Football is the most popular sport in the world. It is played in over 200 countries and watched by over 4 billion fans. While the origins of the game can be traced back to a number of ancient societies and cultures across the world, there are few places where these games have survived in their original form. For two days each year a 900 year old ball game, Shrovetide, is played out across the hedgerows, streets, rivers and back gardens of the small English market town of Ashbourne. Hundreds of players, their team determined by which side of the local river they were born on, battle relentlessly for hours through rain, snow and mud. There are few written rules, but the traditions have been passed down through generations and families for hundreds of years. With play lasting for just 16 hours a year, commitment is measured in decades. Only the most dedicated players are given the chance to score by their teammates, it is the highest honour a ‘Shrovetider’ can achieve. Our sporting identities are most commonly determined by proximity to local clubs and teams. Alleigances which last for a life time. However for the people of Ashbourne their commitment is not just to a team but to a game itself, Shrovetide football. This is sport in one of its oldest and purest forms. Filming last years game with Kurt Riddell was one of the most challenging shoots Ive ever undertaken. We were determined to follow the game to its conclusion after 16 hours of play split over two days. It meant crawling through hedgerows, being crushed against walls and fences, wading through a rivers and over and under barbed wire, filming in the pouring rain and sleet. I also got a well deserved taste of the brutality of the game when two players running in front of me tripped over and I tumbled over them. Trying to protect the camera meant my knees grazed across the concrete ground first and took a good chunk out of my right knee. So I have what looks like a permanent physical scar from this film which is a nice touch. What the game means to Ashbournoans is hard to overstate, they fund all of the repairs to property themselves and work year-round to make the game a reality. It took a while to earn trust and prove that we weren’t simply trying to make another film highlighting the violence and mayhem which is often how the game is portrayed. Beneath the chaotic surface is a community united in playing a game which has been passed down through generations over hundreds of years. I hope this will continue to be the case for generations to come.
Louis is a documentary filmmaker and occasional news cameraman from London. He is represented commerically by Nice Shirt Films in the UK and has been with them since 2019. His first project with Nice Shirt took the form of a 6 week, 5 continent, worldwide shoot documenting the global fight against HIV. Since then he has shot pieces for Care4Calais, Gymshark and Unilever, as well as picking up a YDA nomination for his short film, Shrovetide. With a background in narrative documentary and current affairs, his interests lie in crafting visually compelling films that deal with contemporary themes and feature intriguing authentic, characters at their heart.