Everything you need to know about Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football
It's the world's oldest game of football, but do you know the facts behind the unique Derbyshire tradition of Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide?
Played in the Derbyshire town of Ashbourne every Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday (around mid to late February), this exciting and dramatic game is thought to be one of the oldest forms of football in the world.
Each year, the town’s streets, fields and streams are filled with thousands of players and spectators who follow the match - attracting attention from across the globe.
What is Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football?
Unlike a conventional football match, Shrovetide Football is much longer than a regular football match and is played over two eight-hour periods. The goals are three miles apart and there are very few rules. The ball is rarely kicked but instead moves through a giant 'hug'. There is no set pitch: the game is played throughout the entire town, so shops and businesses board up their windows in preparation!
When did it begin?
The game has been played almost every year since at least 1667, although its exact origins are unknown because records were destroyed in a fire.
It's the biggest highlight in any Ashburnian's calendar - and Shrovetide Football was even played in the First World War by soldiers in France who originated from the town.
Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football got its royal title after Edward VIII, who was then Prince of Wales, opened the game in 1928.
When does Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football start and finish?
The game starts on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday at 2pm, when the ball is 'turned up' from a stone plinth on Shaw Croft car park in Ashbourne town centre.
The ball is thrown into the air and into the 'hug' by the ‘turner up‘, a respected local person chosen to do the honour. Famous 'turner-ups' have included Prince Charles and The Duke of Devonshire.
Once play begins, a large number of players try to move the ball to their goal by pushing against the opposition.
The match continues until 10pm. If a goal is scored before 5pm, then a new ball is 'turned up' again and a new game started. If the goal is after 5pm then the game ends for the day.
What sort of ball is used for Ashbourne Shrovetide Football?
Shrovetide Football is played using a specially prepared, hand-sewn leather ball. It is larger than a football and filled with cork chippings (to help it float in the river).
Weighing around 4lbs, the ball is carefully hand-painted to a design chosen by the local person picked to ‘turn up’ the ball at the start of the match. If the ball is goaled, then it will become the proud possession of the person who has goaled it.
How are the teams chosen?
Hundreds of players take part in the game which divides the town and reignites local rivalries. Your team depends on which side of the Henmore Brook you were born on: those born South of the Brook are the Down'ards, and try to goal the ball at the old Clifton Mill. Those born on the North are the Up'ards and try to goal the ball at the old Sturston Mill.
What happens when a goal is scored?
Unlike traditional football, the process is called ‘goaling’ rather than 'scoring'. To goal the ball, a player needs to hit the ball against their millstone goal three times. The scorer is usually elected en route to the goal and is typically someone who lives in Ashbourne. It is a huge honour to ‘goal’ the ball and the scorer often becomes a local celebrity.
What are the rules of Shrovetide Football?
Ashbourne Shrovetide Football is similar to rugby, but there are very few rules. Despite the whole town being the 'pitch', the Shrovetide Football match can't be played in churchyards, cemetries or places of worship, and private property must be respected.
One of the earliest rules was 'no murder' and one of the most recent is 'the ball must not be carried in a motorised vehicle'!
Players must follow the request of medical personnel, marshalls and police at all times - and respect the town and its people.
What's 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 in the Green Man & Black's Head Royal Hotel in Ashbourne town centre.
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