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The Glorious Game of Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football

February 21, 2023
February 21, 2023 - The Glorious Game of Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football
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If you visit the market town of Ashbourne on Shrove Tuesday or Ash Wednesday, you will find the shops throughout the town boarded up. You may wonder what on earth is going on as hordes of people gather on Shaw Croft car park as 2 o’clock draws near.

There is a sense of excitement in the air as the locals prepare to play the ancient and extreme game of Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football. Often called the “glorious game” it is the highlight of the year for many locals.

Ashbourne Shrovetide Football

The ancient tradition of Shrovetide Football in Ashbourne was first recorded as long ago as 1682! The origins are little known but the “glorious game” hasn't changed much over the centuries; except the crowds are much bigger and everyone can track where the ball has got to more easily through social media.

Ashbourne Shrovetide Football


Football through the streets

Shrovetide Football is basically a frantic football game played through the streets of the town with hundreds of people and few rules!

There is no pitch and the goals are 3 miles apart at Clifton and Sturston Mill. The game starts at 2 o’clock on both Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday when the ball is “turned up” or thrown into the crowd from the plinth at Shaw Croft Car park in the centre of town.

Tradition dictates that the crowd sings Auld Langs Syne followed by God Save The King, before the ball is thrown sky high into the jostling crowd.

Who turns up the ball?

It is a great privilege to be chosen as the honoured guest and it is usually a respected local person, although it was turned up by King Charles in 2003 when he was The Prince of Wales.

There are two balls prepared for each day. They are beautifully painted depicting the life and hobbies of the honoured guests. Following the formal Shrovetide lunch the guest is carried shoulder high through the town to the “plinth” with their ball held high. This year there is a new plinth which is now in the middle of the car park which is a fairer starting point for both teams.

Just two teams but hundreds of players!

The local lads take the game very seriously and train hard for Shrovetide and are split into two teams depending on where they were born. Up'ards, born North of the River Henmore, and Down'ards born South. Play is fierce and although David is an Up'ard he supports from afar rather than getting caught up in the hug!

The Shrovetide ball

The ball is a hard handmade leather ball. Larger than a football it is stuffed with cork chippings, so it floats in the river! It is beautifully hand painted to a design chosen by the local person chosen to turn up the ball at the start of the match.

Whoever goals the ball gets to keep it and usually gets it repainted so it can be displayed in full glory. If the ball isn’t goaled then the person who turned it up gets to keep it.

The Shrovetide ball can be kicked, carried or thrown, but not transported by car. It generally passes along in a "hug" invisible to the spectator. However you can tell where the ball is from afar by the steam rising from the sweaty players!

The hug

At start of play you will see a brief glimpse of the ball before the die-hard players form a “hug” trying to gain control for their team. The ball is not long in play before the beautiful paintwork is scrubbed off and it becomes a plain brown leather football.

The hug is like a huge rugby scrum with tens of players on each side jostling for position, and hundreds of onlookers, shouting encouragement. There is a lot of shoving and pushing and you rarely see the ball. Often the only way to work out where the ball has got to 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 high into the air above the crowd. When the ball breaks out the hug to a “runner” the action can move very swiftly. As a spectator you need to be on your toes to avoid getting caught up in the action by mistake!

Royal Shrovetide Football

Would you brave the icy waters?

The hardened players try to get the ball in the Henmore Brook which flows through the town, as fewer players are willing to endure the icy waters. The oversized football is filled with cork so that it floats if dropped. Everyone gets covered in mud, climbing on walls and up trees, jumping in rivers and ponds. Play is very physical and frenetic so team players take turns swapping in and out of the hug throughout the day.

How is a goal scored?

A goal is scored by striking the ball 3 times against the old mill wheels, at Clifton or Sturston Mill. As the goalposts are 3 miles apart goals over the two days play are few and far between. Once goaled the person who scores carries the ball back into town followed be cheering team mates and supporters.

If a goal is scored before 6pm another ball is thrown up in the centre of town. Then the game continues until 10.00pm on Shrove Tuesday, before the bruised and battered teams start all over again on Ash Wednesday.

Whilst the whole thing sounds frantic and aggressive the atmosphere is very friendly and sociable. The school children all have the day off and everyone watches out for others. For the majority of Ashbourne folk Shrovetide football is the highlight of the year! It is a unique and quirky spectacle well worth experiencing!

Felicity

The 'Shrovetide Song'
The Shrovetide Anthem is a song that was written in 1891 for a concert that raised funds to pay fines for playing the game in the street.

It's now sung each day at the pre-game lunch before players and spectators parade through town to Shaw Croft car park to turn up the ball and start the game.

There's a town still plays this glorious game
Tho' tis but a little spot.
And year by year the contest's fought
From the field that's called Shaw Croft.
Then friend meets friend in friendly strife
The leather for to gain,
'And they play the game right manfully,
In snow, sunshine or rain.

'Tis a glorious game, deny it who can
That tries the pluck of an Englishman.

For loyal the Game shall ever be
No matter when or where,
And treat that Game as ought but the free,
Is more than the boldest dare.
Though the up's and down's of its chequered life
May the ball still ever roll,
Until by fair and gallant strife
We've reached the treasur'd goal.

'Tis a glorious game, deny it who can
That tries the pluck of an Englishman

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  • star rating  We have just returned from a short stay in one of the pods on site at Hoe Grange Holidays. We couldn’t recommend them enough. The pod has everything you could... read more

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    star rating  Myself and my sister travelled to Costa Rica and Panama via Viva Holidays Ltd. The holiday was exceptional and one to be treasured forever. Andrew at Viva Holidays... read more

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    star rating  Arrived and was shown to our pod, fantastic location and the pod was very good indeed plus we had home made bread and milk and tea and coffee. A... read more

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    star rating  We stayed in Skylark, one of the two glamping pods available at Hoe Grange in February 2020.

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    star rating  We love this place. Very wheelchair friendly, really well equipped and comfortable, with easy access by car to lots of places of interest particularly Crich Tramway Village, Chatsworth, Bakewell and... read more

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    October 25, 2019
  • star rating  lovely surroundings real farm country with chickens paying you a visit nice decking area to chill at the end of the day accommodation very good plenty to do nearby... read more

    vincent s
    July 28, 2019

    star rating  We stayed in the Skylark pod last October (2018) and had a lovely time. There was homemade, rustic goods (bread, biscuits etc) when we arrived. Felicity and David who run... read more

    KBarry
    September 15, 2019

    star rating  What a wonderful find. As our first experience of needing accessible accommodation we could not have wished for better. Beautiful well equipped lodges in lovely surroundings. We stayed in both... read more

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    April 3, 2020
  • star rating  What can I say?
    Absolutely superb!
    We have just returned from a family weekend staying in Daisybank cabin and the Skylark pod.
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    June 13, 2019

    star rating  We had a lovely time staying in one of the incredibly well equipped pods. I bought my pony along and we had some great rides on the high peak trail.... read more

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    star rating  Another great holiday at Hoe Grange - such a great place for us all to holiday as a family - this time with a baby, a 3 yr old, a... read more

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    October 4, 2019
  • star rating  A beautiful place to stay! Amazingly run family business! Everyone were very welcoming, friendly and cozy! The skylark pod we stayed in was very clean, cozy and well equipped! The... read more

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    January 2, 2020

    star rating  Recently spent a week in "Pinder" and had a lovely time. The location is stunning - the site is nestled in a beautiful valley on the edge of the Peaks... read more

    Peachey167
    July 16, 2019

    star rating  We spent four nights at Hoe Grange and had a lovely time. The location is fantastic and right next to the High Peak Trail. The cabin was very clean and... read more

    Big_Al_0000
    July 16, 2019
  • star rating  What a lovely weekend away! We stayed in the lovely gypsy caravan, which was a wonderful and really unique experience. We took along our two horses, who also had a... read more

    rachelthomas2015
    June 18, 2019

    star rating  Loved every minute of our stay, and so did the family and friends that came to stay. Excellent facilities in our cosy Hipley log cabin. By far the best... read more

    krimpenijssel
    October 25, 2019

    star rating  Second visit to the accessible holiday cabins at Hoe Grange. David and Felicity were as helpful and friendly as ever. We had a welcome pack of freshly baked bread, butter,... read more

    Charlotte M
    August 7, 2019
  • star rating  We love this place. Very wheelchair friendly, really well equipped and comfortable, with easy access by car to lots of places of interest particularly Crich Tramway Village, Chatsworth, Bakewell and... read more

    David H
    October 25, 2019

    star rating  For the second year running, we have had a great family holiday at Hoe Grange. We had one cabin for the week, for two sisters and our elderly wheelchair-using... read more

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    star rating  On arriving at Hoe Grange in a downpour, we doubted if we’d made the right decision to go glamping, but after the warm welcome from David and a quick tour,... read more

    karenmD4738KD
    June 25, 2019
  • star rating  It's been three years since we last visited but once we arrived it certainly didn't feel like it!
    We stayed in Hipley again which had had a refurbished wet... read more

    ElizabethA717
    September 21, 2019

    star rating  Stayed last week, from 6th to 13th September in the log cabin called Hipley. This was amazing, it was our first visit but certainly not our last. Gold standard disability... read more

    548julie
    September 14, 2019

    star rating  We wanted a complete break and some peace and quiet and this was perfect. The caravan was secluded with beautiful views over the countryside. Everything was spotlessly clean and well... read more

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    June 4, 2019
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    January 30, 2020

    star rating  Lovely place to holiday near to interesting locations and easy access to the High Peak trail and Carsington Water. Part of a working farm with fresh produce to enjoy during... read more

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