RIASA students travel to Ashbourne, Derbyshire for the Annual Royal Shrovetide Football Match

Last Tuesday 13th February saw RIASA students travel to Ashbourne, Derbyshire for the Annual Royal Shrovetide Football Match.

This “Medieval football” game played annually on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday in the town of Ashbourne in Derbyshire, England, and has been played in England since at least the 12th century from the reign of Henry II (1154–89).

The game is played through the town with no limit on the number of players or the playing area (aside from those mentioned in the rules below). Thus shops in the town are boarded up during the game, and people are encouraged to park their cars away from the main streets.

A crowd gathered for the Annual Royal Shrovetide Football Match

The game is started from a special plinth in the town centre where the ball is thrown to the players (or “turned-up” in the local parlance), often by a visiting dignitary. Before the ball is turned-up, the assembled crowd sing “Auld Lang Syne”.

The ball is rarely kicked, though it is legal to kick, carry or throw it. Instead, it generally moves through the town in a series of hugs, like a giant scrum in rugby, made up of dozens, if not hundreds of people.

The RIASA student-athletes enjoying themselves, regardless of the the weather conditions

When the ball is goaled, the scorer is carried on the shoulders of his colleagues into the courtyard of The Green Man Royal Hotel.

The rules

There are very few rules. However, the main ones are: [49][50]

  • Committing murder or manslaughter is prohibited. Unnecessary violence is frowned upon.
  • The ball may not be carried in a motorised vehicle.
  • The ball may not be hidden in a bag, coat or rucksack, etc.
  • Cemeteries, churchyards and the town memorial gardens are strictly out of bounds.
  • Playing after 10 pm is forbidden.
  • To score a goal, the ball must be tapped 3 times in the area of the goal.

The event is a cultural experience unique to this small town in Derbyshire.

It is said to be the “…world’s oldest, largest, longest and maddest game of footy. The game is played between the Up’ards and the Down’ards, those born north and south of the River Henmore which divides the town. The game has little to do with normal football, for it has few rules – although murder and manslaughter are not permitted”

Why did we go? 

Primarily, RIASA Students partook in this medieval game of football to add some practical context to their research for various academic classes.

RIASA Juniors and Sophomores are currently involved with Sports Event Planning and Promotion as they research Sports Events, in preparation for their own Fundraising Event on Wednesday 4th April.

They were looking into the promotion techniques for the event, as well as gaining some tips and research on Event Planning and organisation. With a particular emphasis on the various health and safety measures that need to be adhered to when putting on a public event of such magnitude.

Scientific Reasoning students were also using this medieval game of football to take a trip back in time and see what life was like during medieval times, to see where Football started before Science, and to see how the inclusion of science has over the centuries impacted in our ways of life and society.

Other RIASA students had a focus on Team Leadership and Dynamics within Sport, with organisational techniques observed looking at the dynamics and communication within the teams.

Creative Expressions students also used this Medieval Football game to gain some research and inspiration in creating a sports photography portfolio. After experimenting with different effects in Photography over the last 2 weeks, RIASA students entered the field of play armed with disposable cameras to get close to and capture the action on film.

The historical and cultural elements of medieval football coupled with Old English tradition allowed the opportunity for insight into the more patriotic and social elements within Northern English communities.

Despite the cold and wet weather, once the game kicked off, the rain eased and made way for an enjoyable and unique day out. With some students involved in the thick of the main scrum, (one of whom lost a shoe), whilst others enjoyed observing from a safe distance, a good day was had by all. Enriching aspects of the social, cultural, and historical experience of studying in Leeds, England.