First blood to the Down'ards at Ashbourne Shrovetide Football 2018

This post first appeared on Derby Telegraph. Read the original article.

Tom Boulton-Lear brought long-awaited glory to the Down’ards tonight after a sensational day of Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide action.

The gym owner hammered home the leather shortly before 8.45pm at Clifton following a night of confusion, drama and suspense.

His goal followed nearly two hours of chaos as the ball went missing following a run up South Street. It followed a steady day in the town led by the Down’ards, who fought off the Up’ards at every turn.

The sleety start to Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide 2018 failed to keep the crowds at bay for the 2pm turn-up by Derbyshire Lord Lieutenant Willie Tucker.

The bumper crowd for the game’s first day made for a slow and steady start, with the ball eventually moving out of Shaw Croft and into the streets.

A break towards Madge Corner failed to gather traction and the crowds also thwarted the progress of a break towards Cokayne Avenue.

But the Down’ards kept the ball out of the Fishpond and brought play back into Shaw Croft soon enough.

As the skies began to clear, Fishpond Meadow car park became the battleground.

Ashbourne Shrovetide 2018 celebrations at the Greenman Pub

Ashbourne Shrovetide 2018 celebrations at the Greenman Pub

But any large expanse of land surrounded by such large crowds becomes a virtual amphitheatre for the hug, which becomes boxed in by the swarms of followers, smothering the game.

With the chances of breaks all but stifled the players choose to take things steady, play for time and wait until the light falls.

However, the stagnated play could only last so long. Even with huge crowds surrounding the hug, it still has the power to push through.

Slowly and steadily, a hallmark of the first section of the game, the ball made its way through Lakeside flats and settled down again for a short while.

And then it broke. It was the most convincing break so far and it made its way through the Park Avenue estate and got as far as Belper Road. Belper Road is a key battleground, with a clear path for the Down’ards, but a short and straight route for the Up’ards.

But the determined Down’ards were having none of it. With an hour to go before the 5.30pm second-ball deadline, they had managed to heave it back through Cullen Avenue and into Park Avenue.

For a game that had covered barely any distance it was getting into its stride at last, and the play was opening up as the sun came out. However, from Park Avenue it was spirited through Lakeside and back into the Fishpond Meadow overspill car park.

From here there was a short break back to Shaw Croft and we were back to square one. Play was back to where it started. It spent a good 20 minutes in the town’s main car park but it was eventually taken up through Wellington Yard and into the town centre once again, settling back in St John Street.

Tom Boulton-Lear celebrating after scoring a goal at Clifton for the Down'Ards.

Tom Boulton-Lear scored a goal at Clifton for the Down'Ards.

The Down’ards were pushing hard and almost made it to the Dig Street junction, but a break snatched it away – back to Shaw Croft. Full circle once again.

By the time darkness had fallen and the 5.30pm cut-off for a second ball had passed, play had stagnated again.

Darkness had properly set in when the players finally managed their most convincing break of the game so far – with the ball spirited away by Down’ards to Sainsbury’s, via Compton.

It spent a long time in its second of two car park stop-offs, but play had clearly woken up and by 6.40pm the ball had been whisked off to Compton, before settling in Station Street, near to Compton social Club. The next phases of the game seemed to happen quickly, at least compared to the hours of stagnant play that had gone before.

The hug had moved its way to South Street when the turning point came. Dummy breaks popped up to try to scatter the crowd and this tactic worked.

But shortly after the confusion began, it turned into a complete mystery. The ball had vanished.

The rumour mill went into overload. Social networks were buzzing with stories of breaks, runs and even goals.

But after the dust had settled and the crowd had dispersed it became clear that neither of the goals had been visited by a runner. In fact the runner who, we all assumed, had taken the ball was nowhere to be seen.

The new Shrovetide rules state a ball cannot go missing for more than two hours, which generated a two-hour deadline for whoever had snatched the ball – so if they were sitting on it somewhere, the clock was ticking. Meanwhile, at least 100 followers had hot-footed it to Clifton Mill, in the hope they’d see a Down’ard arrive and a few headed to Sturston.

But that moment took its time coming. It wasn’t until shortly after 8.40pm that the players emerged in the river, with Tom Boulton-Lear being the one to take the glory and set the score at 1-0 to the Down’ards.

Reporting team: Gareth Butterfield, Joshua Stokes, Lizzy Butterfield. And journalism students from the University of Derby, including Chloe Astbury, Courtney Groom, Anna Williams, Ross Barnett, Alex Patrick-Smith and Dominic Marius-Markham

Photography by Leigh Hemsil, Michael Hope-Smith

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