Ashbourne gets ready for historic Shrovetide football

Ashbourne Shrovetide Football Ashbourne's Shrovetide football game is more like a huge rugby scrum

Related Stories

A Derbyshire town will host one of the country's oldest "sporting" traditions on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Shops will board up their windows and businesses will close early as the Ashbourne Shrovetide football game takes over the town.

Hundreds of players for each side - called the Up'ards and Down'ards, depending on which side of River Henmore you were born - battle in the streets to get the hand-painted cork-filled ball to goals three miles apart.

The ball is "turned up" - thrown to the waiting crowd - at 1400 GMT and the game often lasts well into the night.

Despite being called a football game, it rarely involves kicking the ball and more closely resembles a huge rugby scrum heaving and pushing its way through the town.

'Blood, spit and tears'

The hug, as it is known, may consist of a couple of hundred players and is a source of great rivalry as to which team is triumphant in each game.

But it is not for the faint-hearted.

One player who has witnessed most aspects of the game is Steve Bloor - a Down'ard by birth, meaning he was born south of the Henmore.

He said: "Being in the hug is a bit like being in a pressure cooker.

Start Quote

Being in the hug is a bit like being in a pressure cooker. It's hot and noisy”

End Quote Steve Bloor Shrovetide football player

"It's hot and noisy. All you can smell is sweat, blood, spit and tears.

"It's like being in a different world."

Bloor now owns the ball he scored in 2009 and has a memory he will never forget: "[Scoring] is the most fantastic feeling to an Ashburnian - it's better than scoring the winning goal in the World Cup," he said.

"There must have been 2,000 people lining the riverbank as the hug pushed towards goal. The noise was phenomenal and as we approached the post I had a feeling that maybe it was my time."

Ashbourne's Shrovetide game is thought to date back more than 1,000 years, though historical records were lost in a fire at the Shrovetide Committee office at the end of the 19th Century.

The modern game takes place over two days and is enjoyed by thousands of people.

Goals are mill wheels set in huge stone plinths on the banks of the Henmore Brook at the sites of two former mills.

To score, a player must stand in the Henmore and tap the ball three times against the wheel.

Scoring at Ashbourne Shrovetide Crowds usually gather at the site of the goals to see the ball scored

Scoring means you will be carried back into the town by your team shoulder high and cheered by hundreds of spectators.

Prior to the start each day, a special Shrovetide lunch is held, usually in the game's spiritual home, the Green Man Royal Hotel.

However, organisers decided to move the venue this year due to uncertainty about the sale of the hotel. The lunch will instead be held at the town's leisure centre.

Despite the intense rivalry, Steve Bloor knows it is a good-natured affair. He said: "Yes, it's rough but it's not violent. We all end up with cuts and scrapes and sometimes a bloody nose.

"But once the game ends we're all the best of friends.

"Come Wednesday night, we'll all be out, Up'ards and Down'ards, enjoying a pint together."

The game received royal assent in 1928 when the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, turned up the ball.

Prince Charles started the game in 2003.

More on This Story

Related Stories

BBC Derby

Weather

Derby

15 °C 8 °C

Features

  • chocolate cake and strawberriesTrick your tongue

    Would this dessert taste different on a black plate?


  • Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George leaving New Zealand'Great ambassadors'

    How New Zealand reacted to William, Kate - and George


  • Major Power Failure ident on BBC2Going live

    Why BBC Two's launch was not all right on the night


  • Front display of radio Strange echoes

    What are the mysterious sequences of numbers read out on shortwave radio?


  • A letter from a Somali refugee to a Syrian child'Be a star'

    Children's uplifting letters of hope to homeless Syrians


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.