Boxing Day in Winchelsea kicked off (literally) with the traditional Ancient Street Game. Three teams fought each other (almost literally) to capture the so-called Frenchman’s Head and deposit it in a single goal. The game has no rules and is played in the middle of a street.
The whole contest was watched with much amusement by a cheering crowd of relatives, friends and residents, as well as a few shocked passing tourists. And watching everyone else, there was the Game’s famous trophy: a severed head wearing a beret (only a model, we are assured).
No doubt coincidentally, the size of the crowd seemed to increase once teams were chosen. And able-bodied persons who had previously been intently examining the parish noticeboard or nearby Advent Windows suddenly became aware of the Game and joined the crowd.
2015 was another hard-fought contest: very much a war of attrition, with more scrummaging than passing. Injuries were limited to cuts and bruises. As usual, the result of the Streete Game was announced in advance. This was, in keeping, so the crowd was told, with Winchelsea’s traditions as a Rotten Borough, its practice of announcing the next mayor in advance of his election and also the voting procedures adopted by many international sporting bodies.
The official result was Blue 6, Yellow 5 and Red 2. Rumour has it that the actual score was Blue 3, Red 2 and Yellow 1. But the official result may yet be changed after it was found that the Blue team had fielded a Frenchman. Under the traditions of the Game, only the head of a Frenchman is eligible.
The Ancient Winchelsea Streete Game is now an officially-registered tradition.
[Editor’s Note: It is rumoured that the audience are required, before the game starts, to swear that “this never happened” and “I wasn’t there”, but I can not swear to the truth of that.
However I suspect one player (who slid across the street face down before banging his head on the kerb) had some painful cuts and bruises and fake bandages and injuries passed round at the end of the game (what game? where?) were not entirely fictional – but I can not be sure as it never happened and I was not there.
A history of the “Antient Streete Game” can be found at www.winchelsea.net, which sounds very plausible, and may well have been written by a journalist]
Photos: Richard Comotto, John Minter