Ashbourne Shrovetide Football
Where did you say this was?
While many of you were enjoying your pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and then starting your Lenten sacrifices on Ash Wednesday our local town was once again turned into a giant football or rugby pitch for the annual Shrovetide Football game which lasts over the two days. This little town is called Ashbourne and known as the ‘Gateway’ to the Peak district and Dovedale. It is just an average market town that has now lost its cattle market but has a growing population as a commuter town for Derby. The population is now about 10,000 which is about double what it was when I went to school there in the late 60s.
A game of two sides:
The origin of the rather strange game is unknown but it has been going for many hundreds of years, possibly for over 1,000 years as there are records of it being played in the 12th century. The young enthusiasts train for months to get fit enough to be able to cope with the rigours of the game. The rules once the ball is in play are few and the numbers on each team are unlimited but there is usually a hard core of toughies actually getting into the full hands on activity with many other followers who may or may not ever get near the ball. Everyone and anyone can join in but there are basically two teams, the Up’ards and Down’ards .
How do you know which team you are ?
You are born into your team depending on which side of the Henmore brook you were born on. This small river runs through the centre of the town and is obviously one of the main places that the ball, and people ,end up in during the game. The Up’ards are born north of the river and the Down’ards south of the river. This becomes a little trickier in these modern days with fewer home births. At one stage Ashbourne had a maternity hospital which was north of the river so patently the Up’ards had an advantage but now most children are born in Derby which is south of the river so the Down’ards are gaining advantage. However I think that it tends to run in families and certainly old Ashburnian families take this very seriously and know exactly which team they belong to. On the day, no uniforms are worn, yet people seem to know exactly who is on which team. I think that the main rules for clothing is wear something old and most of the lads wear tightish jogging pants as then there is less chance of them being grabbed and pulled off!
Board up your windows:
The entire town centre is shut for the two days and for a few days before you can see the shops boarding up their glass fronts. Most shops close during this time and usually the schools in Ashbourne have their half term break but this year because of the late Easter the schools had already had half term so the schools closed and had inset days instead. The only shops open are the cafes and chippies and of course the pubs do a roaring trade as the followers often watch with beers in hand.
Book your time off:
People who were brought up in Ashbourne and now work in other parts of the country come back to Ashourne especially for Shrovetide. Other people who work locally take the day off on at least one day and if they cannot manage that, they rush into town after work to follow or just mingle in the crowds and catch up with old friends. My step son took the Wednesday off and brought a few ‘outsider’ from his work to experience the game. My step daughter took baby in the pram and met up with friends in the afternoon, came back to feed her daughter and put her to bed before heading off for the evening on both days. My other step daughter took her two sons and we went with her to see the ‘ Turning Up’ of the ball on Tuesday and we followed for a while before going back for a cuppa at her house which is just near the Down’ards goal. We went for a walk to inspect the goal and we just missed seeing the first goal scored by minutes.
The start of the game:
So in the car park on Shaw croft which is usually packed with cars, we have a huge crowd of people of all ages from babies in prams to the fairly elderly. The crowd begins to get more and more excited until finally a group of people, one carrying the ball, are allowed through the crowd to get to the brick stand at one end of the car park. This stand has two union Jacks flying and is high enough to be able to see it from the back of the crowd. The important person, Prince Charles did this one year, gives a bit of a speech which no-one. but the couple of rows in front of the stand can hear. Then the crowd sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ followed by ‘God save the Queen’ then the ball is thrown into the crowd and the fun begins.
The story continues in 'A Strange Shrovetide Tradition'