Nail-biting countdown to Sunday's big contest...for UK's bell-ringers

For centuries the tolling of bells has heralded moments of national togetherness: the end of wars, the crowning of monarchs and the celebration of royal nuptials. But this weekend, the chimes emanating from a Victorian parish church in Melbourne, Derbyshire, will have nothing to do with England's exploits on a football field in distant Kiev.

Yet for those who inhabit the world of elite campanology, the staging of the 37th national 12-bell striking contest will be as keenly observed and the battle as hard fought as that undertaken by Roy Hodgson's men in Ukraine on Sunday.

Ten teams will compete for the honour of being the 2012 winners of the Taylor Trophy. The red-hot favourites are Birmingham but challengers from some of England's finest churches from St Paul's to Exeter, York to Oxford, will be doing their utmost to upset the bookies.

Unlike Uefa, which is refusing to deploy goal-line technology, the centuries-old pastime cannot be accused of failing to move with the times. This year's contest will be largely judged by HawkEar, a hi-tech listening device that will mark each band for their accuracy in performing the demonstration piece.

The development has proved popular with ringers, said competition chairman Peter Sanderson. "As the standard has increased, it has become more and more difficult for the judges to separate the teams," he said.

Each band will be given 30 minutes to perform the test piece Stedman Cinques. and their efforts will be streamed live on the internet.

According to Tim Everett of the Melbourne 12-bell band, which is playing in its home tower, the music represents a complex "knitting pattern" that will put each of the hopefuls the opportunity to showcase their skills.

"It is not just about getting the notes in the right order: it is getting it so that the striking is perfect so it seems like a machine without any gaps," he said

But although there have been reports in the past of gamesmanship – such as deliberately leaving the bell ropes up out of reach of rivals – all are anticipating a convivial mood. It is a pretty friendly atmosphere, said the 47-year-old accountant, "but everybody wants to do as well as they can".

Competitive bell ringing remains as popular as ever, say supporters. Ringing also remains a central feature of our national way of celebration. Earlier this month a 12-hour cascade was rung to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. In July, bells will again be sounded across the whole country to mark the start of the Olympics.

"The appeal is that in many ways it has remained unchanged for centuries," said Mr Sanderson, 51, who has been ringing since he was seven.

And, of course, whatever happens in Ukraine, on this occasion the winning team will definitely be English.

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