Mysterious, century-old Ashbourne Shrovetide ball found - and it's heading to a Rams game

Posted on 05/03/2019 in Press Coverage

Derby County will receive a dose of Steve Bloomer magic tonight (March 5) when a newly discovered century-old Ashbourne Shrovetide football – honouring the DCFC legend – heads to Pride Park Stadium.

The ball, which bears the date 1921 and Steve Bloomer’s name, will be taken to the Rams’ home game against Wigan after being discovered on Saturday (March 2) by Charles Hanson, owner of Derbyshire’s Hansons Auctioneers - and he hopes it will boost the team’s luck.

He also hopes football – and Shrovetide – fans across Derbyshire will help solve a mystery thrown up by the ball as its history is unclear.

Mr Hanson said: “A couple brought the ball to Hansons – and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Being a Derbyshire man, I know it’s a great honour to handle a Shrovetide ball. To see one that’s around 100 years old with Steve Bloomer’s name emblazoned on it is extra special – especially for me, a huge Rams fan.

“However, our research has thrown up some anomalies. The paintwork, patina and vendor’s story indicate that the ball dates back to the 1920s. However, it is not the official Steve Bloomer Shrovetide ball as the Derby legend turned up the ball in Ashbourne in 1920. Baden Faulkner goaled it and his family still treasure the ball.

“We also know from Shrovetide ball artist Tim Baker that some fake Shrovetide balls were circulating in the 1950s and 1960s and, though Tim tells us it is a genuine Shrovetide football, he said it could be one of those. However, our ball predates that period. Our vendor recalls playing with it in 1945 and says his family was aware of its existence before then. It’s a mystery.

“Whatever the outcome of our research, it’s an amazing ball. I was so thrilled to find it I asked Derby County if I could take it along to their match against Wigan to show the fans – and hopefully bring the Rams a bit of luck.

“I’m delighted to say the club agreed. The Bloomer ball will be part of the matchball delivery at the game. Of course, it won’t actually be used – that wouldn’t be fair on Wigan! The real matchball has been sponsored by ATL Warehousing and Distribution.”

The ball belongs to retired couple Mr Vernon Wells, 75, and his wife Anne, 67. Mr Wells originates from Derby but the couple now live in Selby, North Yorkshire.

Mr Wells, who worked as site manager at Aiton Pipes in Stores Road, Derby, and was awarded an MBE for services to further education, said: “The ball belonged to my grandfather, former Derbyshire police sergeant George Albert Wheeldon, who was born in Bolsover in 1883 and served in Ashbourne, Buxton and Wirksworth.

“He told me he goaled the ball at Ashbourne Shrovetide. He died at the age of 97 in 1980 and I inherited it. It’s been tucked away at the back of a cupboard under the stairs for nearly 40 years.

“We came across it when we were downsizing and wondered if anyone would like it as it’s part of Derbyshire’s football heritage.

“I have contacted experts in Ashbourne about the ball as I feel it belongs in the town and carried out my own research. I can’t find a record of my grandfather goaling the ball.

“However, I do know George Wheeldon took part in Shrovetide – he was certainly big enough to be in it. He was like a bulldog when he was a young man. He was fearless and a force to be reckoned with. It’s possible his story was an elaboration. The Ashbourne event is legendary for its stories. But I believe it is a genuine Shrovetide ball.

“When I was a little boy I remember sitting on the ball and playing with it at my grandfather’s house in Sawley, near Long Eaton. It brings back happy memories. It’s been a part of my family for as long as I can remember.”

Bloomer, who lived from 1874-1938, scored a record 292 goals for Derby County.He also played for England and is listed in the Football League 100 Legends and English Football Hall of Fame. Rams fans sing football anthem Steve Bloomer’s Watchin’ before every home game and there is a statue of him at Pride Park.

Ashbourne’s annual Shrovetide Football match is famous the world over and dates back to medieval times. Special footballs are made and decorated for use in the matches.

The Ashbourne Shrovetide football will be sold at Hansons, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, on May 23. Estimate to be announced when research is completed. To find out more, email [email protected]. Entries are invited for the next Sporting Memorabilia Auction until May 3.