When does Ashbourne’s 2022 Shrovetide Football take place?

Ashbourne town centre will be a hive of activity for the Shrovetide Football match

Ashbourne town centre will be a hive of activity for the Shrovetide Football match - Credit: Gary Wallis

One of – if not the – most famous of Derbyshire customs returns next month following an enforced break due to the pandemic. 

Thousands will descend on the pretty and historic town of Ashbourne to take in the world-famous, two-day Shrovetide Football (although it more closely resembles rugby) match. 

Contested by the up’ards and down’ards, this captivating (and often brutal!) match has taken place practically every year since at least 1667. 

There are few rules – with the basic premise that a large number of players from both sides to push the 4lbs hand-painted ball towards their goal, hitting the ball against their millstone three times in order to secure a goal. 

The teams are made up of locals and the side in which any given participant plays for depends on which side of Henmore Brook they were born. 

Those born south of the brook play for the down’ards and attempt to get the ball to the old Clifton Mill, whilst the up’ards (born on the north side of the brook) attempt to get the ball to the old Sturston Mill. 

The Royal Shrovetide Football Match in full flow

The Royal Shrovetide Football Match in full flow - Credit: Andrew Eyley

The tradition’s origins are lost in time. Academics suggest Shrovetide ‘foot-ball’ in both Britain and Europe was an organised vestige of prehistoric pagan ritual in which the ball symbolised the life-giving sun.  

Most Read

Capturing, controlling and carrying ‘home’ the magical orb to cherished territory would herald a good harvest. That theory has sound credentials. 

More widely accepted is that Shrovetide ‘ball-play’ – and associated ‘Pancake Day’ frolics – was an established Derby tradition by at least the twelfth century, and certainly by the seventeenth had settled into a familiar routine entrenched in the calendar. 

Key information ahead of Ashbourne’s 2022 Shrovetide Football 

  • The match will be held over two days on Shrove Tuesday (March 1) and Ash Wednesday (March 2) 

  • Both days see the action begin at 2pm, continuing until 10pm 

  • The match begins as the ball is ‘turned up’ at Shaw Croft car park in the town centre 

  • Participants and spectators are asked to take a lateral flow test ahead of the match on both days 

  • The honour of ‘turning up’ the ball this year are locals Bay Spencer (Shrove Tuesday) and Roger Jones (Ash Wednesday) 

Shrovetide Football returns to Ashbourne in early March

Shrovetide Football returns to Ashbourne in early March - Credit: Joy Hales

And to get yourself fully immersed in the spirit of this fabulous local custom, the Shrovetide Song, written in 1891, is well worth a read. 

There's a town still plays this glorious game, Tho' tis but a little spot. 

And year by year the contest's fought, From the field that's called Shaw Croft. 

Then friend meets friend in friendly strife, The leather for to gain, 
'And they play the game right manfully, In snow, sunshine or rain. 

'Tis a glorious game, deny it who can, That tries the pluck of an Englishman. 

For loyal the Game shall ever be, No matter when or where, 
And treat that Game as ought but the free, Is more than the boldest dare. 

Though the up's and down's of its chequered life, May the ball still ever roll, 
Until by fair and gallant strife, We've reached the treasur'd goal. 

'Tis a glorious game, deny it who can, That tries the pluck of an Englishman