THE countdown to Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide has begun.
With less than a month to go before Shrovetide 2014, ball painters Tim Baker and Simon Hellaby have taken the wraps off this year’s leathers.
The pair, who between them have more than 30 years experience, met with the News Telegraph to exclusively reveal the designs that have been painstakingly painted on each ball - which will be on display for less than a month before they are tossed into the hug on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.
Simon Hellaby, who has painted balls for eight years, has decorated Stuart Lees’s Shrove Tuesday leather, which Mr Lees chose to have adorned with items and pictures that meant a lot to him.
On the front face of the Tuesday ball, along with Mr Lees’s name and the date of his turn-up, is the badge of the fire service - as he was a retained officer in Ashbourne for 30 years. Around the seam is a fireman’s hose.
On the back face is the traditional crown with the words Royal Shrovetide Football and, painted around this seam is a string of bunting - to symbolise Mr Lees’s long connection with the erection of Ashbourne’s bunting each year.
A tractor, a Sir Alf Ramsay Dahlia and the names of Mr Lees’s wife and children also adorn the ball along with the words ‘Ye Olde Game’ and his firm, Walker and Lees with a Union Jack.
Veteran ball painter Tim Baker this year celebrates his 25th year and painted a ball for Ash Wednesday’s turner-up Stephen Bott.
Mr Bott’s ball is dominated by the colours of Ashbourne Rugby Club, yellow and blue, which carries on to the theme on the front, and is ringed by a laurel wreath and the words ‘Shrovetide Football’. On the rear of the ball is a picture of Mr Bott shooting, with his dog Sika by his side.
A rural sporting theme continues on the side with a cock pheasant in flight and a brown trout. The opposite side features his favourite fishing fly, a Blue Dun.
Also featuring on the ball is the number of a world championship stock car which Mr Bott was instrumental in helping to glory, driven by former turner-up David Mellor.
Underneath the ball Mr Bott chose a flowing George Cross flag over the usual Union Jack.
Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide takes place this year on Tuesday, March 4 and Wednesday, March 5.