700 years on, Haxey's hood hunt is still a messy affair

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The Independent Online

One of Britain's oldest competitions, the annual game of Haxey Hood, was fought out yesterday as rigorously as at any time in its 700 years.

One of Britain's oldest competitions, the annual game of Haxey Hood, was fought out yesterday as rigorously as at any time in its 700 years.

There is little craft or sophistication to the sport, confined to the twelfth day after Christmas in the village of Haxey, Lincolnshire. Technically, teams from local pubs compete to carry a leather cylinder called a "hood" to their local pub. But since the hood cannot be kicked, run off with or thrown, it amounts to a free-for-all mud wrestle.

As dusk fell yesterday, the hood was still to reach its destination after three hours of the melee they call "The Sway".

The game has been staged since the 13th century, when a gust of wind whipped off the hood of the Lady de Mowbray while she was out riding. Farmworkers chased and retrieved it, so delighting her that she ordered the pursuit be repeated.

A mud-caked group from the local King's Arms was acquitting itself well on Upperthorpe Hill as it fought to retain its title yesterday, though the pub's landlord, Phil Janman, admitted there had been no time for tactical talk.

There are no teams as such. "It all depends on who turns up on the day," Mr Janman said. "It's mainly for men. You see some women taking part but they are usually dragged out by their ankles after a few minutes. It's not been a big punch-up, though that's not to say there aren't any loose elbows flying in the middle of it."

The match referee, known as the Lord of the Hood, was aided as usual by his Chief Boggin - they both wore scarlet hunting coats and hats decorated with flowers - while a ceremonial Fool with the ceremonial right to kiss any woman he encountered yelled out the rules from a stone in front of Haxey Parish Church.

Outsiders would have struggled to follow the orders: " Hoose agin hoose, toon agin toon, if thee meet a man, knock 'im down - but don't hurt 'im!"

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