The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) on the face of it has very little to do with Ashbourne, the Derbyshire market town more than 1,200km from FIFA’s Zurich headquarters.
Having formed in 1904, FIFA began in humble circumstances with eight nations seeking administrative clarity for the game of football.
In the preceding years, the game had been played in many variants, with a miscellany of rules preventing the game spreading universally, before FIFA’s inception.
One of these popular variants was the Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide match.
In his critically claimed book, The Fall of the House of FIFA, David Conn cites the match played in the Derbyshire Dales as a key to the timeline that led to the game we recognise today.
The four-time Sports Journalism Awards Sports News Reporter of The Year explains in the book: “The roots of the modern, refined, global sport were indeed in the rough folk games which English villagers used to battle over in the middle ages, literally fighting to carry a ball miles into the ‘goal’ of forcing it into the opposition territory.
“Some of these muddy, heaving, streaming free-for-alls survive today, most famously the Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday sprawls between the ‘Up’ards’ and ‘Down’ards’, across fields a river and through the town of Ashbourne, in Derbyshire.”
Played 13.6 miles from Derby, the intense battle resembles those played in the East Midlands city from which the phrase ‘local derby’ derives, originating from what Conn describes as “the grapples of old between two parishes, All Saints and St Peter’s, in the city of Derby”.