Royal Shrovetide Football is an annual event which takes place in Ashbourne, in Derbyshire. It dates back to the 12th Century, and still, to this day, bears all the hallmarks of a sport founded in that era. It’s played between two teams, the ‘Up’ards’ and the ‘Down’ards’, those born north and south of the town’s river. The rules of the game are somewhat different to those associated with the traditional sport known all over the world…
- The ball must not go into the churchyards, Memorial gardens or building sites;
- No tresspassing on other peoples property;
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.
These rules aside, the difference with this form of the game is the goals…they are stone plinths, located 3 miles apart, each one a mile and half from the town centre. Like normal association football, the aim of the game is simply to score a goal. However, this becomes slightly more of a challenge when each team consists of hundreds, if not thousands of people.
It makes for an interesting day’s work, the success of which often depends on where the ball works it’s way to. If it the melee of players find themselves shuffling down the high street, then a view of the buildings framing the mass of people can be nice to see. If it moves away from town, then the river and lake beckon.
I was only able to photograph one of the two days this year, but on this occasion, it was the latter that happened…