5th & 6th March 2019
The Down’rds claimed victory on day two of the 2019 Royal Shrovetide Football game, an annual event that draws thousands of spectators to the town from across the country.
Shrovetide ball games have been recorded as far back as the twelfth century with the earliest reference to the game in Ashbourne around 1667.The game was once popular in nearby Derby until stopped by the reading of the Riot Act.
The Ashbourne game sees the Up’rds, born on the north side of Henmore Brook, take on the Down’rds, born on the south side, although anyone can join in. The game takes the form of a huge rugby scrum and is played over Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday as the teams struggle to goal the ball at Clifton Mill or Sturston Mill, three miles apart. The ball is goaled by tapping it three times on a millstone incorporated into each of the goal posts.
Rules are few and far between, although murder is strictly not permitted and ‘unnecessary violence’ is frowned upon! The ball may not be hidden under a coat or carried in a motorised vehicle. If a goal is scored before 5pm, another ball is turned up with play continuing until 10pm. The goal scorer gets to keep the ball, a much-prized possession in Ashbourne.
Ashbourne assumes a holiday spirit for occasion as shop windows around the town are boarded up for protection. It is impossible to predict where the game will go, although cemeteries and churchyards are off limits. The uniqueness of the game regularly attracts worldwide attention. This year visiting news teams included the German Bild news agency.
The ball is ‘turned up’ each day by a celebrity or local dignitary, a great honour locally. The Royal title to the game came with The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) turning up the ball in 1928. In 2003 HRH Prince Charles also visited the town and turned up the ball.
The honour of turning up the ball in front of a huge Shrove Tuesday crowd, was given to local businessman Paul Harrison, a Down’rd. “I’d just like to thank everybody for this huge honour today,” he said. “Ashbourne looks absolutely fantastic. And can I just remind you,” he added, “Clifton goal is that way!”
He duly turned up the ball, which disappeared into the ‘hug’ the heaving mass of players, which remained in the Shaw Croft car park for a few moment. The ball made a brief appearance before the hug moved onto Park Road and around the Peter Street flats.
Shortly after the game crossed Park Road coming to rest for a few moments against the fire station perimeter fence, which began to buckle under the weight of the hug. Around the flats, again, went the hug and back into the car park, then into St John Street, one of the town’s main shopping areas, with all the shops closed and boarded for protection.
The Down’rds made a break in the direction of the church before being halted and the hug moved back to Dig Street and into the Henmore Brook. After a bright and breezy start, the weather closed in. By close of play, at 10pm, neither side had been able to goal the ball, honours even.
Wednesday’s inclement weather seriously depleted the crowd in Shaw Croft to see Paul Holmes turn up the ball for the second day’s play. The smaller crowds made for more open play with the Down’rds eventually taking victory as Richard Smith goaled the ball at Clifton Mill at 8.42pm.