The Sport with One Rule : No (Intentional) Murder

13 Apr 2009

In the small English town of Ashbourne during 2 days a year the people divide to play a sport with the purpose of scoring the “toughest goal”. Sure kicking a ball into the net takes some skill, but even these people would say scoring in a sport such as rugby is only for the weak. Imagine thousands of people, divided by a river, with 2 days to get a ball across town with one simple rule: no murder. That is only the beginning in Royal Shrovetide Football.

The Time:

The game of Royal Shrovetide is played annually on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday in Ashbourne, which is located in Derbyshire, England. The pitch begins at 2:00 pm and lasts until 10:00 pm. If a ball is goaled before 5:00, then a new ball is released in the town centre and play continues. Otherwise, play is over for the day.

The Teams:

Through the middle of Ashbourne runs a river called the Hanmore Brook. People born north of the river are on the Up’Ards and people from the south are called Down’Ards. On opposite ends of the town are two goal posts that are located 3 miles apart. The Up’Ards attempt to score at Sturston Mill, and the Down’Ards at the Clifton Mill, each located in a river. In order to score, the team must move the ball from the town centre, to their mill, and then bang the ball on the wall 3 consecutive times.

The Game:

There is no limit to the number of players the Up or Down’Ard teams can possess. The teams (composed of thousands of people) are encouraged to stay within the confinements of Ashbourne. As a precaution all stores and shops board up their windows and all cars are parked miles away. The crowd gathers at a specially designed plinth in the middle of Town Square to begin the game. Prior to the beginning, they sing Auld Lang Syne followed by God Save the Queen. Shortly after, town (or in some cases actual royalty) figures throw the custom painted ball into the crowd. From there, the chaos begins.

The “Rules”:

The only real official rule to the game is no murder or manslaughter. But a good way to find you in a sticky situation during the game is to:

1) Carry the ball by motorized vehicle.

2) Hide the ball under your coat or in a bag.

3) Run into a cemetery, churchyard, or memorial.

Also, unnecessary roughness is heavily frowned upon, although a common occurrence during the 2 day game.

The Roll of Honor:

The roll of honor is an official document, which keeps history of each scorer and the turner-up (the person who threw the ball) during each of the game. If you are a visitor wishing to score on either of the two teams, you are out of luck. Each part of town usually predetermines who will score the goals and thus keep the ball. It is usually respected members or families of the town, for they frown upon visitors getting their names placed in the Roll of Honor.

Here are a few videos of this great brute of a sport unfolding:

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