Posts tagged: Roxburghshire

Melrose – birthplace of rugby sevens

By , 11th April 2012 13:15

Staged annually in April, the Melrose 7s festival is a reminder that the next team sport to be added to the Olympic roster, in Rio in 2016, was invented in the Scottish borders.

Digging around in the Melrose Sevens website reveals that Melrose Football Club, followers of the Rugby rules of football, was desperately searching for fund-raising ideas in the early 1880s. Ned Haig, a Jedburgh-born Melrose member, suggested staging a one-day tournament to bring in the crowds.   To make the format workable, teams were to be reduced to seven players and matches limited to 15 minutes.

Held on 28 April 1883, the first tournament proved a great success. Special trains brought hundreds of spectators from Galashiels and Hawick.  The 129th Melrose Sevens will be staged on 14 April 2010.

The Scottish town’s status as birthplace of sevens is recognised by the the International Rugby Board.  The Melrose Cup is the trophy for the IRB Rugby World Cup Sevens, first staged up the road at Murrayfield in Edinburgh 1993.

Since sevens becomes an Olympic sport in 2016, the next RWC Sevens is expected to be the last – although the IRB website is remarkably coy about its future after the 2013 tournament which will be hosted in Moscow.

In 2009, Stewart Maxwell, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, called on the Scottish Rugby Union to demand that the IRB withdraw rugby sevens from the Olympic Games. Rather than celebrating the even higher profile that Melrose’s invention will now have worldwide, he fears Scotland looses an opportunity to appear – in its own right – on an international stage.  His campaign echoes the resistance of some in association football to the inclusion of a GB soccer team in the London 2012 Olympics when England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are each individual members of FIFA.

However, the IRB is promoting its Sevens World Series to develop sevens and provide many more opportunities for international teams to compete.  Sevens has also become a highly successful and fiercely competitive part of the Commonwealth Games – which Glasgow hosts in 2014.  The IRB rankings, reveal that Commonwealth nations are prominent among rugby’s leading nations in both the fifteens and sevens versions of the sport.

Given its role as the birthplace of sevens, it’s a shame that Melrose doesn’t even feature on the route of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.

PS: if Rugby takes its name from the town and school which championed a form of football which allowed running with the ball, why isn’t Rugby Sevens known as Melrose?

PPS: was it entirely coincidental that the IOC wll admit two sports with deep Scottish roots – rugby sevens and golf – to the Oympics in 2016.

Links: Wikipedia has entries on rugby sevens in 22 languages, including fittingly, Scots!

Shrovetide commemorations of the origins of football and rugby

By , 4th March 2011 17:21

The International Football Association Board, the guardian of the laws of association football, meets in the spring of each year. The 2011 meeting on 5 March (pdf of agenda) takes place at Celtic Manor – which gained global prominence as a sporting landmark in October 2010. Founded in 1886 when representatives of the football associations in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland met to harmonise the sport’s laws across the ‘Home Nations’, the Board was joined by FIFA in 1913. Football’s world governing body now contributes four members to sit alongside the four founding members. (The Irish FA was founded in Belfast in 1880 and governed the game across the whole of Ireland until clubs in the south formed the Football Association of the Irish Free State, later the FAI, on 1 June 1921.)

It’s fitting that IFAB meets in the spring as it falls within the season of shrovetide when ancient folk football matches that are still played in various parts of England and Scotland.  These games, which resisted the prohibitions of numerous monarchs down the centuaries for fear of their impact on archery practice, the defense of the realm and general good order, provide a glimpse of the ancestors of the modern sports of both football and rugby.

Ashbourne, Derbyshire hosts the oldest and probably best known Shrovetide game.  Asbourne Royal Shrovetide Football is played on both Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. The earliest reference to the game is a poem written in 1683: its ‘Royal’ title dates from a visit by the Prince of Wales – later Edward VII – in 1928.

A team ‘Up’ards’ born in the north side of the Henmore River take on the ‘Down’ards’ born on the south side.  The pitch stretches between two goals  situated 3 miles apart – one at Sturston, and the other at Clifton. Originally, the goals were the water wheels of two mills: today, they are purpose built plinths.

Kick-off or “turning up” of the specially made and painted ball takes place at 2pm from a plinth in the town centre.  A goal is scored by tapping the ball three times against a marker board attached to one of the goal plinths.  The game continues until 10 pm. If a goal is scored before 6 pm, then a new ball is “turned up” and a new game starts. When a goal is scored after 6 pm, the game ends for that day.


More video can be found on this Asbourne Royal Shrovetide Football site.

The Shrovetide football match in the Northumberland town of Alnwick is called “Scoring the Hales” which is now played in the Pasture, a meadow across the river from Alnwick Castle. Before 1825, the game was played in the town’s streets. Contested between the parishes of St Michael & St Paul, teams typically have around 150 players each. Victory goes to the team that scores two goals, or “Hales” first.

In Atherstone, in Warwickshire, the Shrovetide match is played along Watling Street, the Roman road linking London with Chester and the northwest. Thought to date back 800 years, the game is played between 3pm and 5pm. The winner is the person in possession of the ball at 5pm: the game doesn’t depend on teams or goals.

The Ball Game in Sedgefield, County Durham, is started at 1pm by passing the ball three times through the ‘bull ring’ in the middle of the village. It is then kicked around the village for the next three hours. There are no teams: the first person to get the ball to any of the pubs receives a free drink. After 4pm the obective is to ‘ally’ the ball into the local stream, retrieve it and then return it t the centre of the village, passing it through the bull ring three times.

Roxburghshire hosts a number of folk football matches around Shrovetide: Hobkirk’s is on the Monday after Shrove Tuesday with Jedburgh and Ancrum & Denholm staging matches during February.

Folk football is not confined to Shrovetide. Workington in Cumberland is host to a series of three matches around Easter

 

The Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle Kicking at in Leicestershire shares many of the characteristics of other folk football games but makes use of a cask of beer rather than a ball. The contest between the villages of Hallaton and Medbourne takes place on Easter Monday.

In Berwickshire, the married men of Duns take on the batchelors during the Reivers Week summer festival and even further north, in Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands the Ba’ Game is played on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, between more “Uppies” and “Doonies” defined by their places of birth. For Uppies the objective is to touch the ba’ against the wall in the south end of the town, while the Doonies aim is to propel it into the waters of Kirwall Bay. Games start at 1pm and can last for up to eight hours.

 

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