Thursday, April 10, 2008

SPORTSHYPE: The Old Ba' Game

If you're a man living in Kirkwall, in the Orkney Islands (in the far north of Scotland, surrounded by ocean, where anything less than a 100-mph wind is considered a light breeze), what do you do on Christmas Day?

You play Ba'. You don't whine about how you might get hurt. You don't worry about the highly likely result of twisted fingers, black eyes, broken noses, and torn clothes - you MAN UP and join your side in the game that's been going on every year for hundreds of years. Either Uppie or Doonie, you'll participate... oh yes, you will.

The Washington Post has a fantastically well-written article on this sporting tradition, along with a whole lot of pictures to go with it. A montage is presented below (click the image to see a bigger version).

Here's a short excerpt from the article:
William Thomson's family had played this sport for centuries, so he understood that he needed to choose between two strategies for the annual Christmas day ba' game.

The scrawny 17-year-old could fight for the ball in the center of the riotous scrum, where more than 300 men would function as a human juicer, turning his face red, then purple. He would be scratched, punched, kneed and bitten. His ribs might break. He could pass out unconscious.

Or, Thomson could follow convention for players his size and stay near the edge of the scrum, pushing the pile. This would work well unless the ball popped out and the mob changed direction. Cars, gravestones, houses, strollers, hotel lobbies -- all had been kicked, shoved or trampled in pursuit of the ball during previous games. Anticipating such a stampede, business and homeowners in town had nailed wooden planks across their doors and windows. "If you're on the edge of the scrum and it turns on you," one veteran player said, "then you might as well be dead."

This, Thomson decided, was his safest option.


"You know, da'," [Sean Smith] said, "still not quite sure I'm playing this year."

"Hell you're not!" Kevin said, punching his brother in the shoulder. "What, you scared? Come on!"

"Naw, I'm too small," Sean said. "I could get killed in there."

"Ahh, it's not about size, never has been," [Ian] Smith said. "If I taught you boys one thing about the ba', it's that nothing matters but heart and effort. Don't make a damn difference if you're seven foot tall or four foot. You're a Smith, so you'll play. And you'll play Doonie."
Link to the article: Tradition | Why We Compete | The Old Ba' Game

And here's the complete photo gallery by the Post.

For more on this sporting tradition, check out

2008 Ba', Orkney


ad said...

Un-effin-believable! People, man! Reminds me of the great Clive Barker story, from "Books of Blood, Vol 3", "In The Hills, The Cities".

Zé Cacetudo said...

In The Hills, The Cities is quite the short story. I hadn't heard of it before, but I read the whole thing using Amazon's "Look Inside" feature.

It reminded me a little of another short story - Shirley Jackson's The Lottery.