Striking photos of the Royal Shrovetide football match

Striking photos of the Royal Shrovetide football match
The centuries old tradition sees the town of Ashbourne transformed for two days every February.

Ashbourne is a small, picturesque market town on the edge of the Peak district. Home to just under 10,000 people, the town – which is equidistant between Derby and Stoke-on-Trent – was hailed as the best place to raise a family by property experts in 2018. Good schools, low crime rates, history and access to nature helped it snatch the crown, but underneath hides a darker, more raucous side.

Once a year, its bucolic streets descend into chaos as the Royal Shrovetide football match overtakes the town. Played annually on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday for at least four centuries the game of “medieval football” is thought to be one of the world’s oldest (though official records of its genesis were destroyed in a fire at the Royal Shrovetide Committee office in the 1890s).

The match consists of two teams – the up’ards and the down’ards (hailing from either side of the Henmore Brook that cuts through the town) – competing to put a ball in the other's goal. The goals are three miles apart, on either side of the town, and there are few rules, beyond the prohibition of transporting the ball in a car, hiding it under coats and murder/manslaughter. That the latter has to be specifically ruled out gives you an idea of the nature, tone and timbre of play.

The game is played in two eight hour sessions over the two days and sees competitors rambunctiously jostle for control of the ball through streets, streams and squares. Shops across the town are boarded up as hundreds swirl and clamour one another. This year photographer Chris Bethell was in the middle of the fray as the up’ards scored a 2-0 victory. Here is some of the chaos he captured.

Follow Chris on Instagram.

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