Posted by Bob on December 16, 1999
Last September, someone inquired about the origin of "local derby" to refer to a soccer (association football) match between two clubs from the same town.
Better late than never, I guess, but it took me three months to do the research. Mea culpa.
Although there is some controversy over the origin, the consenus seems to be:
Hundreds of years ago, holiday celebrations in towns all over England had a tendency to turn into brawls (medieval hooligans?) and the civic energy was channeled into loosely-organized ball games, often between two parishes or regions. This took the form of a free-form game with no rules, the object of which was to get a ball (by any means) into the opposition's "goal" which was most often the parish or town hall or whatever. The playing area was often miles long and just as wide, with hundreds of players on a side.
Then came organized sport in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the wild local derbies died out. With one exception: the annual Shrove Tuesday football match in the Derbyshire village of Ashbourne, which lives on, I am told, to this day. The whole town participates, and a merry time is had by all ... so long as all the windows are boarded up.