SHROVE TUESDAY’S honour of turning up the Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide ball has fallen on 53-year-old father-of-three Stuart Lees.
Retained firefighter, joiner, businessman, Shrovetide player, bunting erector and club founder Mr Lees has been involved with many projects, clubs and organisations in the town but, arguably, his 30 years of service as a retained officer and crew manager with the Ashbourne Fire Station has made the biggest impact.
Mr Lees was born and raised in Bradbourne, moving to Ashbourne at the age of 14 and, when he left the Secondary Modern School, he took up an apprenticeship in Joinery, working for the then Ashbourne firm Walker and Grounds.
In the 1970s the company split and Mr Lees joined Andrew Walker in forming a new company, Walker and Lees, which is still going strong now.
His involvement in the fire service began in his early days as a joiner when colleagues talked him into the job and his career blossomed until his retirement two yeas ago.
An avid gardener with a passion for show-winning Dahlias and vegetables, Mr Lees joined Tony Millward in forming the Ashbourne Gardening Club from the ashes of the Ashbourne Horticultural Society which is still going strong and still holding an annual show each year.
He recently became the committe chairman of the Ashbourne Ex Servicemen’s Club and was one of the first people to join the late Bob Hudson in putting up bunting around the town. The volunteer team has grown in number, but not as large as the bunting - which now runs to eight miles in length and appears throughout the year following up to two nights of work laying it out across the streets.
Mr Lees has also been heavily involved with Ashbourne Town Band in the past, as well as Ashbourne Highland Gathering his dazzling display of Christmas lights each year cannot be missed by anyone turning from Park Road into Station Road or Belper Road.
He confessed: I must admit, “I look back now and I wonder how I’ve had time for any of it. But if I didn’t want to do any of it, I wouldn’t have done it. I’ve done it all because I love doing it.
“In Ashbourne there’s a lot of good people that are always ready to give you praise for things and show how much they appreciate it and I believe that makes it all worthwhile.”
Mr Lees is now in with a chance of taking home his first ball if it is not goaled on Shrove Tuesday, March 4 as the closest he has come to scoring with the Down’ards was one night in fields alongside colleagues from Ashbourne Fire Station a few hundred yards from Clifton Mill when years of hard work in the hug nearly came to fruition - had it not been for a strong Up’ard defence that stopped them in their tracks.
In recent years he has made a pact with his friend Steve Francis that they will both watch from the sidelines as getting involved is ‘starting to hurt’. However he admits there have been many occasions when the pair have caught sight of each other as they have emerged red-faced from the hug, realising their pact has been ill-fated from the start.
Recently Mr Lees has been involved in a number of fund-raising projects for the Shrovetide game. His good friend and fellow fund-raiser Bob Dyer calls on him regularly to help put ideas into action which have included the creation of a limited run of ceramic Shrovetide balls and commemorative Shrovetide mugs.
He told the News Telegraph he was left ‘gobsmacked’ by his invitation to turn up the ball on Shrove Tuesday. He said: “I can’t imagine what winning the national lottery is like but I bet it’s about the same as this.
“I couldn’t believe it, I was gobsmacked; stunned, it’s absolutely unreal. I don’t mind saying I was milling round with tears coming down my face. I think it’ll be the highlight of my life.”
ASH WEDNESDAY’S turner-up, engineer Stephen John Bott, has been at the centre of the hug since the age of 13.
A big fan of water play, the 59-year-old Up’ard scored the only goal in 1984 and it was one of the quickest runs to Sturston in recent memory. A break by Dave Calladine was followed by a short skirmish at the mill and, with the help of Doug Sowter and Frank Lomas, the leather hit the millstone 48 minutes after the turn-up.
Mr Bott’s ball can usually be seen hanging in the Bowling Green Pub in North Avenue, his local, but it was sneaked out to be shown to the News Telegraph shortly after the Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football Committee invited him to turn up the ball.
The second ball to bear his name, Mr Bott explained, is likely to reflect his main passions in life. He has not yet decided on what will adorn his ball but rugby is likely to be a prominent feature, to signify his long-standing membership with Ashbourne Rugby Club.
A player for 20 years and the club’s representative on the Derbyshire Committee, Mr Bott is still a very active social member of Ashbourne RUFC and a familiar face at its matches, events and functions. Through the club, he enthuses, he has met some wonderful friends.
Although he retired from the pitch at the age of 47, he avidly watches Ashbourne and follows the England Internationals, having travelled to South Africa in the past.
Mr Bott was born and raised in Ashbourne and has a big family, many of whom are local. He was educated at the Secondary Modern School and his long career in engineering has seen him work for a string of local companies including Hill and Webster, Robinsons of Brassington and, for 25 years, Richard Lees Steel Decking.
He is currently employed by G and K General Engineering in the Airfield Industrial Estate and he lives in Windmill Lane with his wife Julia, who he has been married to for 18 years.
His passions in life revolve around sport. He professes to being very much a ‘country man’ and is an active member and committee member of Ashbourne Fly Fishing Club.
Another passion is shooting and Mr Bott helps to run a small shoot in the village of Shirley. He has three gun dogs, which his wife trains and he has hinted that his favourite dog may well appear on his ball.
Mr Bott was also once part of a World Champion team of stock car racers, back in the 1970s, when he joined a crew alongside driver David Mellor, a fellow turner-up, whose team won the world final at the Belle Vue Stadium in Manchester.
But, as with any true Ashburnian, his life-long passion has always been Shrovetide and, although he stopped playing around five or six years ago, he still follows the ball all day.
He is also a founder member of the Shrovetide Players Committe and the annual Shrovetide Dance Committee, which has raised thousands of pounds for local charities.
He said: “When Mick Betteridge came and told me I was being chosen to turn up the ball I was absolutely shocked. It was totally unexpected. I’m still in shock and thinking what to say and who to invite.
“It’s a great honour, I’m amazed but very pleased.”
Mr Bott believes the game has changed significantly since his early days of playing, with many more players taking part in the modern game, but is confident the game’s future is assured.
He said: “In my era there were not as many people playing as there has been in the last 10 years or so. It’s been very well attended.
“But I think the game is in great hands at the moment and I think it will carry on, it’s safe and secure.”
True to form, Mr Bott says he has no interest in seeing his ball, which will be tossed in to the crowd at Shaw Croft on Ash Wednesday, March 5, coming back to him. “As long as it’s played hard and played fair, I’d rather it be goaled”, he said.