The event of the year is almost upon us. Ashbourne Shrovetide seems to be having something of a resurgence at the moment – maybe fuelled by more extensive media coverage, some controversies both on and off the field, and the installation of the enormous Hug sculpture.. It really is something we should treasure even more in the town. It is a unique spectacle which draws in tourists and puts the name of Ashbourne on the map.
I was born in a small market town in North Yorkshire and so, although it’s around 145 miles north, I guess I am still an Up’ard. I’ve never played the game and I don’t have stories of derring-do. I’ve not touched the ball, joined the Hug, made the decisive break which led to the goal in ’78, and I don’t have the ball which my grandfather goaled … but many people around the town do have these experiences. The roll call here http://www.ashbourne-town.com/events/roll.htm demonstrates the long history of the surnames Sowter, Harrison, and Hellaby with the game. For me, the great thing about the event is that it is a real game. In an age of Health and Safety and fakery, Shrovetide is played for real in mud, rain (possibly snow this year) and flood. This is combined with a healthy respect for tradition and service to the game in deciding who actually goals the ball. There is a warm and deep heritage around the game which is similar to Hunting.
There is, of course, an enormous amount of preparation and voluntary work which goes into the event. In advance there is the preparation for the Shrovetide lunch – over the last couple of years the loss of the Green Man and Black’s Head as a venue has further complicated matters. The uptake in gym attendance which precedes the game gets interrupted. Every year there are a few weeks before the game where many small groups of men or occasional individuals pound the streets in darkness – getting fit and rehearsing moves. The selection of the local worthies to turn up the ball is a fantastic way to recognise those who have contributed to the game and the town. The ball has been turned up over the years by celebrities and royalty – two Princes (Edward VIII and Charles) and one King (Brian Clough) – to add the soubriquet “Royal” to proceedings. This year our John Tomkinson (goaled at Clifton in 1971) will do the honours on Tuesday using a ball painted by Tim Baker (fierce supporter of Ashbourne’s high street). On Wednesday local butcher (contributor to the brawn of many of the participants through his excellent locally-sourced meat) and fund-raiser Nigel Brown will turn up Simon Hellaby’s ball (recognise the surname?).
The commercial aspect of the game is vitally important. Shrovetide is part of our heritage but also contributes to the prosperity of the town. Local jeweller and jewellery designer has given timepieces to the Shrovetide committee which are now synchronised prior to the day. They give watches to the scorers, commemorative cufflinks to those who turn up the ball and also have special commemorative Pandora beads. The Gallery is displaying the second Shrovetide poster in their window currently with prints of last year’s poster inside. There are t-shirts and hoodies for those with shallower pockets who want to profess their allegiance. QEGS Young Enterprise are raising money by selling wristbands again this year. One of the challenges of the event is that the footfall in the town is enormous but local businesses and retailers have to board up their property to protect against the Hug. You can still get lots of hot food and plenty of drink and the town thrives but it’s not the best occasion to showcase your wares – and does look slightly eerie. There may be an opportunity going forward to create a “Shrovetide Fair” on the Rec which wouldn’t disrupt the flow of the game but could create a commercial and fun refuge from the action.
For anyone who has never seen the event this is your chance. Trent Barton are running extra buses from Uttoxeter and Derby to accommodate the crowds: https://www.trentbarton.co.uk/services/two/whats-on. But why not come and stay and enjoy the delights of the Derbyshire Dales? There are details of the area and accommodation at the excellent Visit Ashbourne website http://www.visitashbourne.co.uk/
For the background and rules of the game see here:
To see some great photos which capture the feeling of the event have a look at this site:
On the day – to keep up with events you need to follow our very own Ashbourne News Telegraph www.ashbournenewstelegraph.co.uk on Twitter and on the website.
There’s also lots of footage on YouTube to whet your appetite.