Understanding The Kirkwall Ba Game

Ever known of a sport that’s teams consist of whether they’re from the upper part of a town or the lower part of a town? Or that you could put a slipknot track on in the background and most people would think it’s just another one of those mosh pit things? Well if you have then you must’ve stumbled across this in an article or a YouTube video, or you’re from the town of Kirkwall, Orkney Island, Scotland where this game is played.

The Kirkwall Ba game or simply known to the residents as the Ba game is a form of medieval football that is played only twice a year on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day in the town of Kirkwall on the Scottish Island of Orkney. A game that dates back to the 1650s in the town according to librarians, but sworn by some residents it dates back to the 1400s, still upholds many traditions and refuses to be modernised or changed. The games rules date back to its inception and haven’t changed at all. To put it simply you have to get the Ba to one part of the town to win the game for your team. Literally, that’s the only rule and only way to win, you can bite, kick them in the bagpipes or even dropkick someone in the crowd whilst shouting “I fucking love Peppa Pig” and it’ll be ok. Absolutely mental right!

The game consists of two teams, ‘the Uppies’ and ‘the Doonies’. Now it may sound like a Glaswegian junkie talking about what type of drugs they’re into but it’s traditionally which part of the town you were born in – either ‘up the gate or doon the gate’. However, since the local hospital was built in the 1950s the Uppies have the advantage of more players due to the hospitals’ location and players playing for the same side as their forebears.

The goal for the Doonies is the sea, typically with the Basin of the Harbour but all good if engulfed within the waters or Kirkwall Bay. For the Uppies they need to round the junction of Main Street with New Scapa Road opposite the Catholic Church which was once upon a time the old town gates before they were removed in the 1950s. Simply get the ball to touch that area and then boom you’ve won this mental game and can have a celebratory wank when you get home bruised and battered.

A lot of families in the western world at 1 pm on December 25th will be enjoying quality time together or getting drunk as they hate Christmas due to a heartbreak that happened when they were 20, but for Kirkwall residents, that’s when the Ba game starts. As soon as the church bell rings at 1 pm a retired team mosh pit player will chuck the fancy leather made, and heavy as fuck, ball into the crowd and the chaos begins. Well by chaos it’s actually sort of civilised chaos. Spectators will climb on shoulders to drag out unconscious players and players will briefly stop to get players back on their feet regardless of what side they’re on. Dictating what side they’re on is pretty difficult as there’s no signification of a player by clothing over what side they’re on, they’re expected to remember who is on their side.

In this game broken ribs, black eyes, blood and general boo-boos that only a mothers kiss could fix are more common than your health fanatic pal making you feel bad for the food you eat. Players getting badly hurt in this game is a common occurrence but doesn’t deter anyone, to win the Ba game is everything for an Uppie or Doonie. However, to win the ultimate honour of being awarded the Ba is everything to an Orcadian. At the end of every game, the Ba is awarded to the player on the team who has played consistently well for a long time or a veteran of the game. Whoever is determined to be the worthy person of receiving the Ba after much debate is then hoisted upon their teammates’ shoulders and paraded around immortalising themselves in Orkney history.

This type of game is played more commonly than what most would think and isn’t exclusive to just Kirkwall but what sets the Kirkwall Ba game above the rest is the unchanged tradition of this game. To have a game enriched in tradition and still played basically exactly the way it was first played is incredible. Plus who doesn’t love a bit of man on many action, am I right ladies and fellows queers?

Swankie – 24, Scotland. Loveable Loser.

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