As best as I can tell, Boxing Day in England is something like January 1 to the States--a day of rest and sports (plus Christmas sale shopping in Britain). Almost every football team plays on Boxing day and these matches usually draw large crowds despite potentially bad weather. Our Cambridge United had a home match against cross-town rival Histon and drew more than 7000, about double normal attendance. We went and enjoyed the game, especially as United won 1-0 depsite Histon playing better. More United updates later as they play Histon twice more in 2 weeks and have a big FA Cup tournament match next Saturday. But the real sporting event of the day took place a few hours before the soccer match. I jumped on my bike and road a few miles to the village of Grantchester, where the an annual tradition has been gloriously revived: Boxing Day barrel-racing.
According to the Cambridge Evening News:
The races were common in the 1960s but died out in 1974, apparently after accusations of cheating. Since its revival in 2004 the contest has raised thousands of pounds for village church funds, and proceeds from this year's event will go towards repairing the churchyard walls.Organiser Francis Burkitt said: "The whole point of the event is that it is pointless - it's a slightly mad English holiday tradition which is great fun."
It was a crisp, pretty day for racing and the course was packed. A past champion (1968-1970), Mick Dunn was the honorary starter. His son had won the past few years but wasn't competing because of a "bad back". The racers roll a barrel down a street and hand off to another person who goes back to the starting line, and two more do the same. There are 4 teams competeing at once so barrel-collisions happen with regularity. Local pubs sponsor some of the Granchester teams and after the village has its races, it competes againts nearby villages. In the last race of the day, one contestant simply lifted up the barrel and carried it--his team's win was protested and the official awarded a tie. If you read this blog by email, it's worth going to the actual web site for the blog to see a short video of one race. Happy New Year!--JT
Barrel-racing in Granchester--Boxing Day 2007 from dceditors on Vimeo.