When you tuck into your pancake, spare a thought for those wary Shrove Tuesday footballers traipsing home from their own matchday battleground.
There are no rules when it comes to this pursuit. It is pure, unadulterated anarchy. Limitless players and violence permitted, only one can be the winner as men boot a ball through the town’s streets. In Sedgefield, a quaint town in County Durham they use a small leather ball, with the title secured by the first person who can whack it through the bull ring three times.
Anything goes and so adrenalin reaches fever pitch as participants scrap and pull in pursuit of this age-old tradition. Looking like a gang of brutes, those brave enough to take part are exactly that as they search for victory and bragging rights among the locals as they scrum and harry. It’s every man for himself.
Community is key. For those taking part, damage can be done and when it is, the entire population chips in and comes together to make the repairs. Everyone understands the meaning of this institution.
And while the streets are mean, the streams of water are just as hazardous but this doesn’t faze the players in the frenetic game of Shrove Tuesday Football. They wait in anticipation for this one day of the year where rules don’t exist. Though free to fight as they wish, there is no malicious intent, just the occasional bruise or three from the heat of battle.
Similarly to the game of football we know and love today, the first equipment for this hobby was also made from a pig’s bladder though dates as far back as the 12th century.
While other towns and villages gave up the action to preserve themselves and their surroundings down the years, it’s still present in various locations across the country including Dorset, Warwickshire and Derbyshire, where the biggest clash takes place.
In Ashbourne, the Shrovetide clash attracts thousands, who gather and clamber as the ball is dropped from high to kick things off. This competition even has the royal seal of approval. In 1928, the Prince of Wales started proceedings. 75 years later in 2003, Prince Charles had the honour.
Here they use a much larger ball which is neatly decorated and often left in tatters by the end. Toing and froing, the ball and people are pulled from pillar to post as they compete to get it through each goal. Scorers are marched through the town on the shoulders of friends, now local legends written into town folklore for the rest of time.
Shrove Tuesday, from your kitchen to the streets of England, it is utter bedlam.