If Englishmen called this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting

by Nick

This description of a long-standing football match that used to take place between young men in the parishes of All Saints and St Peter’s in Derby is just brilliant. I particularly like the disdainful Frenchman’s comment.

Football continues to be played at in many parts of England on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, but the mode of playing this game at Ashbourn and Derby differs very much from the usual practice of this sport. In the town of Derby the contest lies between the parishes of St Peter and All Saints, and the goals to which the ball is to be taken are Nun’s mill for the latter and the Gallow’s balk on the Normanton road for the former. None of the other parishes of the borough take any direct part in the contest, but the inhabitants of all join in the sport together with persons from all parts of the adjacent country. The players are young men from eighteen to thirty or upwards, married as well as single, and many veterans who retain a relish for the sport are occasionally seen in the very heat of the conflict.

The game commences in the market place where the partisans of each parish are drawn up on each side, and about noon a large ball is tossed up in the midst of them. This is seized upon by some of the strongest and most active men of each party. The rest of the players immediately close in upon them and a solid mass is formed. It then becomes the object of each party to impel the course of the crowd towards their particular goal. The struggle to obtain the ball which is carried in the arms of those who have possessed themselves of it is then violent and the motion of this human tide heaving to and fro without the least regard to consequences is tremendous. Broken shins, broken heads, torn coats, and lost hats are among the minor accidents of this fearful contest and it frequently happens that persons fall in consequence of the intensity of the pressure, fainting and bleeding beneath the feet of the surrounding mob.

But it would be difficult to give an adequate idea of this ruthless sport. A Frenchman passing through Derby remarked that if Englishmen called this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting. Still the crowd is encouraged by respectable persons attached to each party and who take a surprising interest in the result of the day’s sport, urging on the players with shouts and even handing to those who are exhausted oranges and other refreshment.

The object of the St Peters party is to get the ball into the water down the Morledge brook into the Derwent as soon as they can while the All Saints party endeavour to prevent this and to urge the ball westward. The St Peter players are considered to be equal to the best water spaniels and it is certainly curious to see two or three hundred men up to their chins in the Derwent continually ducking each other. The numbers engaged on both sides exceed a thousand and the streets are crowded with lookers on. The shops are closed and the town presents the aspect of a place suddenly taken by storm.

S. Glover & T. Noble, The history of the county of Derby (London, 1829, 2 vols), vol. I, p. 310.