Battle royale in Britain's maddest match

2016-02-09 20:33
Competitors reach for the ball after it is “turned up" to start the annual Royal Shrovetide Football Match in Ashbourne. (AFP)

Competitors reach for the ball after it is “turned up" to start the annual Royal Shrovetide Football Match in Ashbourne. (AFP)

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Ashbourne - Britain's craziest game of football unleashed chaos on Tuesday as several thousand townsfolk tussled for a ball in a heaving melee that can last for eight hours.

The Royal Shrovetide Football match is an adrenaline-fuelled tradition with roots going back to at least the 12th century - and the game has barely moved on since then.

Once a year, the quaint rural town of Ashbourne in Derbyshire, central England, splits into Up'ards and Down'ards - those born north and south of the River Henmore - for a free-for-all ruck that rampages through streets and fields before ending in the water.

The riverbank goals are millstones 5km apart and the few rules are straightforward: in short, no killing, no hiding the ball, and stay out of the churchyard.

The contest takes place every Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, which signal the start of the Christian season of Lent.

The specially-painted ball, made of leather and stuffed with cork to keep it afloat, is rarely kicked and is mostly held in the giant rolling melee, called the hug.

The ball is "turned-up" - hurled into the crowd - to start the game.

Anyone who "goals" the ball - by tapping it three times on their team's millstone - gets to keep it, and is traditionally carried shoulder-high into the Green Man pub.

Shops board up their windows for protection and paramedics are on standby for the inevitable sprained ankles.

The game earned the royal moniker after the prince of Wales, later king Edward VIII, "turned-up" in 1928.

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