Shrovetide Football Game: The Hug, with players pushing from both sides and the ball in the middle
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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.