cross it over the finish line of the stream. Injuries are quite common, and ambulances are on standby to ferry those with broken bones to the nearby hospital.
The bottle kicking is divided up into a best-of-three event lasting most of the afternoon. Contests can take even longer as another local village, Cranoe, often joins in to help the losing team just before they are defeated and then switches sides in an effort to prolong the event. Some participants take a hands-off approach by opting out of the scrum to drink a few pints of the local cider before rejoining it again. Others take it far more seriously, competing in all three contests, or until it is time for a lift to hospital.
There is no need to be from either of the two villages to compete, strangers are welcome to get involved in the scrum and frequently help out their chosen team by bailing straight in. Bottle kicking takes place on Easter Monday every year. If you can’t wait that long to give it a go then why not try some other forms of mob football over Christmas? Check out the Ba game, a form of medieval football played in Scotland around Christmas or even Haxey Hood, a huge brawl over a leather tube in Lincolnshire on January 6 every year.