Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football

Yes, it's that time of year again, when Ashbourne gets its planks out of storage to defend its shop fronts from the good humoured carnage that is the Annual Royal Shrovetide Football Game.

Shortly before two o'clock, a local celebrity will be carried through the town to turn up the ball, and then play will continue until the ball is goaled. If this happens before 5pm, play will restart, and continue until 10pm, unless the ball is goaled again. By and large the game can just be an enormous scrummage (known as the hug), which lasts for two days, and the laws of nature determine that it should always rain or snow, and the game should always at some point end up in the Henmore Brook.

The whole town stops for this occasion; the schools close, and of the businesses in town, only the pubs stay open, and probably sell as much beer in two days as they sell for the rest of January, February, and March put together.

My fondest memory of the occasion occurred a few years ago, when I was still brave enough to try to get to the heart of the action for a few minutes before diving into a pub. There I was, close to the hug, the breath being squeezed out of me, when just below me I saw the ball, reached out to grab it, only to discover it was actually the very heavily and colourfully tattooed head of a rather large man.

Another fond memory, in the very early days of Direct Beers, I decided to commemorate Prince Charles's visit to The Three Counties Show at Malvern, with a special beer celebrating his having turned up the ball at the start of the Shrovetide Football Game a year or two earlier. So, the person who turns up the ball, being known as the Turner Upper, and it being Prince Charles, I decided to call the beer 'Royal Turnip'. Well, it's only one letter out. Needless to say, he and Camilla were ushered with a wide berth around my stall, and for some reason I wasn't invited back to the Three Counties Show the following year.

Anyway good luck to both sides, but come on you Downards!!! Meantime, those of us who are getting a bit old for these sports will be doing our VAT return and contemplating our pancakes.

Stephen Gee