'Hundreds' turn out for Scarborough's Boxing Day beach football match

What began as a way helping the surviving family of fisherman lost in a tragedy at sea remains a Christmas time tradition more than 120 years after it began.

Players take part in the annual event. Pic: Paul Atkinson.
Players take part in the annual event. Pic: Paul Atkinson.

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.

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Co-organiser Liz Blades said: “It was first organised in 1893 when a fishing smack was lost at sea, the Evelyn and Maud. There was 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 all the surviving family of the fishermen had died, the match was played to raise money to provide bags of coal for elderly people. Now the money raised goes towards food vouchers for families in need. This year, 100 vouchers worth £30 given.

Aside from its charitable roots, it is a spectacle annually enjoyed by many, with “hundreds and hundreds” turning out today, 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 and filled with drink.

But the event heralds the start of a bumper day of activities for Scarborough locals and visitors.

After the football, crowds move on to the harbourside to watch a raft race, with up to 2,000 people head to the seafront to watch the event.

Organised by Scarborough Sub Aqua Club, the event involves up to 12 teams race through the harbour.