Why FIFA were inspired by Ashbourne’s Shrovetide football game

FIFA and Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide football: What is the link?

Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide
The Up'ards and Down'ards fight over the ball. Photo: Nikita Henschl.

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.

FIFA logo, picture by Ben Sutherland
Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide has a link to FIFA. Picture: Ben Sutherland

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.

The ball being turned up at Ashbourne Shrovetide
And they’re off. The ball is turned up at the start of Royal Ashbourne Shrovetide 2020. Photo: Alex Wood.

“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”.