Wild In The Streets

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Before sports became commodities, and teams bought networks to control their brand, and well before sloop-shouldered, sunken-chested stat-geeks transformed hype into a religious awakening for the needy American male, before all of that, there were simply the games.

Guys like us grew up playing those games, competing against friends but more importantly testing ourselves, because nothing meant more than how much, or how far we could push ourselves. We didn’t have about Fantasy Camps for teenagers – funded by shoe giants – didn’t have apps that calculated every second and every number into a spread sheet that fit neatly onto the face of a smart phone.

All we wanted was to hit the ball father, run the field faster and attack the hoop by jumping higher. This was our cache, and this kind of cred had a shelf life that dwarfed anything in today’s sometimes inane world of news cycles, tweets, and the never ending flow of useless information, doled out like crack to a nation exalting in its A.D.D. boredom.

This isn’t to say we’re against the march of time or the advances in technology. Only an iconoclastic fool would be. But every now and then, something invades our cynical consciousness and reminds aging jocks like us that it will always be about the game.

“Wild In The Streets,” is just such an endeavor, a documentary about Ashbourne, an old English town that once a year plays a special game.

(Yes good people, despite our manta, we actually did see this film.)

Shrovetide Football is part Rugby, part War Ball, with a healthy sprinkling of Capture The Flag. Rules? There really aren’t any. The residents split up into two teams and meet in the middle of town. A special ball, hand-made every year, is tossed into the fray and battle begins. Whichever side can advance deep enough into enemy territory and ultimately touch the ball on the opposition’s home wall takes a score. The matches take a few days and out of bounds doesn’t exist, which is why shop owners board up their windows and doors a few days before the fun begins.

This is also where the simplicity in this long-standing ritual ends.

We’re not talking about a 12 players a side, think more in the realm of hundreds, pushing and grappling within a massive gaggle of amped-up humanity. Scrums can take hours to move the ball a mere few feet. Peering down on the mayhem from the master shots, we might be watching Crusades-era warfare, lacking only lances and chain mail. Like the town that nurtures it, this game has changed very little over the past several centuries. What remains is a unique and traditional contest of wills not unlike those historical conflicts. Or to a lesser extent, something like those raggedy games of Loose Pigskins we all remember.

Though to be fair, the resonate value of the film extends well beyond the beaten and sometimes bloody combatants, those who exalt afterwards in Shrovetide’s one and only prize, possession of that year’s game ball. (As well as a few free beers.) There is no payout, no endorsement deals and no appearances on Letterman. Only a year’s worth of bragging chits and the soothing, encompasing peace of accomplishment, something well-suited to these proud and humble residents.

Still, as low-key as they might present, Ashbourne locals are driven by a transending need. There is something cosmically inspiring about a bunch of ten-year-olds training in muddy pastures, imagining the day they might get that chance to be a runner, and maybe even slam that special ball against the well-protected stone wall buried deep along the rear lines of the opposition. For Shrovetiders that is an invaluable honor, one worth a lifetime of effort.

English actor Sean Bean narrates with a gritty strength that more than serves the story while never overshadowing the films’ desire to illuminate the healthy co-dependence between the town and its game.

It would be hard to imagine one without the other.

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(“Wild In The Streets” is currently available on several outlets, including ITunes. For more information click over to wildinthestreetsmovie.com)

  1. Twigs says:

    Great film. Really enjoyed it.