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No Pie, No Priest

A Journey through the Folk Sports of Britain

About The Book

Writer Harry Pearson takes a warm and witty journey around Britain in pursuit of the lost folk sports that somehow still linger on in the glitzy era of the Premier League and Sky Sports to find out how and why they have survived and to meet the characters who keep them going.

When Victorian public schoolmasters and Oxbridge-educated gentlemen were taming football, codifying cricket, bringing the values of muscular Christianity to the boxing ring and the athletics field, games that dated back to the pagan era clung on in isolated pockets of rural Britain, unmodified by contemporary tastes, shunned by the media and sport’s ruling elites.

Here they remain, small, secret worlds, free from media scrutiny and VAR controversies, wreathed in an arcane language of face-gaters, whack-ups, potties, gates-of-hell and the Dorset flop; as much a part of the British countryside as the natterjack toad and almost as endangered. No Pie, No Priest! travels through Britain in search of the nation’s traditional rural sports, seeking out the championship of Knur and Spell (a Viking forefather of golf) on the West Yorkshire moors; watching Irish Road Bowling in County Armagh (once a surprising interest of England cricket captain Mike Brearley), Popinjay at Kilwinning Abbey in Ayrshire, the Aunt Sally competitions of Oxfordshire, and taking in world championship Stoolball (often considered the dairymaid’s form of cricket) and Toad-in-the-Hole in West Sussex.

No Pie, No Priest! combines sports reporting, travelogue and history, and features a cast of bucolic eccentrics and many deeply impenetrable regional accents.

About The Author


Harry Pearson was born and brought up on the edge of Teesside and is the author of twelve works of non-fiction. His first book, The Far Corner - A Mazy Dribble through North-East Football, was shortlisted for the William Hill Prize and is still in print. He wrote a weekly sports column in the Guardian from 1996 to 2012, and has twice won the MCC/Cricket Society Prize for the Cricket Book of the Year. He lives in Northumberland.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (June 8, 2023)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781471198311

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Raves and Reviews

'Highly entertaining'

– Spectator

'Harry Pearson has a wry, affectionate look at these lesser-known British sports...a light, amusing read'

– Country Life

In this cracking book, Harry Pearson travels Britain taking notes on peculiar local sports... His writing style is sublimely funny'

– Daily Telegraph

'As well as enjoying a singular sort of history lesson, one comes away from his book with all manner of memorable nuggets'

– Times Literary Supplement

'It’s difficult to recommend this book highly enough…Harry Pearson is so effortlessly funny that I found myself snorting aloud while I read this on the Tube. Indeed, he’s so engaging that it’s hard not to want to conduct one’s own tour to catch some of these games before it’s too late'

– The Field

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