THE Chiddingstone Real Football match kicks off on Good Friday (April 14) with more than two hundred people competing in the no-holds-barred endurance contest which lasts for four hours.
A mixture of football and rugby, the charity event is staged over fields, rivers and woodland using a round ball which can be kicked or thrown, with more than a mile between the goals – which are situated at two local pubs.
The two teams are the Castle Crusaders, representing the Castle Inn in Chiddingstone, and Rock Inn Rollers, who are based at the Rock pub in Chiddingstone Hoath.
Last year each consisted of around 100 players. A goal is scored when it is tapped three times on one of the goal barrels outside each pub.
The event, which has been running for six years, originated after a visit to the Royal Shrovetide Football Match in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.
Organiser Katie Ashworth explains: “We got wind of this traditional contest in Ashbourne, which is played over two days on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.
“It’s huge, they have about 2,000 players, and they basically shut down the town for two days – it’s like their own bank holiday.
“We started off with about 40 a side but it’s grown bigger every year. We have people coming from miles around – a few even come down from Ashbourne – and now we have rugby clubs from local towns getting involved.”
Last year, the event raised £4,500 for local charities, and this year’s beneficiaries will be Demelza Hospice Care for Children, Kent, Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance, and Chiddingstone Causeway Village Hall redevelopment.
“A guy goes around on a quad bike with a barrel of beer on the back and the players have to pay a couple of quid for a pint”
“This time both pubs will be donating 50 per cent of their profits on the day,” says Katie. “To give you some idea of what that means, it’s the Rock’s busiest day of the year.”
So how do the players keep going for the four hours, from 2.30-6.30pm? “The players keep going because they are fuelled by Larkins beer from the brewery in the village.
“In fact, come to think of it, that should be the full name of the event really, ‘Chiddingstone Real Football Match fuelled by Larkins’.
Katie adds: “A guy goes around on a quad bike with a barrel of beer on the back and the players have to pay a couple of quid for a pint.”
There are not many rules: Participants must not cross any roads, and the ball must not be hidden in a bag or carried by a moving vehicle or ‘four-legged animal’.
Perhaps most importantly, footballers must not ‘intentionally cause harm to others’, although there is often a fair amount of rough and tumble.
Katie admits that the Chiddingstone version is rather more genteel than its northern coun
terpart: “The people of the south are a bit more precious about getting hurt, to be honest, rather more so than the northern lads who don’t really care.”
Even so, although the event is well marshalled, the organisers were concerned by a violent ‘off-the-ball’ incident last year and are keen to avoid any repeat occurrence.
“You always get a few who drink too much, as with any event involving alcohol, and there was a bit of a fight last year when someone got thrown over a fence – it was miles away from the ball.”
Katie stresses: “This year we want to get the message across that this is not just an excuse for a punch-up.”
It costs £10 to enter (competitors must be over 16), and an after-match party featuring live music will be held at The Rock in Chiddingstone Hoath.