p>It’s 7:30pm on Friday the 29th April 2011. After having to cancel plans of a few cold ones in a pub in The Rocks in Sydney as an excuse to celebrate the Royal Wedding, I find myself lying on the couch with a nasal spray and antibiotics as my only companions to deal with what some may call the deadly and common ‘Man Flu’. Even the missus is M.I.A. But I do have the relentless coverage of the Wedding on almost every Australian channel and as a Brit in Sydney, I admit I am mildly curious.
Suddenly there is a commotion on the screen and the ridiculously manicured David Beckham arrives with the wife and my football-programmed brain kicks into gear. Would an impromptu article about Royalty and their connections with football be a good read? I’ll let you be the judge.
The man of the moment, Prince William has historically shown a strong interest in the EPL and admits to be being an avid Aston Villa fan. He even travelled to Rome for the 2009 Champions League final to watch Barcelona humble Manchester United. However, a much more impressive revelation is that Wills enjoys donning his England shorts for regular park football. He spent his second from last evening of freedom playing five-a-side football in a South London park with some mates and a week previously played in a competitive eight-a-side League match. His team won 5-0 and according to an opposition player, Phil Noyce from Classic FM, “…I don’t think we can blame it on Prince William, mind you, he was pretty good in the air.” It seems he enjoys getting stuck in as Phil added, “I’ve already got my own souvenir, because Prince William tackled me and gave me a dead leg!”
In 2006 Prince William eagerly took on the role of President of the English Football Association, keeping alive the Royal Presidency after taking over from his uncle, the Duke of York. He was a key figurehead in England’s 2018 World Cup bid team working alongside David Beckham and Prime Minister David Cameron but ultimately the bid ended in embarrassing defeat to Russia. Although he has no executive role and no power to interfere with FA decisions he has asked to be consulted in the appointment of the new FA Chairman.
Even FIFA chairman Sepp Blatter recently sent a letter to the Prince thanking him for his “passion and commitment” and admiring his determination to provide “support for its development at the grassroots level.” Surely a ploy for an invitation to the wedding? If the portly Blatter does attend I’d be on the phone to the caterers for more pies immediately.
But the Royal-themed football story that intrigued me the most was the annual Royal Ashbourne Shrovetide match. A game played since at least the 12th Century with records pre-1890 destroyed in a fire at the Royal Shrovetide Committee Office. Some reports have suggested the ball used in medieval times was a decapitated head following public executions. After the Champions League battle midweek I think Barcelona and Real Madrid would relish this format of the game for the second leg. I can picture a manic Mourinho laughing like a jackal as he boots around Pep Guardiola’s almost perfectly round head.
The royal connection was officially sealed in claret when future King Edward VII came away with a bloody nose after getting too close to the action in 1928. The game has not always had the support of the Monarchy however with stuffy kill-joy King Edward III trying to band the game in 1349 as it interfered with his archery practice. But still, the game continues to this day and HRH Prince Charles started the match in 2003.
Played over two days, Shrove Tuesday (known to food lovers as Pancake Day) and Ash Wednesday in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, the match kicks off at 2:00pm with a rousing chorus of “God Save The Queen” and finishes at 10:00pm. Contested between the Up’Ards and Down’Ards, if you were born north of the River you are an Up’Ard and south-born participants are Down’Ards. The goals are three miles apart and the ball is moved in a scrum-like manner by the unlimited number of players. Rules are almost non-existent, with some of the ‘guidelines’ including :
- Committing murder or manslaughter is prohibited. Unnecessary violence is frowned upon
- The ball may not be carried in a motorised vehicle
- To Score a Goal the ball must be tapped 3 times in the area of the Goal
It seems remarkable that given the nature of the game and in a time of excessive health and safety, that the Royal stamp of approval still stands. But the game continues to this day and shows no signs of stopping. My money is on Prince Harry turning up next year, can of lager in hand, cigarette dangling from his mouth and muddy sleeves rolled up. And with Prince William’s recently proven defensive skills it would be a Royal travesty if they didn’t take part.</p