Derby

Ashbourne Shrovetide Football: D-Day veteran to start game

Bill Millward and this year's Shrovetide ball
Image caption Bill Milward competed in the event as a "Down'Ard" having been born on the lower side of the river Henmore

A D-Day veteran has been chosen to "turn up" the ball at a centuries-old sports event on his 100th birthday.

Bill Milward, from Ashbourne, Derbyshire, will start the scrum on 10 February, the second day of the Royal Shrovetide Football.

Speaking about the honour, he said he first competed in the game in his home town when he was nine or 10.

Mr Milward will join the likes of the Prince of Wales and Sir Stanley Matthews in "turning up" the ball.

Updates on this story and more from Derbyshire

Image copyright PA
Image caption Prince Charles followed in the footsteps of his great uncle King Edward VIII, by starting the event in 2003

"I think it's a great honour, I was right excited when they told me," he said.

"I think that's what did it, it being my 100th birthday".

Mr Milward, 99, took part in the ritual right up until the outbreak of the World War Two.

He drove an amphibious vehicle during the Normandy landings, carrying supplies to troops.

He was awarded the rank of Chevalier in the Legion d'Honneur last year for his contributions on D-Day.

What is Royal Shrovetide Football?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The ball is rarely kicked, though it is legal to kick, throw or carry it
  • The game has been played from at least 1667, although the exact origins are unknown after the earliest records were destroyed in a fire
  • It is played over two days on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday with it starting at 14:00 each day and ending at 22:00
  • The two teams that play the game are known as the Up'Ards and the Down'Ards
  • The actual process of "goaling" a ball requires a player to hit it against the millstone three successive times
  • The scorer is elected en route to the goal and would typically be someone who lives in Ashbourne

Mr Milward said he tried to start up a game of Shrovetide Football while he was posted in Italy during the war, but troops were mystified by it.

He is now focused on his responsibilities on the day.

"I have to give a speech - I've never given a speech before," he said.

"I've got it in my mind what I would like to say, 'my Lords, Ladies and Gentleman', that sort of thing'."

Famous people who have 'turned-up' the ball:

Image copyright PA
Image caption Brian Clough started the event when he was manager of Nottingham Forest
  • 2003: Prince Charles
  • 1982: Roy McFarland
  • 1975: Brian Clough
  • 1966: Sir Stanley Matthews
  • 1952: Duke of Devonshire
  • 1928: The Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VIII

Despite looking forward to the experience, Mr Milward said he thought someone might throw something at him if he decided to start the game with "down with it" because of his Down'Ard allegiance.

More on this story