Tuesday 6 December 2016

Thousands cheer players on as annual Shrovetide Football takes over market town

Published 09/02/2016 | 22:01

The Up'Ards score a goal during the Royal Shrovetide Football match in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.
The Up'Ards score a goal during the Royal Shrovetide Football match in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.

The historic Royal Shrovetide Football match which "tries the pluck of an Englishman" ended in a goal after a gruelling contest involving hundreds of players.

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Thousands watched the often chaotic action sweep back and forth through the streets all afternoon in the market town of Ashbourne in Derbyshire on the first of a two-day struggle.

Traditionally pitting the Up'Ards - anyone born north of Henmore Brook which divides the town - and Down'Ards, it was the Up'Ards who "goaled" after just over three hours of ceaseless play.

At just after 5pm, one of their number struck the ball three times, as the ancient rules dictate, at Sturston goal on the east side of Ashbourne.

As is customary, the action had earlier kicked off with the "turning-up" of the ball at Shawcroft car park where well over 2,000 people had gathered for the unusual Pancake Day spectacle.

The painted ball was lofted into the crowd slightly later than the scheduled 2pm start, sending unprepared on-lookers scattering for cover as the serious players grappled for the prize.

Play then spilled out through the yard of a local butcher's shop and into the main street.

Lorries and even a local school bus, trapped by the road closures, became the centre of the frenetic action as the ball rolled underneath the vehicles.

At one point, Up'Ard players tried to smuggle the ball along the chilly waters of the brook but were turned back.

Steam started to rise off both sets of teams as the tide of play ebbed and flowed across the streets, with players using road signs and shop barricades to gain any advantage and free the ball from their opponents' grasp.

However, a late break saw the Up'Ards dash across the town's bridge where they were halted near the No. 108 bus service from Leek, much to the bemusement of its passengers.

Then as the sun began to set, the Up'Ards' runners made a break with ball in hand to land the winning goal.

Veteran player 54-year-old Roy Murfin, preparing for the day's action with a pint at the George and Dragon, said he had first seen the match aged six.

The Ashbourne resident said his worst injuries were "sprained ankles and cracked ribs" but that the action was always "in good humour".

Asked how the players cope with the relentless action, he said: "You have to keep coming out and others go in, because you get so hot."

"If you do get pulled down, then they usually pick you back up.

"One year we had a fella who kept falling down, and we would pick him up.

"We lifted him up, and his artificial leg fell off."

He added: "By and large, it's pretty good natured."

The action will begin again tomorrow, which is traditionally a more local affair with less outside visitors joining in the action.

On Wednesday, the ball will be "turned-up" by D-Day veteran Bill Milward of Ashbourne on what will be his 100th birthday.

He will join the likes of the Prince of Wales and Sir Stanley Matthews, who have also shared the honour.

Press Association

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