View site in Scots

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Bonnie Fechters

Aince lang syne it wis this same gemm o fitba - rauch an sair - that wis common amang the nobles o Scotland. In thae days the war nae shin gairds or wicelike rules an it wis affen the cause o blue keekers, skaitht hauchs or the sperk for auld feuds. Sir Robert Gordon writin anent George Sinclair 4t erle o Caitnes (d.1582) said that this erle wad play at fitba efter his denner “...which was an excercise much in request among the Scots...” but less sae bi 1630.[i]  Whan George Gordon 5t erle o Huntly wis interteenin freens at Huntly castle in October 1576, the erle drappit deid aw a sudden fae ae efternuin bawin. The Calendar o Fearn descrived his deith in the follaein wey: “...George Gordon Erle Huntlie deceisset suddentlie quhom God assolze at Straboge eftir noune cumin fra ye fuitbau.”  It is thocht he dee’d fae a burstit vessel.[ii]  In anither instance, this time fae 1581, George Keith maister o Marischal scunnert his unfreen the erle o Bothwell in a rauch gemm. The Inglis envoy Robert Bowes wrate back tae the coort in Ingland that

"Some quarrel happened the other day betwixt Bothwell and the Master of Marishal, upon a stroke given at football on Bothwell's leg by the master, after that the master had beforce received a sore fall by Bothwell..." [iii]

Acause o this scunner, the twa nobles wis awa tae hae a duel, but the erle o Angus lat on tae the king an the duel wis pit a stop tae. Ae thochty laird Sir Paitrick Hume o Polwarth tellt his wife in Mairch 1648 that he haedna wrutten aforehaun acause thair son “...Achter hurt himself so evill at football in Polwart upon Sunday that he was not able to sturre." Reports o skaith sic as this forecasts the modren fitbawer streitchert awa.[iv]

Forby the skaith at playin, fitba cuid be the cover for fechts, feuds atween faimlies, or blatters atween Scots an Inglis. Aiblins the first ‘international’ on record took place in Mey 1599 whan sax memmers o the Airmstrang faimly an sax Inglismen haed "...a football playing and after that a drynkyng hard at Bewcastle house..." jist ower the border in Ingland. On the gait hame the Scots got word o a ambush but bodin in fear o weir syne vankisht thair unfreens an took 30 Inglis presoner.[v]  The year efter - in 1600 - Sir John Carmichael, warden o the Middle Mairch o Scotland, wis killt bi the Airmstrangs on thair wey back fae anither gemm. The bawin, at least amang the Borders fowk, wis ane o the covers used for tae gaither thegither for reivin.

In Juin 1601 the Privy Cooncil in Embra heard that Weelum Cockburn o that ilk, an his brithers, while "...playand at the fute-ball..." wi Jeems Dauvitson o Burnerig an Jeems Dauvitson o Nodday, on the Lochtoun in the Merse, "...fell in contentioun and contraversie, ilk ane with utheris, and schot and dilaschit pistolettis and  hacquebuttis..." (fell tae ickerin an bickerin wi ane anither an shot an lowsed pistols an haun guns). It wis reportit tae the cooncil that Dauvit Cockburn haed shot at Jeems Dauvitson o Burnerig but the Dauvitsons wis cryed doun for no compearin tae answer thir chairges.[vi]  In anither cause afore the Cooncil in 1611, Sir Tamas Hamiltoun o Byris an Sir Jeems Dooglas o Drumlanrig complained on Weelum Kirkpaitrick younger o Kirkmichael an ithers that haed turnt up at Campbell baw green by Drumlanrig in July 1610 unner the "...pretext of the playing of a wood fute ball..." but bodin in fear o weir an in a "...bragging maner..." ettled tae stert a fecht wi the lave o them.[vii]

The Glesca Green haed lang been a place for fitba an wis aince descrived in Latin in 1558 as palestram de Glasgw lusoriam (the playgrund o Glesca). Ilka year at Fastern’s Een it wis the custom o the burgh cooncil tae pey oot the common guid fund for haein fitbaws made. The accoonts o the burgh o Glesca shaws that atween 1573 an 1579 John Andro, a cordine (shaemakar), wis peyed for sax orders o "...sax fut ballis..." [viii] an on 31 Januar 1589/90 John Neill, anither cordiner, wis makkit a burgess an freeman o Glesca “...quhais fienes ar remittit to him for furneissing yeirlie during his lyftyme vpoun Fastereinisewin of sex guid and sufficient fut ballis, or ellis tuentie schillingis as the price thairof.” In ither words, he wis made a burgess in return for makkin fitbaws for the burgh. But it seems that efter this time the custom dywned awa in Glesca.[ix] In anither instance, Alisaunder Cook wis serred heir tae the lands an tenements o his granfaither in the burgh o Banff in 1629 “...for yeirlie payment of tua footballs as few dewtie for the said tenement and yaird at the feast of Chrystismes...”.[x] This uiss o fitba in the burghs on parteeclar halidays an fests wis common, tho it whiles wis banned as a cheil that led tae fechts in the toun as it whiles wis amang feudin nobles. For this reason on 20 Dezember 1570 Peebles cooncil “...ordanis that thair be na playing at the fute ball on the Hie Gait...” at the fine o 8 shillings an the cuttin up o the baw.[xi]


[i] Sir Robert Gordon, A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland from its origin to the year 1630, (Edinburgh, 1813), p.180.

[ii] See RJ Adam (ed) The Calendar of Fearn: texts and additions, 1471-1667, (Edinburgh, 1991), p.152. The Marquess of Huntly, The Cock O’ the North, (London, 1935), p.48.

[iii] William K Boyd (ed),Calendar of State Papers Relating to Scotland and Mary, VI 1581-1583, (Edinburgh, 1910), p.415.

[iv] Historical Manuscripts Commission Fourteenth Report, Appendix Part III, (London, 1894), p.109.

[v] Joseph Bain (ed), The Border Papers: Calendar of Letters and Papers relating to the affairs of the Borders of England and Scotland, II 1595-1603, (Edinburgh, 1896), p.605

[vi] David Masson (ed), Register Of the Privy Council Of Scotland, VI, (Edinburgh, 1884), p.262.

[vii] Masson, Privy Council Of Scotland, IX, p.301.

[viii] Scottish Burgh Record Society, Extracts From The Records Of The Burgh o Glasgow 1573-1642, (Glasgow, 1876), pp.451, 456, 459, 462, 455, 469.

[ix] Ilk, p.149, an see forby Robert Renwick, Glasgow Memorials (Glasgow, 1908), p.74.

[x] William Cramond (ed), The Annals of Banff, I, (Aberdeen, 1891), p.63.

[xi] Scottish Burgh Record Society, Charters and Documents Relating to the Burgh of Peebles with Extracts from the Records of the Burgh 1165-1710, (Edinburgh,1872), p.324.