Shrovetide has not been cancelled next year, says the game’s official organisers, who are pressing ahead with plans to stage the event in the best way they can.
The historic Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday event, which would usually see thousands of people pouring into the town, is likely to become a victim of the coronavirus pandemic – but the Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football Committee says it is not over until the plug gets pulled on the day itself.
However, committee chairman Nigel Brown has conceded that the game and its various traditional events could look very different in 2021, and what happens and when will be determined by the tier system.
With the district currently in Tier 3 and facing the strictest restrictions, a game would not be able to go ahead under current legislation.
But the committee has been able to meet virtually to discuss the different ways Shrovetide could be marked, or even played, if the tiered restrictions lift in time for Shrove Tuesday, February 16.
He told the Ashbourne News Telegraph: “We want to be able to celebrate Shrovetide next year. We’re just not sure how we’re going to be able to do it yet. We’re going to be governed by what they tell us.
“Everything’s in place, we can’t do any more than we are doing, that’s just how it is.
“But just to say we’re not bothering with Shrovetide this time is totally, totally wrong.”
Mr Brown says the committee has already chosen this year’s turners-up (who throw out the balls to get the game under way), but they will not be announced in the normal way, by the News Telegraph, in our Christmas and New Year edition.
He says that, if a game needs to be organised at short notice, everything can still be put in place – including the balls, turners-up and other necessary preparations.
And if the game cannot go ahead the committee is already discussing ways to mark the occasion at the plinth in Shaw Croft in a safe and socially-distanced manner.
The other big aspect of the game that could be under threat is the pre-game luncheon, that traditionally sees more than 500 people cram into the leisure centre’s main hall as a formal curtain-raiser to the game itself.
Again, the committee is aware that an event such as this is likely to be impossible to arrange next year, but members are looking into ways they can bring together a suitable celebration within the restrictions of whichever tier the district is in at the time.
This, Mr Brown says, could involve a smaller gathering, or even a series of smaller luncheons, attended by committee members, held in each of the town’s pubs – to help the businesses recover from the pandemic and the potential loss of earnings from the game itself.
Mr Brown said: “Rest assured, something will happen and hopefully it will be something the whole town is happy with.
“We’re not sure what it will be yet, but we’re carrying on as best as we can, and we’ll know more closer to the time.”