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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 5 March, 2003, 17:26 GMT
Prince starts 'maddest' game
Prince Charles
Prince Charles "turns up" the ball to start the mass football game
The Prince of Wales was hoisted into the air by players at an annual mass football match as he arrived to ceremonially "turn up" the ball.

Three men carried Charles at shoulder height as he arrived in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, for the ancient Royal Shrovetide football game.

He was led down a street decked with Union Jack bunting as he carried the match ball, before being lifted by three of the players.

In steady drizzle, Charles gave a grimace as he was hoisted aloft, and breathed a sigh of relief moments later as he planted his feet back on solid ground.

'Our great country'

Prince Charles then spoke to the thousands of spectators who had gathered for the start of the game.

He told them: "Long may this fine Derbyshire tradition continue, in this great country of ours.

Shrovetide game
Prince meeting children
I hope someone scores a goal
Prince Charles

"I only hope that someone now scores a goal."

The Prince then hurled the hand stitched leather ball into a throng of several hundred men.

It was third time lucky for the Prince as he was unable to attend last year because of the death of Princess Margaret and the year before because of foot-and-mouth restrictions.

He left not long after starting the game.

Manslaughter banned

The Shrovetide match is described as the world's oldest, largest, longest and maddest football game.

It is played over two days and involves hundreds of players battling for goals over a three-mile pitch in Ashbourne.

The tradition has descended from the game of medieval mass football which only exists in a handful of places.

It is played between two sides - the "Up'ards", people born north of the River Henmore, and "Down'ards", people born south of the river.

What rules there are say motor vehicles are not allowed and manslaughter is illegal.

In pictures: the prince and the football
05 Mar 03 |  Photo Gallery
Prince starts mass football game
19 Feb 03 |  England
Shrovetide shenanigans
24 Feb 98 |  Shrove Tuesday

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