Ashbourne’s 2024 mass football match ‘Royal Shrovetide’ wrapped up on Ash Wednesday, with thousands of players and spectators travelling to the village for the event.

For those uninitiated with Shrovetide, the game takes place annually on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday every year. Each game sees the Up’ards (those born above Henmore Brook running through town) and the Down’ards (those born below it) each try to tap the Shrovetide ball on their teams goal, situated three miles away from where the ball is turned up.

This year’s event saw the Up’ards extend their unbeaten run to 5 years, managing to score a goal on each day.

Rallying the troops – Brian Swan gave a talk before Wednesday’s turn-up in hopes of inspiring another goal

Tuesday began slowly, with the ball moving just 300 yards after the first hour. Continued pressure from both sides prevented the ball from breaking towards either goal, but the Up’ards numerical advantage prevailed, reaching their goal at Stursdon just after nine o’clock.

Goalscoring honours were bestowed upon Will Nash, who delighted the Up’ards before being paraded back to the village on the shoulders of his team mates.

Action began much more quickly on Wednesday when a Down’ard managed to grab the ball and run it into the town centre. For the rest of the day the Down’ards put up a valiant display, taking the ball across the village centre, through Henmore brook and right up to Henmore trading estate, just a mile from the Clifton goal.

Fierce competition – Up’ards and Down’ards fight over the ball in the Henmore Brook

As it turned out, the Down’ards hard work was in vain. After breaking loose in the darkness about seven o’clock, an unnamed Up’ard runner scooped up the ball and took off, evading his competition and reaching the Clifton goal where Steve Maznenko sealed an Up’ard victory.

Steve Maznenko held his ball aloft and enjoyed a hero’s welcome as he returned to the Green Man pub.

The event is a celebration of the village’s history, with locals claiming that Shrovetide football has been taking place since for centuries. It is thought that the first evidence of the game taking place dates back to 1683, with Charles Cotton’s ‘Burlesque upon the Great Frost’ making what many people interpret as a cryptic reference to the match.

“…Two towns, that long that war had raged
Being at football now engaged
For honour, as both sides pretend,
Left the brave trial to be ended…”

Charles Cotton, ‘Burlesque upon the Great Frost’, 1683

Ashbourne Town Hall displays a number of balls from previous years’ Shrovetide competitions, including a 134-year-old ball used in 1890 as well as the ball turned up in 2003 by then Prince of Wales King Charles III.

In the town hall historian Tim Baker has curated the display, along with other historically significant artefacts from the game’s history. Over his time working as a Shrovetide historian, he has seen the game attract more visitors than ever before.

Historian, Shrovetide ball painter and Ashbournian Tim Baker on the changes to Shrovetide.