What began as a way helping the surviving family of fishermen lost in a tragedy at sea remains a Christmas-time tradition more than 120 years after it began.
Every Boxing Day, hundreds of people turn out to Scarborough’s South Bay to watch a charity football match on the beach. One bizarre rule of the family-friendly event, which is thought to be the seaside town’s oldest custom, is that players must wear a top hat – but if this comes off then a free kick is awarded to the other side.
Co-organiser Liz Blades, 63, said: “It was first organised in 1893 when a fishing smack was lost at sea, the Evelyn and Maud. There were five men lost.”
She added: “It was to raise money for the dependents of the five people who were lost. It just carried on every year.”
Those who died were skipper William Thomas Mann, 43, second hand Daniel Reeder, 21, third hand Richard Whitaker, 23, his father and cook Charles Whitaker, 51, and deckhand John Eaves, 58.
Fishermen at the time decided to put on a football match to play against the firemen – not firefighters in the sense referred to now but those who worked below the deck on ships as stokers. Originally held on Christmas Day, it was changed to December 26 in 1898.
After the surviving family of the fishermen had died, the match was played to raise money to provide bags of coal for elderly people. The money raised now goes towards food vouchers for families in need. This year, 100 vouchers worth £30 each were collected. Aside from its charitable roots, it is a spectacle annually enjoyed by many, with “hundreds and hundreds” turning out yesterday, Mrs Blades said.
“People come from away every year just to see it,” she said. “This will be the 124th match apart from a couple of times when the war was on because the beach was cordoned off.”
The fishermen were victorious in this year’s game by five goals to the firemen’s four, before a trophy was taken around the seaside town’s pubs. The event heralds the start of a day of activities for Scarborough residents and visitors. After the football, crowds move on to the harbourside to watch a raft race, with up to 2,000 people heading to the seafront to watch the event. Similar events happened across the UK, with people having a swim in the sea at Tynemouth during an annual Boxing Day dip.