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Mar 4, 2014

Shrovetide mob football has very few rules – but murder and manslaughter are strictly prohibited

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

SHOPS in the town of Ashbourne were boarded up last night ahead of today's annual Shrovetide football match.

Shrovetide football or "mob" football dates back to the 12th century and attracts thousands of people to the town every year, the Derby Telegraph reports.

The sport is not for the faint-hearted. It is thought to have emerged in Europe in the Middle Ages and is still played on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday in the Derbyshire town.

It involves an unlimited number of players on each team trying to move a large ball towards the goal by any means possible. The Ashbourne game is played over two days, starting each day at 2pm and finishing at 10pm.

The game has only a handful of rules. Players are not allowed to commit murder or manslaughter, and the ball cannot be put into a bag or driven in a motorised vehicle. Also, cemeteries, churchyards and the town memorial gardens are strictly out of bounds.

Lucy Kent, assistant manager of Wigley's Shoes in St John Street, told the Derby Telegraph that every year the shop windows are boarded up "without fail".

"Most of the shops along the street are boarded up ahead of the game," Kent said. "We close the shop over the two days when thousands of people come into the town. I've never taken part myself but we do follow the game. It's an experience, that's for sure."

The game is a contest between the two sides of Ashbourne. Players are assigned to a team according to which side of the town's central stream, Henmore Brook, they are born on.

People born in the North are Up'ards who try to get the ball to the old Sturston Mill. Southerners are known as South are Down'ards and their goal is at the old Clifton Mill.

In spite of being called football, the ball is rarely kicked, but instead tends to be moved by "hugs" – giant rolling scrums of players, made up of hundreds of people.

The game is over when the ball is tapped three times against one of the goals.

To follow live updates of the game visit the Derby Telegraph's website www.derbytelegraph.co.uk.

Related link: Pancake Day: a feast based on traditions of self-denial

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