For centuries, the citizens of Ashbourne, England have annually contested the Royal Shrovetide Football match, a sprawling, chaotic wrestling match masquerading as a soccer game. The thicket of ruddy blokes you see up top there are members of two teams: the Down’ards and the Up’ards, thus named for which side of Henmore Brook they were born on. When Shrove Tuesday rolls around, the lads gather in the town square, where the match ball is dropped at 2:00 p.m. and play begins. It looks like this:
The goals are around three miles apart, and play continues until someone scores (unless either side manages to score in the first three-and-a-half hours). It took a full hour for the ball to even get moved out of the town square on Tuesday, and play had to be suspended at 10:00 p.m. The only rules are: no driving the ball in a car, no hiding the ball in a bag, and no murders. Reassuring!
Since the goals are in the brook and much of the game inevitably takes place in the water, the ball is slightly larger than a regulation soccer ball and it’s filled with cork to help it stay afloat. Hundreds of people join in on each team, which makes progress slow. In practice, it looks like a zombie horde trying to play rugby.
At 8:42 p.m. local time last night, Down’ard participant Richard Smith scored the game-winning goal for his team, and we have Derbyshire Live to thank for a very detailed match report. Here is my favorite selection:
A good 10 minutes of fabulous open water play ensued, before it was hauled out of the water and towards the recreation ground. However, despite the frenetic start, this was the point where players finally slowed their pace and the game entered a slower phase.
Congrats to the Down’ards for winning the communal version of the cheese hill chase.