Ashbourne Stories and Tips

A Strange Shrovetide Tradition

This is the second part of my Shrovetide football story:

The ball:
This is not just any old ball it is a specially hand painted cork filled leather ball These balls are larger and heavier than a normal football . The cork inner is designed to allow it to float when in the river which is somewhere it spends quite a lot of its time
The ball is beautifully hand painted and is different each time .Naturally during the game it gets quite well handles and the painting is often not quite as gleaming as when it started. The person who scores a goal is allowed to keep the ball and after each goal the entire crowd returns to Shaw croft for another ‘Turn Up’. If the goal scorer chooses he can pay to have it re-painted. If there are no goals scored then the person who turned it up gets to keep it.

The rules:
T hese I have taken straight from the Shrovetide website:
"The rules in this game are quite short, the main rules which must be followed are:
• No tresspassing on other peoples property.
• The ball must not go into the churchyards, Memorial gardens or building sites
• You must not intentionally cause harm to others.
• The ball must not be hidden from view in bags or rucksacks.
• The ball must not be transported in a motorised vehicle.
• A ball is goaled when it is tapped three times onto one of the stone plinths. If it is goaled before 5pm then another ball may be thrown up.
• Play ends at 10pm and the ball is returned to the Green Man public house."
There is more to this than just a game:
There is a special Shrovetide committee and these are generally old Ashburnian families who have been part of the town for years. They are often people who played in the past or may even be current players . At midday about 400 important people in the Shrovetide following including the committee meet for a pre-game lunch and speeches at ‘The Green Man and Black's Head Royal Hotel’ which is in the middle of the town on the main street.
At about 1.50pm the person ‘Turning Up’ the ball is carried through the town on the shoulders of some of the players to the plinth in Shaw croft. Then the speeches and singing followed by the ‘Turning Up’ of the ball into the ‘hub’ as the group of players is called.
Once a goal is scored the players return for another ‘turning up provided this goal is cored befor 5pm. If not then the game ends when the goal us scored or at 10pm if no goal is scored. If no goal is cored then the ball is returned to ‘The green Man ‘ pub for the next day or to keep for posterity.

The goals:
These again are not the traditional goals but rather they are large stone blocks in the river. On the land side on the stone is carved the inscription of whose goal it is but in the river uo high is a circle. This is the spot that must be touched by the ball. One person alone cannot score a goal he needs to be hoisted up out of the river so that he can touch this circle with the ball. There have to be official Shrovetide committee witnesses to this goal scoring so some of them at least have to be fit enough to keep up with the main hub of fit players in the game. I am sure it has become obvious that to play in the game you must be prepared to get very wet and muddy so you hope for a nice sunny day but more often not that it is drizzly and wet. Oh yes I forgot to mention that the goals are actually three miles apart, the Up’ards goal is in Sturston on private property while the ‘Down’ard’s goal is in Clifton. The teams always go for their own team goal and they don’t ever change.

Anyone can play:
Yes indeed anyone can play but you may have gleaned from reading this that it is not some mamby pamby game. You have to be very fit and tough otherwise you will risk injuring yourself. Over the years as far as I am aware there have been no deaths but there have been lots of broken limbs and even more bruised and battered bodies. You don’t just kick the ball to each other so in this way it is far more like a ‘free for all ‘rugby game than a football game. Once the ball is ‘turned up’ into the ‘hub’ then those playing just dive in without a care. We watched several people just crowd surfing then diving down so all you could see were their feet sticking up out of the mass. I am quite certain my head would not be down amongst everyone else’s feet!
I remember one year when my son and his mates were still at school, one of his friends lost his shoe in the hub and he continued to play for an hour or so with just one show but luckily he then found another shoe that someone had lost, unfortunately it was the wrong foot but he wore it anyway.

Does it happen every year?
Indeed Shrovetide football has been played every year even during the two world wars. There have only been two years when the game was cancelled and both of these were because of Foot and mouth. In 1968 a mini version was played on the park but in 2001 the game was cancelled altogether but the players still met at the plinth to sing the songs as a tribute to the. The next year 2002 Prince Charles was meant to ‘Turn Up’ the ball. but had to cancel because of the death of Princess Margaret however he came and did his bit the next year instead. Last year in 2010 it was our local MP Partick McLoughlin who did the honours with the ball but often it is an Ashburnian person with some connection to Shrovetide who is selected to fill this important role.
Anyone want to come next year?
So if you fancy seeing a bit of English tradition which so far has not been banned, despite many attempts over the years then book yourself in to a B&B for next year. If you want to be part fo the game then do some training because as you have been warned the goals are three miles apart and the game can last up to eight hours each day. You can of course just follow and drop out whenever you have had enough and make your way to a cafe or one of the many pubs in Ashbourne. If you just go down in the evening and if the game is over early then your chances of getting inside a pub is nil, they are heaving and the streets are full of those who have ‘supported’ the game with beers rather than by playing so it can be a bit rowdy.

Thanks for reading and trust I have enlightened you. If you want to see some of the action then type in Ashbourne Shrovetide on You Tube and there are several videos there. There are some excellent B&W photos taken by a photographer friend of my boys if you follow this link on facebook I think it is open to all as he wants his work to get some exposure.
Otherwise try for photos of this year’s event.

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