The match has been played since the 12th century and today’s clip is a film of the match from 1926.
Click the Image to View the Clip
(Source: Wikipedia): The goal is scored (in local parlance, the ball is goaled) before 5.00 pm a new ball is released and play restarts from the town centre, otherwise play ends for the day. Despite the name, the ball is rarely kicked, though it is legal to kick, carry or throw it. Instead it generally moves through the town in a series of hugs, like a giant scrum in rugby, made up of dozens if not hundreds of people.
The two teams that play the game are known as the Up’Ards and the Down’Ards (hence the title of this film). Up’Ards traditionally are those town members born north of Henmore Brook, which runs through the town, and Down’Ards are those born south of the river. There are two goal posts 3 miles apart, one at Sturston Mill (where the Up’Ards attempt to score), the other at Clifton Mill (where the Down’Ards score). Although the Mills have long since been demolished part of their mill stones still stand on the bank of the river at each location and indeed themselves once served as the scoring posts. In 1996 the scoring posts were replaced once again by new smaller mill stones mounted onto purpose-built stone structures, which are still in use to this day and require the players to actually be in the river in order to ‘goal’ a ball, as this was seen as more challenging.
The actual process of ‘goaling’ a ball requires a player to hit it against the mill stone three successive times. This is not a purely random event however, as the eventual scorer is elected en route to the goal and would typically be someone who lives in Ashbourne or at least whose family is well known to the community. The chances of a ‘tourist’ goaling a ball is very remote, though they are welcome to join in the effort to reach the goal. When a ball is ‘goaled’ that particular game ends.
The game is played through the town with no limit on number of players or playing area (aside from those mentioned in the rules below). Thus shops in the town are boarded up during the game, and people are encouraged to park their cars away from the main streets.
The game is started from a special plinth in the town centre where the ball is thrown to the players (or turned-up in the local parlance), often by a visiting dignitary. Before the ball is turned-up, the assembled crowd sing Auld Lang Syne followed by God Save the Queen. The starting point has not changed in many years, although the town has changed around it, consequently the starting podium is currently located in the towns main car park which is named Shaw Croft this being the ancient name of the field in which it stands.