2018 Shrovetide Football - photo special

The balls surfaces briefly, to the delight of the crowd

The balls surfaces briefly, to the delight of the crowd - Credit: Archant

Match report by Ewan Shipley, 6th Form student at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Ashbourne.

The centuries-old game of Royal Shrovetide Football took place in February in the market town of Ashbourne over the course of two days, transforming the streets and surrounding countryside into one huge football pitch. During Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, whilst many others would have been flipping pancakes or treating their Valentine, the two teams (Up’ards and Down’ards) – which are decided depending on which side of the Henmore Brook the players are born on – were pitted against each other, both trying to score on ancient stone goals two miles apart, located in Clifton and Sturston. Teams consist of approximately 300 people who have typically been brought up playing or spectating. This year, the weather was particularly unkind, with rain hitting the town both days – dedicated fans and players remained undeterred, however. HM Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire William Tucker turned up the ball on Shrove Tuesday and former professional footballer and mechanic from Mayfield John Webb, who led a Leek-based Tug-of-War team to victory at last year’s World Games in Poland, performed the honours the following day. Thankfully, the overall score was 1-1: Tom Boulton-Lear stealthily scored for the Down’ards on the Tuesday whilst Barrie Swan levelled for the Up’ards on the Wednesday.

Described by many as exhilarating, the game draws in crowds and fans on an international scale. This is partly due to the fact it is one of the few remaining examples of this type of football still played in the world and is a vital part of the area’s heritage and folk culture. More recently, it has seen a fair amount of promotion through news coverage and on social media sites, being dubbed as an ‘extreme sport’ and having a dangerous appeal. Those who attend the game regularly know that there is a communal atmosphere, with both the players and fans showing respect and good nature alike. The reason the game has continued for so long is because of this attitude – local people know what could get the game cancelled altogether and choose to follow regulations to avoid this. The spirit of the town during the game is perhaps unmatched by any other area of the country – the feeling of togetherness is immense. As a local, many of us are particularly attached to the game, returning each year to watch the spectacle take place. The majority of the town and surrounding areas have grown up with the game and feel it is their responsibility to keep the game and tradition alive. It is to be hoped that it will continue for decades to come.