The Royal Shrovetide Football match takes place every year on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday and its origins date back to the 12th century. It is one of the world’s oldest, largest, longest and craziest football games with over a thousand players doing battle over up to 8 hours of play.
The two teams that play the game are known as the Up'Ards and the Down'Ards. The Up'Ards comprise townsfolk born north of Henmore Brook, which runs through the town, and Down'Ards are those born south of the river. There are two goal posts 3 miles apart, one at Sturston Mill (where the Up'Ards attempt to score), the other at Clifton Mill (where the Down'Ards score).
Despite the game being called football, the Shrovetide ball is rarely passed. Although participants are allowed to kick, carry or throw it the ball, it generally moves through the town in a series of hugs – think of rugby scrum made up of hundreds of people.
And while the game may resemble a free-for-all, there are some stringent rules in place. The ball may not be hidden under clothes or carried by a motorised vehicle. While tramping through residents’ gardens is allowed, Ashbourne’s cemeteries and churchyards are out of bounds. Oh, and committing murder or manslaughter is strictly prohibited! It’s believed this rule dates back to more lawless times when a severed head was used instead of a ball.
As the town’s players continue their efforts to “goal“ the Shrovetide football, it seems the event is about to receive some much deserved recognition. Last year’s match was filmed by American director Peter Baxter and his documentary of the event, entitled Wild in the Streets, is due for release later this year.