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Aw the Airts


Ilka district haed a yearly bawin that took place on Fastern’s Een (Shrove Tuesday) atween men o contrair ferm touns an villages or even amang thaim that shawed up on the day. The gemm lastit langer the fewer fowk played, an in thae days the players cuid affen lift the baw wi the hauns, but this gied wey in maist airts til a rule no allouin the baw tae be toucht wi the haun efter it wis on the baw green or grund. In a puckle pairts, sic as the Borders or Caitnes, haun baw haes cairried on tae this day. The winners in this auld kind o bawin wis thaim that hailed twice efter twa or three roonds.[1]  A poyem wrutten aroond 1500 gies an idea o whit like the medieval bawin wis:

The Bewties of the Fute-Ball

Brissit brawnis and brokin banis,

Stride, discord and waistie wanis;

Crukit in eild, syne halt withal-

Thir are the bewties of the fute-ball [2]

While fitba cuid be the cause o ‘brissit brawnis and brokin banis’ (brizzed caufs an brukken banes) the fowk that held pouer in the kintra wis mair fasht whan the gemm led til ony stramash. The rector o the versity at St Aundraes, John Liston, haed awready forbidden fitba unner the threit o excommunication, in November 1497, but the maiter wisna that easy redd. In 1536, for instance, the accompts o the same versity recordit that the bursar peyed 8 pence for a fitba, sae it’s weel seen that students wis tentless o the 1497 act. The first recordit rammie at a fitba gemm in Scotland dates fae Februar 1537 whan the students haed a bawin atween the colleges in St Aundraes, in Fife, on Shrove Tuesday. Whit follaed wis a rammie amang the thrang that haed gaithert tae see the gemm.[3] Follaein on fae this in 1544 St Leonard’s College, at St Aundraes, pit throu an act bannin its students fae fitba acause it wis a ‘dishonest an skaithfae’ gemm. Students fund playin the gemm wad be gien a tellin tae, an gin thay didna tak tent, wad be pit oot the versity. But it proved a fash tae daunton the younkers.[4] John Hamiltoun, the airchbishop o St Aundraes, even alloued the tounfowk o the burgh tae mak uiss o the links in 1552 for “...golfe, futeball, shuting and all games...” [5] while the contemporar coort makar Dauvit Lindsay wrate o his character Squire Meldrum:

He wan the prize aboue them all,

Baith at the butts and the futeball.

Bi the time o airchbishop Hamiltoun an Lindsay’s day, tho the versities tried tae ding the gemm doun, the auld acts o pairlament agin fitba haed stertit tae faw in disuiss. Ae reason for this wis the spreid o the uiss o gunpouder an fireairms in weirfare an sae the wisna the same caw for men tae train as airchers ony mair.

Amang ither things Queen Mary (rang 1542-67) wis a kenspeckle follaer o fitba. Whan she won hame fae Fraunce in 1561 she alloued fitba at the royal coort an we hear o nae mair acts bannin the gemm. The’r guid evidence that the gemm wis played at Stirlin castle in her days. Appearinly, bawins wis held in the castle coortyaird whaur "...the Queen would throw the ball from the balcony to start off football matches between royal staff or soldiers." [6]  The baw wis stotit atween the players - baith sodgers o the castle, her servitors, an memmers o the coort - for the maist pairt the young lairds an nobles. But it maun’a been a rauch, tummlin sicht for the een. Whan Mary demitit the croun in 1567 she left a sma haun-steikit blether ahin in her ain private chaumer. It wis in uiss til aboot 1570, an syne plankit. Historians noo jalouses that this isna jist the auldest fitba in Scotland, but the auldest in the hail warld. Syne, John Burnett o the National Museum in Embra gied uphaud tae this claim an the baw is noo ootset at the Smith Airt Gallery in Stirlin. In 1568 Mary wis defait in her ettle tae tak back the croun o Scotland an fled til Ingland whaur in Juin thon year she held coort in Cairel. Ae Inglisman cryed Knollys reportit that she took a dauner on the playin green whaur she watcht twa bawins played atween twinty o her ain coortiars for twa houers, wi Knollys notin "...the smalnes of theyr balle occasyonyng theyr fayrer playe...".[7]

While Mary wis banisht oot the kinrik, her son Jemmie VI (rang 1567-1625) wis made king bi the Protestant lords, an regents rang til he wis auld eneuch tae tak ower. In July 1572, the regent, John erle o Mar (d.1572), coft “...ane fute ball to the kingis majestie...” at the fair price o 8 shillings. The king wis jist sax year auld at the time.[8]  Tho Jemmie VI wis reared up sair releegious but a rare scholar, the’r nae evidence he wis agin fitba awthegither. But it wis a gemm for callants an gallus cheils an no that suitit for coortly birkies. The coort makar Sir Richert Maitland o Lethington wrate in his Solace in Age:

Quhone zoung men cumis fra ye grene,

At ye football playing had bene

with brokin spald,

I thank my god I want my ene

and am so ald.[9]

In ither words, Maitland wis gled that his auld age, an loss o sicht, gied him the excuse no tae play at the fitba that left mony a callant wi a brukken spal bane. For his ain pairt, King Jemmie cam tae regaird fitba as no a richt gemm for princes. In his ain wicelike words til his son, in the buik Basilikon Doron (1597), he haed the follaein tae say:

“I thinke exercises of the boddie maist commendable to be used be a young prince, in sicc honest games or pastymes as maye further habilitie & mainteine health...for making his boddie abill & durabill for trauell quhilke is uerrie necessaire for a king, but from this compte I debarre all rumling uiolent exercises as the fitball meitter for laming nor making able the useris thairof...”.[10]

Jemmie VI wisna agin sport sae muckle as gemms that he regairdit ablow ony douce king that wantit tae evite skaith. But he kent weel that the ordnar fowk needit a day o brek fae thair daily darg. The ae day o the week whaur fowk haedna tae wirk haed aye been the Sabbath day, or Sunday, but the meenisters o the kirk noo sairly fasht fowk for haein gemms on the haly day. Fowk made mane that “ day in the oulk wes grantit to thame for thair relief fra thair labour except the said Sabboth...” sae in Juin 1598 pairlament brocht in a act makkin Monandays a day aff. The act declared that

“...the haill servandis within this cuntrey salbe exemit fra all service or lawbour to thair maisteris. And the samyn day salbe allanerlie bestowit and imployit be thame in vseing and handling of thair armour and in vther lauchfull gaimes and pastymes...Dischargeing alvyis the haill leigis fra vnlacuhfull and vnnecessar gaimes...”[11]

(...the hail servants o this kintra is tae be free fae wirkin for thair maisters. An the same day is only tae be used bi thaim for practice wi thair airmor an ither lawfae gemms an pastimes...Aye forbiddin the hail subjects fae unlawfae an unnecessar gemms...)

an in parteeclar, the maisters an regents o the colleges wis tae allou thair students tae dae the like ilka Monanday efter twalhoures an no gar them attend clesses. An fitba seems tae a’been played in a wheen scuils in thae days. For instance, Dauvit Wedderburn, maister o the Aiberdeen graimar scuil, set furth a Latin Vocabula in 1636 whaur he comprehendit passages on gemms sic as fitba an gowf.[12] That the gemm wis in favour wi the upper clesses even efter the time o Jemmie VI is weel seen, for whan Chairles I (rang 1625-1649) cam tae Scotland for tae be crount in 1633 fitba wis played atween the lords as pairt o the festivities.

[1] Charles Rodgers, Scotland Social and Domestic Memorials of Life and Manners in North Britain, (London,1869), p.187.

[2] Wrutten bi an unamed body. See WA Craigie (ed), The Maitland Folio Manuscript Containing Poemes by Sir Richard Maitland, Dunbar, Douglas, Henryson, and Others, Volume I, (Edinburgh an London, 1919), p.242.

[3] For aw thir acts an haunling see Annie I Dunlop (ed), Acta Facultatis Artium Universitatis Sanctiandree, Volume II, (Edinburgh, 1964), pp.266, 381.

[4] Charles Jobson Lyon, History of St Andrews, Volume II, Apendix III.

[5] John Burnett an Grant Jarvie (eds), Sport, Scotland and the Scots, (East Linton, 2000), p.261.

[6] Press and Journal, Friday Aprile 23 1999, p.2

[7] Joseph Bain (ed), Calendar of State Papers relating to Scotland and Mary Queen of Scots, II 1563-1569, (Edinburgh, 1900), p.436. Waled oot a letter fae Knollys til Inglis secretar Cecil Juin 15 1568.

[8] Charles T McInnes (ed), Accounts Of The Lord High Treasurer Of Scotland, XII 1566-1574, (Edinburgh, 1970), p.353.

[9] WA Craigie (ed), The Maitland Folio Manuscript Containing Poemes by Sir Richard Maitland, Dunbar, Douglas, Henryson, and Others, Volume I, (Edinburgh an London, 1919), p.330.

[10] James Craigie (ed), The Basilikon Doron of King James VI, I Text, (Edinburgh and London, 1944), p.200.

[11] House of Commons, The Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, Volume IV 1593-1625, (London, 1816), p.160.

[12] Grant Jarvie an John Burnett (eds), Sport, Scotland And The Scots, (East Linton, 2000), p.112.