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Every year on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, chaotic scenes erupt in the streets and streams of Ashbourne in Derbyshire, England, as a mob of rowdy players frantically try to take control of an oversized football. The game, also known as “hug ball”, has little similarity to football and few rules —shoving and pushing are essential part of the game. Especially peculiar is the size of the playing field and the length of play. The two goalposts, served by millstones, are located by 3 miles apart and the game lasts for sixteen hours spread over two days.

Shrovetide ball games have been played in England since at least the 12th century. The Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide has been played in the Derbyshire town since at least 1667, although the exact origins of the game are unknown became a fire at the Royal Shrovetide Committee office in the 1890s destroyed all the old records. Now there is just one macabre version, according to which the original ball was a severed head tossed into the waiting crowd following an execution. The ball played today in Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide is, thankfully, made of cork which helps the ball to float when it inevitably ends up in the river.

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Photo credit: Christopher Furlong/The Guardian

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