IN A stark contrast to Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide’s Ash Wednesday of 2013, which was played on a blanket of snow and in freezing conditions, Ash Wednesday 2014 saw far milder temperatures, in double figures, and it stayed dry all day.
But while the Wednesday play ended with a goal for James Carter at Sturston, a precious equaliser for the Down’ards, Ash Wednesday this year resulted in a cruel defeat for the South of the river side.
Honours this year went to Chris Keeling who goaled at Sturston minutes after the 5pm cut-off, the Down’ard missing their chance to let the ball go before the deadline and take a chance at another goal from what would have been a second turn up.
Ash Wednesday started well for the Down’ards, they seemed far more determined at first and worked hard to keep the Up’ard surge at bay. For the followers, there was promise of a fine day of play as the crowds in Shaw Croft were noticeably thinner.
Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Committee chairman Brell Ewart shouted his message of safety and his plea for the game to be respected before handing over for the traditional songs of Auld Lang Syne and God Save the Queen, before Ash Wednesday turner-up Stephen Bott took on the honour of throwing the ball into the crowd.
The game started quickly, with its usual swirling around as the adrenaline rushed through the players, Up’ards bouyed by the enthusiasm of a successful first day and the Down’ards hell-bent on evening the score-sheet.
Within 15 minutes the most convincing breaks began developing and the ball found its way into the Shaw Croft Flats where it settled for a time - but it slowly started creeping the Down’ards’ way.
As it edged closer and closer to Compton, a key battle ground for both sides, there was a sudden break, taking with it the entire game with its huge mass of followers that ventured quickly towards St John Street.
It made its way as far as the Green Man Royal Hotel before the Down’ards wrestled control back and made slow progress until another break took it as far as Church Street.
The hug locked horns at the junction with Dig Street and the fight began to heave it into Dig Street, where it edged down before making its way to the Bus Station.
It was a runners’ game at this stage and fast-moving play saw the ball hurried away to the children’s play area by the Memorial Gardens where it settled once more, in the River Henmore.
It didn’t take long before the hug moved across the field and, the same as Shrove Tuesday, made its way into the fishpond.
Once out, it made it up to the QEGS playing field and a few Down’ard breaks brought it back under control and back to the river and fish pond but the strong Down’ard defences were being over-thrown each time by the even stronger Up’ards.
The play quietened down and the Down’ards didn’t give up the fight, thwarting the Up’ards’ efforts to carry it to Sturston but it was a fruitless endeavour in the end.
In failing light the Up’ards had snatched it from their desperate grasp and it was goaled under the watchful eye of a handful of people at Sturston Mill.
Overall honours went to the Up’ards, and the disappointed Down’ards were left with no option but to trudge back to town and drown their sorrows.