Shrovetide Football Game: Outside the Green Man and Blacks head Hotel, full circle, now back at the
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The History of such games is interesting. Shrovetide football, as it was called, belonged in the 'mob football' category, where the number of players was unlimited and the rules were fairly vague (for example, according to an ancient handbook from Workington in England, any means could be employed to get the ball to its target with the exception of murder and manslaughter). Shrovetide football is still played today on Shrove Tuesday in some areas, for example, Ashbourne (as can be seen here). Needless to say, it is no longer so riotous as it used to be, nor are such extensive casualties suffered as was probably the case centuries ago. This game is reputedly Anglo-Saxon in origin and there are many legends concerning its first appearance. For example, in both Kingston-on-Thames and Chester, the story goes that the game was played for the very first time with the severed head of a vanquished Danish prince. In Derby, it is said to have originated far earlier, in the 3rd century, during the victory celebrations that followed a battle against the Romans. Quite apart from man's natural impulse to demonstrate his strength and skill, even in this chaotic and turbulent fashion, it is certain that in many cases, pagan customs, especially fertility rites, played a major role. The ball symbolised the sun, which had to be conquered in order to secure a bountiful harvest. The ball had to be propelled around, or across, a field so that the crops would flourish and the attacks of the opponents had to be warded off. The specifics of the game at Ashbourne are as follows: The game is played by those Ashburnians who were born on the north side of the Henmore river - the Up'ards, against those born on the south side - the Down'ards. The kick-off or 'turning up' of the specially made and painted ball takes place from a stone plinth in the Shawcroft carpark, by a local or national figure. (It was the then Prince of Wales - later Edward VII - who turned up the ball in 1928 and thus giving the game its 'Royal' title. The game starts each day at 2 pm when the ball is 'turned up' in the Shaw Croft car park (behind the supermarkets in the town centre). The game then lasts until 10 pm. If a goal is scored before 6 pm, then a new ball is 'turned up' again and a new game started. If the goal is after 6 pm then the game ends for that day. The two goals are situated 3 miles apart - one at Sturston, and one at Clifton. A goal is scored by tapping the ball three times against a marker board attached to the stone goal plinth. The rules are quite complex when it comes to scoring the goal - the actual person who scores is pre-chosen, the ball being handed to them at the goal. Needless to say - the pubs remain open all day during the game, all the shops and banks have wooden barriers up against their windows and some close for the day. The picture is taken outside the Green Man and Blacks' head pub. The present inn was built in 1750, and is actually the result of two separate inns joining together. The Green Man has its origins in the Jack o'the Green, the main figure in medieval May Day festivities, put to death and then restored to life to comfort his disconsolate May Queen. He was no doubt originally a nature God, but later represented the Resurrection, hence his appearance in medieval carvings in churches as a head wreathed in leaves and foliage. The present Green Man sign depicting a hunter in a green jacket is an unfortunate modern idea. The present inn derived the addition of 'Royal' after Queen Victoria, when still a young princess, called in for tea one day. It became well-known through its connection with James Boswell and Dr Johnson. Indeed, as Dr Johnson remarks: 'There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good inn or tavern'. They never actually stayed there, but were given a meal by Mrs Killingley, the landlady, on one of Dr Johnson's visits to his friend Dr Taylor. Boswell records: 'I took my post-chaise from the Green Man, a very good inn st Ashbourne, the Mistress of which, a mighty civil gentlewoman, curtseying very low, presented me with an engraving of the sign of her house; to which she had sojoined in her own handwriting, an address in such singular simplicity of style that I have preserved it, pasted upon one of the boards of my original journal at this time, and shall here insert it for the amusement of my readers. MKillingley's duty waits upon Mr Boswell; is exceedingly obliged to him for this favour, whenever he comes this way, hopes for a continuance of the same. Would Mr Boswell name the house to his extensive acquaintance. It would be a singular favour conferred on one who has it not in her power to make any other return but her most grateful thanks and sincere prayers for his happiness in time and in a blessed eternity'. You will find the sign of the Green Man referred to in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest inn sign in the world. The full name is 'The Royal Green Man and Blackamoor's Head Commercial and Family hotel'.