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Ball Games

We have divided Mob Football into three sections. The first is about games played with something resembling an actual football. Workington’s ‘Uppies and Downies’ is contested no less than three times each year, on the evenings of Good Friday, Easter Tuesday and the following Saturday. Once attracting crowds of up to 20,000 it is still popular, with whole families deeply committed to either side. However four people have been drowned in the River Derwent over the years, the last in 1983. Now the very life of Uppies and Downies is threatened by the march of Tesco who want to build on ground much frequented in the game. Collections says let them build but go on with the ball game regardless. Shrove Tuesday Football at Atherstone is played with an oversized ball, lasts exactly two hours and is confined to what was once Watling Street, then the A5 and is now Long Street in the centre of the town. The winner is the group in possession at the end, furiously contested for the last few minutes. The rest of the time is a kick around with everyone wanting to have a turn. Up in Alnwick they play a quite formal game between two parishes, on a field, with actual goals, to which the players are led by the Duke of Northumberland’s Piper. But Royal Shrovetide Football at Ashbourne is the most famous. There are games on both Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, and an extra game on either day if the regular game is over too quickly. Games, between Up’ards and Down’ards, are not for the faint hearted. The goals are three miles apart, visits to the Henmore River are obligatory, and they can go on long after dark. There is another flourishing game in Kirkwall, capital of the Orkney Islands, on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day between Up-the-Gates and Down-the-Gates but nobody at Collections has been intrepid enough to attend.