After a Covid hiatus, Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football will be back in 2022 – but there will be a request in place for everyone attending.
An impassioned plea has been made by the game’s committee for everyone who attends to be responsible and keep the safety of everyone around them at the top of their agenda.
This year’s game, taking place on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, March 1 and 2, should appear like any other Shrovetide match – but players and followers are being asked to take a lateral flow test before they arrive in the town each day.
This means anyone, whether they intend to grapple away in the hug (giant scrum surrounding the ball), to follow the game through the streets and fields, or even just spend their time in the town’s pubs, is being asked to stay away if they are experiencing Covid symptoms, or if they have had a positive lateral flow result.
Lateral flow tests take around half an hour to produce a result, and the swab test itself takes seconds to carry out.
The free tests can be obtained from libraries, from pharmacies, or online from the Government’s website.
Luncheon back on
The annual pre-game luncheon will also be taking place this year, as a celebrated formal curtain-raiser before the match gets under way.
Once again it will be held at Ashbourne Leisure Centre – but it will look slightly different this year as the organising committee says they will be reducing numbers “a little bit” to encourage social distancing.
As with the game itself, all diners will be asked to carry out a lateral flow test before making their way to the leisure centre’s main hall, and anyone testing positive will be asked to stay away.
Committee chairman Nigel Brown says despite the reduced numbers of seats this year, no difficult decisions have had to be made and nobody has been turned away, because the number of tickets being ordered is down slightly due to people being nervous about mixing indoors.
He told the Ashbourne News Telegraph: “Some people have told us they don’t want to attend this year, to be fair, even after this relaxing of restrictions.
“But we’ve done the best we can and reduced the numbers a little bit anyway to help with social distancing.
“We’re at about half the capacity we could be at, given the guidelines, so we’re being responsible. We just want people to do the same and be responsible about taking tests before they come.
“We’d like everyone to use their common sense. Get here early, get a drink early and get sat down so we haven’t got big crowds mixing inside. Don’t leave it until the last minute, basically.”
Pre-ordered ticket allocations should be ready to collect in the coming weeks, Mr Brown has said, with collection dates due to be announced, but likely to start around early to mid-February.
New rule this year
The Shrovetide committee has introduced a new rule this year that has nothing to do with the pandemic and all to do with encouraging a more exciting two days of play.
The traditional cut-off time for turning up a second ball will move from 5.30pm to 6pm this year, which will mean if a ball is goaled before 6pm, play will continue and restart from Shaw Croft Car Park.
In years gone by this deadline had been 5pm, and it was moved in recent years to 5.30pm to reflect the less transient nature of the game, which nowadays gets smothered in large crowds.
Goals are scored by getting the ball to one of two locations either end of the town.
The goals are at Clifton and Sturston, two neighbouring parishes with former mills that once sat on the River Henmore, nearly three miles apart. All that is left of the mills now are mill stones, which the balls must touch three times to be scored.
Anyone can take part in the game, but there is a core of around 500 players who play seriously and stand the best chance of scoring. The two teams are made of players who live either side of the river.
Moving it back another 30 minutes, the committee says, will increase the chances of two goals being scored in one day – something that has not been seen for several years.
Committee chairman Nigel Brown said: “There isn’t as many goals before 5pm as there has been historically. So we tried to move it by half an hour to see if that has made any difference – and it has a bit.
“It’s all come from when a goal has been scored at just five or six minutes past five. And then you’ve got no Shrovetide for the rest of the day, because that’s the end of the game. You’ve missed the darkness then.
“It’s always implied to us that the second ball has got to go up in daylight, but that doesn’t really need to be the case, and this will give us a bit of an opportunity to change things.
“I can’t see it moving any more. This is smack-on half way now, so we’ll always be looking at it, but it’s always been in people’s thoughts that there aren’t enough balls scored, so hopefully this will help encourage a bit of play for another ball.”
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