Medieval street football – often matches between neighbouring parishes – was commonly played throughout the country on religious ‘holy-days’ such as Shrovetide – the last day before Lent. A few such traditional games have survived, of which that at Ashbourne, now enjoying international status, is the most authentic.
It is played on Shrove Tuesday and the succeeding Ash Wednesday.
The game is played between two informal ‘teams’, the ‘Up’ards’ and the ‘Down’ards’. Anyone can participate – allegiance being defined by birth location or present residence. The ‘goals’ are on the site of former corn mills on the River Henmore 11/2 miles either side of the town centre. The game is boisterous and fiercely competitive, and local shops board up their windows for protection. The ball spends most of its time pushed through the streets in a ‘hug’ or scrum of some twenty or more players. Much play takes place in the river bed.