Here’s everything you need to know about the Shrovetide football match
The two-day game is a pre-Easter extravaganza with minimal rules, goals three miles apart, and hundreds of players.
Every year, on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, a game like no other kicks off in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.
The Royal Shrovetide football match is a relatively lawless, rugby-football hybrid extravaganza, where hundreds of players try and get the ball to goals that are three miles apart.
Scoring involves jumping in the local river, and manslaughter is explicitly a no-no – this is the story of the Ashbourne Shrovetide football match.
How it works
Th match begins when someone, usually a semi-famous local, chucks a cork-filled ball into a crowd from a permanent plinth in the town’s main car park at 2pm, known as “turning-up”.
The ball is made in the town and hand-painted to honour the dignitary.
Then hundreds of gathered people try and get the ball to their goal by pretty much any means necessary.
The matches last until 10pm both days or when a goal is scored if it’s after 5.30pm.
If a goal is scored before then, a new ball is released from the starting point again.
There are very few rules. Although it’s nicknamed football, none of the familiar traditions of that sport apply.
The ball can be kicked, but it rarely is. Usually it is carried or thrown between dozens of people trying to get their goal.
The goals themselves are three miles apart, and both are in the river that runs through Ashbourne, Henmore Brook.
Potential scorers have to jump in to hit the ball on their respective scoring post three times to score.
To accommodate, the centre of town shuts for two days and businesses board up their windows, but there are some extra rules to keep things slightly dignified.
The ball can’t be hidden, driven anywhere, or enter cemeteries or churchyards.
And, reassuringly, manslaughter or killing people on purpose is not allowed either.
As lawless as it might look, there are two teams, and the one you’re on depends on where exactly you were born or live.
You’re an Up’Ard if you’re from north of Henmore Brook, or one of the Down’Ards if you were born south of it.
There are no limits to the teams’ sizes though, and visitors to the area make up the numbers too.
However, it would be pretty unusual for a non-local to score – that’s usually decided ahead of time by key local players as the ball makes its way to the goal.
There are records of a similar game being played around this time of year across the UK as far back as the 12th century, but the Ashbourne game is suspected to have been played since 1667.
It got its royal title after Edward VIII, who was then Prince of Wales, opened the game in 1928.
But more recently, the Prince of Wales threw the ball into the crowd to start 2003’s match.
The goals, which players must hit three times to score, used to be mills either side of the town.
They’ve since been demolished, and in the 90s purpose-built goals using some of the original millstones were erected in Henmore Brook.