As the shops in Ashbourne are boarded up and the streets cleared, people in the Derbyshire town will be preparing for this year’s Royal Ashbourne Shrovetide Football match.
But to the outside world, this medieval game is a mystery, so we’ve gathered together the key things you need to know.
What is Shrovetide?
Royal Shrovetide Football is a medieval game, taking place annually on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, that has been taking place in Ashbourne in its current form since the 17th Century.
The game is played across two eight-hour sessions and goals are located three miles apart.
There are two teams, Up’ards and Down’ards, determined by whether you live up or down river – even friends and family members will split apart and become rivals in the spirit of the game.
After the ball is ‘turned up’ by being thrown into the crowd, the scrum-like ‘hug’ will form and the fight to gain possession of the ball begins.
Typically, players are from Ashbourne’s rugby team, but everyone is welcome to participate, but at their own risk as it is a contact sport.
Although more comparable to rugby, the game it is believed to be the predecessor of the more conventional form of football that all Britons recognise.
History of Shrovetide in Ashbourne
The exact origins of Ashbourne Shrovetide are unknown following a fire at the Shrovetide Committee office in the 1890s, however one story suggests that the ball was in fact a severed head tossed into the crowd following an execution.
The game has taken place nearly every year since it began.
It was briefly banned following a man drowning in 1878 and has been cancelled twice during outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in 1968 and 2001.
Where does the game take place?
The historic game takes place throughout Ashbourne, across a three-mile stretch of Henmore Brook.
Players battle for possession of the ball through the streets and fields with the aim of goaling the ball against their respective scoring posts, which are positioned over a mile and a half from where the ball is turned up in opposite directions.
But, there are some areas where the game cannot be played. Churchyards, the cemetery, building sites, memorial grounds, the hospital, doctors’ surgeries, the allotments off Watery Lane and private property are all off limits.
What are the rules?
Although the game is renowned for its minimal rules, there are still some which players take very seriously. First and foremost, all players and spectators must listen to the marshals.
To score, players must touch the ball against the scoring post (millstone) three times.
People must not shine bright lights onto the hug.
Though the game it played over two eight-hour periods, it ends if the ball is goaled after 5.30pm.
If a ball is lost and cannot be found after two hours, a new ball will be thrown in at the last point of play
No vehicles must be used to carry the ball and, crucially, murder is against the rules.
What time do things happen?
1pm – Up’ards and Down’ards assemble at their designated zones (usually a pub).
2pm – The ball is turned up at Shaw Croft car park.
10pm – Game play stops if the ball has not been goaled.
11pm – Celebrations take place throughout the town.
How to get to Ashbourne
If you’re planning to drive to Ashbourne, there is a free park and ride service available just off Blenheim Road.
Shuttle buses will run from 10am until 10pm on both days and they travel between the parking area, Tippers/Hangar4, the end of Blenheim Road and Ashbourne’s bus station on King Edward Street.
If you’re planning to get the bus from Derby, as well as the hourly SWIFT bus service, there will be additional buses running during the event.
Extra buses leave Derby bus station on Tuesday, February 25 and Wednesday, February 26 at 11.20am, 12.20pm and 1.20pm and return from Ashbourne to Derby at 6.30pm, 8.15pm and 10.15pm.