Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football

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One of the few surviving street football games takes place at Shrovetide in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. The first known mention of the Ashbourne game is in 1683, by Charles Cotton in his Burlesque on the Great Frost, ‘two towns, that long that war had waged being at football now engaged’ but it is likely to be much older than that. The game is played between two teams, of indeterminate size, called the Upp'ards and the Down'ards, i.e. those who live above or below the Henmore Stream which flows through the town. Two mills, over two miles apart, are the respective goals, and the ball can be kicked, thrown, or carried, but must not be transported by car. Much of the time the ball is in the middle of a mass scrum, or ‘hug’, and travels very slowly. The balls are handmade in the village, of stitched leather, and much decorated, but they sometimes get torn to pieces during the game. Sometimes two, very occasionally three, games can be played in a day, and the game is staged both on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. In the mid-19th century, there were determined and increasing attempts to suppress the game altogether and regular clashes between players and police occurred. A workable compromise was reached in 1862/3 when it was agreed to move the game out of the Market Square and town streets where it had formerly raged, on to an open site called Shaw Croft on the edge of town where the crowds would do less damage. In subsequent years, as long as the game stayed out of the town, it was left alone by the authorities.

Lindsey Porter, Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football: The Official History (1992);Kightly, 1986: 205–6.

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