How to bend Royal Shrovetide Football’s few pesky rules and become an Ashbourne legend

How to bend Royal Shrovetide Football’s few pesky rules and become an Ashbourne legend

Every year in Ashbourne a beloved game from the medieval era is brought into the present with Royal Shrovetide Football.

The Derbyshire town for a few days is sent into a chaos by the tradition which has been from at least 1667, with large groups of Ashburnians turning out to play.

The game despite its name, is not really anything like football and is more like a structureless rugby match.

The Up’ards and Down’ards who are teams made up of townspeople from either side of the local Henmore Brook, compete to ‘goal’ (or score) the ball at opposite ends of the town.

With a ball of flailing limbs making its way through the town, shops are boarded up and schools are closed, the town basically shut down for the duration of the game.

The madness starts with the ‘turning up’ of the specially made ball and ends only after days of tussle, with breaks for the prestigious act of ‘goaling’ the ball.

Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide
The crowd gathered in the Shaw Croft car park for the start of Shrovetide. Photo: Dave Layzell.

A game where nearly everything goes

Such is the medieval nature of that it has never really developed many rules, in truth it doesn’t really need many.

According to Derbyshire Live, the five only real rules are as follows:

  • The ball may not be carried in a motorised vehicle.
  • The ball may not be hidden in a bag, coat or rucksack, etc.
  • Cemeteries, churchyards and the town memorial gardens are strictly out of bounds.
  • Playing after 10pm is forbidden.
  • To score a goal the ball must be tapped three times in the area of the goal

Another rule cited elsewhere is that murder, manslaughter or unnecessary violence prohibited (which is handy considering they’re illegal).

This speaks to the pretty brutal nature of the ‘hug’ which if we’re staying with the rugby comparison would be an oversized and scrappy scrum.

But is these rules seem a little vague, so is there a way to avoid the hug and become a prolific ‘goal’-er? Why I’m glad you asked, of course there is.

Steel yourself for medieval madness at Shrovetide

How to ‘goal’ the ball without ever being in the ‘hug’

If you really, really want to win and have endless resources to spend on ensuring success for your team either side of the river, here’s a couple of ideas.

  • The most audacious but effective idea in theory, is to have a professional athlete kick or throw the ball to a waiting Hot air balloon as soon as the ball is turned up (the ball weighs similar to a medicine ball, so you need a good arm or leg). That way you’d avoid the pesky ‘hug’ and be able to peacefully float to your respective goal.


  • Wearing some kind of ridiculous protection doesn’t seem to be outlawed. A full set of plate armour seems on brand for a medieval sport – ploughing through the crowd like an angered feudal lord covered in a shining carapace.


  • Staying with Shrovetide’s far reaching heritage, a fast horse or destrier (a medieval warhorse) could be of great use, or even a sturdy bicycle – as like a Hot air balloon neither are motorized and would have to caught up by a freakishly fast Ashburnian.


  • Should there be any snow, even packing a sled could be good option to evade your cross-river rivals as they traipse behind you.


  • Being as the contest usually ends up in the river, having Kayaks along the river could speed up your journey to the goal. Beware though as this could help the other team, should they come across your scattered Kayaks and gain possession of the ball. Hide them well!


  • Finally, a decoy ball that could trick the other team is also vaguely allowed, as the actual ball would not be hidden. The ball is tailor made from Portuguese cork, so you may need some niche contacts to replicate it.

If you somehow manage to implement these ideas that although ludicrous are completely within the rules of Royal Shrovetide Football, you will be the greatest Shrovetide player that has ever walked the Earth – an Ashbourne legend for the ages.

If you’re interested in seeing the spectacle first hand, the event starts at 2pm on Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and February 26th in the town’s Shaw Croft car park.

The match can last until 10pm but if the goal is ‘goaled’ before 5.30pm a new ball is released and play restarts. However, the game will end for the day if play is the ball is goaled after 5.30pm.

For more information on Shrovetide:

Twitter: @5hrovetide