The Excitement of the Kirkwall Ba’

The Kirkwall Ba’ Game is a mass-football game which is played in the streets of the picturesque town of Kirkwall, Scotland, every Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Dating back to the mid-17th century, this popular mass-football game has undergone changes in the playing style and even the playing field, but its popularity keeps growing and is a much anticipated event.

The Kirkwall Ba’ Game is a battle between two teams, the Uppies and the Doonies, to secure a single goal which wins the game. Whether team members are Uppies or Doonies originally depended on the person’s place of birth, with Uppies coming from south of the cathedral and Doonies from the north. With the passing of time, however, family loyalty is usually the deciding factor of which team to support, with players choosing to play on the same side as their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers.

Two separate events take place on the same day – the Boy’s Ba’ starting at 10:30 am and the Men’s Ba’ starting at 1 pm. It is fairly common for the two games to run concurrently if the boy’s game has gone over time. The game starts with the person given the honor to do so, throwing the ba’ into the crowd. This sets off the friendly fight for possession of the ball with each side putting in immense effort to carry the ba’ toward their territory. With the streets becoming the playing field, at times the tightly packed scrum is pushed up against walls and boarded up shop doors and windows, even spilling into side streets. When the scrum breaks, the player with the ball attempts to take advantage of the ensuing chaos to gain ground for his team. The minute the ball-holder is intercepted, however, the scrum forms again.

A game can last for five hours or more with numerous tactics being employed to gain the upper hand. Generally the majority of the crowd have no clue as to where the ba’ is and this allows the more clued-up team members to attempt to smuggle the ba’ out of the pack or create fake breaks in the scrum with the aim of sending the opposing team off in the wrong direction. Players have even been known to try to reach the goal over the rooftops. Considering that there are no set rules to the game and the enthusiasm with which it is played, surprisingly few injuries occur. This is possibly because the game is played in the spirit of fun and no aggressive behavior is tolerated.

In order for the Uppies to score a goal they need to touch the ba’ against a wall in the south end of Kirkwall, whereas the Doonies have to get the ba’ wet in Kirkwall Bay to the north. The coveted trophy of the Kirkwall Ba’ Game is the ba’ itself, which is awarded to a team member chosen by the winning team and is usually hung conspicuously and proudly in the winner’s house window for all to see.

Visitors to Scotland during the festive season are sure to enjoy the spectacle and camaraderie of the Kirkwall Ba’ Game – a lively Scottish tradition.