Bizarre game brings English town to standstill

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“It was unbelievable, seeing a complete car park full of people. It’s mind-blowing,” Lees told The Associated Press moments later. “Nothing else in the world compares to this - it’s a tradition that must never die.”

Players from the two teams - the Up’ards and the Down’ards - fight to gain possession of the ball as they move through Ashbourne in what is basically a giant rugby scrum. The game is self-policed, has only a few loose rules - including no conveying the ball in a vehicle and no play in churchyards - and the competitors don’t wear uniforms.

So how do you know who is on who’s team? “Born and bred,” Leigh says, “you can just tell by the face.”

On Tuesday, it took nearly two hours for the swarm of players to move out the car park, through a housing estate to a fire station, into the River Henmore and over the other side. Thousands of spectators followed the scrum, screaming when they caught a glimpse of the ball.

There are unlikely to be more than two or three “goals” by the time the game finishes at 10 p.m. on Wednesday. The scorer is treated like a king, carried on the shoulders of his colleagues into the town center.

“I’ve scored before,” said Simon Hellaby, a 46-year-old Up’ard. “It was up there with the birth of my kids.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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