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Football at Ashbourne

Febbraio 2011
Il martedì grasso di Ashbourne è veramente particolare. I suoi abitanti festeggiano il giorno prima della Quaresima con una partita di football lunghissima, che inizia alle 14 e finisce alle 22, e che si disputa per tutto il paese. Una raccomandazione:  se ci andate, lasciate l’auto in garage!

di John Rigg

File audio:

Football at Ashbourne
Football at Ashbourne

Speaker: Justin Ratcliffe (Standard British accent)

Ashbourne is a quiet market town in Derbyshire, south of the Peak District. It hasn’t changed since medieval times. It has elegant 18th century Georgian buildings and narrow streets. But once a year the town becomes a war zone. The shops are closed, their windows protected. There are no cars parked anywhere. In the streets, hundreds of men prepare for battle. This is the Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football Match.


The match begins at 2 p.m. on Shrove Tuesday. The ball is thrown into the town square. Hundreds of men try to catch it. But where are the goals? Where is the football pitch? Ashbourne is located in the valley of a river, the Henmore Brook. The goals were once two mills, Clifton and Sturston, three miles apart. The mills were demolished years ago. Now two mill stones represent the goals. The pitch is the town, the fields and very often the river.
Two teams play Shrovetide Football. They are the Up’Ards and the Down’Ards. Up’Ards are born north of the river, and Down’Ards are born south. The rules are very simple: you must not commit murder, you must not use a vehicle, you must not hide the ball in a bag or coat. The game ends at 10 p.m. Tourists can join the game, but they cannot score.


The players can kick, throw or carry the ball. The teams push and fight. A player breaks away and runs with the ball. He’s in the river, under a bridge. The opposition stops him. Teams form a scrum: one player holds the ball, the other players hold and protect him. They push through the other team. Once they reach the goal, they must hit it three times with the ball. A goal signals the end of that game.


The games started in the 12th century. It became the Royal Shrovetide Football Match in 1928. Prince Edward of Wales (later King Edward VIII) started the match. He suffered a bloody nose as a result. Prince Charles started the match in 2003. This time, however, the prince stood on a platform. 

The Shrovetide Ball

The ball is made of leather, and filled with Portuguese cork. Cork helps the ball float in the river. The ball is hand painted. John Harrison, a local man, has made the ball for the last 20 years. Some historians believe that the game was originally played with a human skull, after a public execution!


Ashbourne is about 12 miles (20 kilometres) north-west of Derby. It is a good starting place for tours of the Peak District, one of England’s beautiful National Trust Parks. The Peak District offers many wonderful paths for nature lovers. Alternative attractions in the area include the theme parks Alton Towers and Gulliver’s Kingdom. Ashbourne is a Fairtrade town.

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