On Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, the town of Ashbourne takes on a strange appearance with shops and houses boarded up. If you are not a local you will be wondering what on earth is going on!
It’s all in preparation for the ancient game of Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football. As 2 o’clock draws near the town springs to life and crowds start gathering on Shaw Croft car park in anticipation of the start of the game.
It is basically a frantic football game played through the streets with hundreds of people and few rules. The painted leather ball can be carried, kicked or thrown, but not transported by car! A goal is scored by banging thrice upon the millstones at the goals at Sturston Mill and Clifton, which are 3 miles apart .
It is regarded as a great honour to be chosen to throw up the ball to start the game. The honoured guest is carried shoulder high from the town centre to the “plinth” carrying the painted leather ball. The noise and tension rise as the crowd sings Auld Langs Syne followed by God Save The Queen, before the ball is thrown sky high into the jostling sea of people.
From there on it is a scramble as the die-hard players form a “hug” round the ball trying to gain control for their team – either Up’ards born North of the River Henmore, or Down’ards born to the South.
It’s like a huge rugby scrum with tens of players on each side, and many more onlookers, shouting encouragement. There is a lot of jostling, shoving and pushing and you rarely see the ball – often the only way to work out where it is from the steam rising from the hug!
Due to the sheer number of players the ball often gets stuck in one place for a long time, before suddenly and very briefly emerging into the air above the crowd, where it can move very quickly indeed – you need to be on your toes not to get caught up in the action by mistake!
Shrovetide football in Ashbourne was first recorded as long ago as 1682, and hasn’t changed much over the centuries, except that it is now watched by hoards of people from all over the UK, not just the locals!
More photos and videos of todays #Shrovetidefootball action on our Facebook page. It’s a fabulous friendly atmosphere, so why not catch more of the action tomorrow on Ash Wednesday?