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The Kirk Dings Doun

The Kirk o Scotland meenisters didna hae muckle time for the gemm o Fitba. The tradeetion bein tae play on auld saunts’ days meant it wis regairdit as a ‘paipish’ relic sib tae supersteetion, an play on the sabbath wis lookit on as sairly wantin respect. In 1598, 1599 an Februar 1603, meenisters in Elgin miscawed fitba fae the pulpits on the sabbath [i] an in July 1611 the Synod o Fife done the same.[ii]  It wis reportit in 1599 that the fowk in the paroch o Innerleithen, Peeblesshire, attendit baith the forenuin an efternuin kirk service, but at the skailin gaed tae play fitba, a fact that haed the session in a swither.[iii] The kirk session at Stobo in the Borders gree’d in 1604 that fowk that played at fitba efter the kirk on the Sabbath shuid be socht oot an censured bi the meenister.[iv] On Yule day 1600 the chantor an subchantor o Elgin, alang wi ithers, wis pullt up afore the kirk session for playin fitba but made on that thay didna ken the war acts agin it.[v]  In Dezember 1618 the kirk session o Elgin descrived fitba as a “...superstitious observation of auld reitis...”[vi]  The kirk sessions fee’d bodies tae gae aroond an cairry oot its will. Weelum Gadderer, kirk officer in Elgin, gaed ben “...the toun with the bell intymating ilk persone quho salbe found in the Chanerie kirkyaird danceing or louping or futeballing...” in Mey 1628.[vii]

The punishments for fowk fund playin the gemm cuid be sair. In Februar 1591 a laird’s son, servants, an ithers, wis cawed afore the kirk session o Perth for playin at fitba on the Meadow Inch o the Muirtoun on a Sunday at the time o service, an haed tae come tae the kirk the follaein week tae confess an mak repentence.[viii] In Juin 1600 Andra Month, John Froster, Tamas Watsoun and Airchibald Wan in Kincaple, St Aundraes paroch, in Fife, haed been brocht afore the kirk session for playin at fitba on the Sabbath day, an thaim wi a piper fae Leuchars in tow. Thay war gart mak public humiliation in the paroch kirk afore the hail fowk.[ix] In Januar 1627 Robert Kay in Elgin wis tae be wardit for playin throu the toun [x] an in July 1630 George Purse, James McWatty, an Alisaunder Fumester “...for thair playing at the futeball on the Sabboth nicht at evein throw the calsay...” haed tae pey 6 shillings 8 pence a heid.[xi]  Unner the Inglis Usurpation o Scotland (1652-1660) a new act wis pit throu the Inglis pairlament cryed For Better Observance of the Lord’s Day in 1656. This threapit that sports wis banned on the Sabbath an that ony younker ower 14 fund playin a sport wad be fined 10 shillings. The parents or maisters o bairns unner 14 wad pey a fine o 1 shilling for ilka bairn convictit an gie “...due correction...” tae the bairn.[xii] In Kirkwall in Orkney in 1670 the kirk session got the meenister tae annoonce fae the poopit that aw maisters an parents shuid haud the Sabbath day haly an that ‘idle boyes’ that haed been playin fitba throu or efter the service wad hae thair names gien tae the session bi the elders as ‘delinquents’.[xiii] On 1 Mey 1682, the burgh cooncil o Banff banned fowk playin fitba on the streets wi a fine o 40 shillings.[xiv] An the kirk haed owerance o the scuils an-aw. In Polwarth, Stirlinshire, in Februar 1654, the kirk elders wis black affrontit that laddies, alang wi aulder younkers, haed played on the sabbath an askit the scuilmaister an parents tae “...restraine this abuse in time comming.”. Syne, the session reportit bonnily that the aulder younkers haed expresst thair wae for the faut.[xv] An jist tae fleg fowk, the war stories gauin aboot in the 17t century that younkers playin at fitba on the ice in winter haed fell throu an been drount, a shair sign o God’s wrath.

Bi the stert o the 18t century the kirk session acts an burgh bylaws agin fitba wis alloued tae sleep in a puckle airts. An even tho it haed been thocht a sair, rummlin gemm, fitba cuid be the pastime for a gentlemen. We find, for instance, Sir John Foulis o Ravelston peyin 14 shillings for a fitba in Februar 1691.[xvi] As early as 1615 twa airchbishops that haed aince been meenisters in the Presbytery o Lithgae, cryed Jeems Spottiswode an Jeems Law, is cited as players o fitba by the screivar Calderwood an haein risen tae pouer Calderwood jokit that thay baith noo haed the baw at thair feet.[xvii] In coorse, thay war Episcopal an differt in thair opeenion o fests an fitba fae the Presebyterian pairty. Hooanever, bi the 1750’s a Moderate Pairty haed arisen in the Kirk o Scotland that wisna owerly fasht aboot the auld gemms an tradeetions. Insteid Presbyterian meenisters ettled at ither means o dingin the gemm doun. Tak the Reverend Potter, meenister at Kippen, Stirlinshire (1700-40) that fund it wis his parochinars tradeetion tae play fitba on the Sunday efternuin, jist furth o the village. Potter wisna jist for this but raither nor fleggin his flock he made on that he wantit tae tak pairt in the gemm but threapit on incawin God afore ony gemm. Hooanever, his prayers lastit that lang that he succeedit in pittin fowk aff the gemm awthegither.[xviii]  Anither meenister, Weelum Chaumer o Monzie, Perthshire (1691-1702) haed a sair fecht gettin his flock in the kirk acause thay haed forgaithert for a gemm. Insteid, Chaumer stertit playin alang wi them an this act brocht fowk intae the kirk efter. Chaumer wad seem tae be the first Kirk o Scotland meenister tae play fitba in fair daylicht.[xix]  This mair tolerant haunlin even gied wey til a liking for the sport. Ae Episcopal meenister, John Skinner o Monymusk, Aiberdeenshire (1742-1807), aiblins plenisht the first modren description o fitba in Scotland whan he wrate the Monymusk Bawing. It is weel seen that he regairdit the “...hurry-burry...” a richt strauchle “...weel worth the seeing...” an in his first stanza pents a pictur o the players as thay stot the baw atween ane anither:

Like bumbees bizzing frae a byke,

Whan hirds their riggins tirr;

The swankies lap thro' mire and syke,

Wow, as their heads did birr!

They yowff'd the ba' frae dyke tae dyke,

Wi' unco speed and virr,

Some baith their shou'ders up did fyke,

For blythness some did flirr

Their teeth that day.

Like Jemmie VI an ithers afore his day, Skinner kent fine weel that fitba cuid be bluidy. In the Bawing his reader maun doot that the herds an fermers in the paroch took a paikin:

Has ne'er in Monymusk been seen

Sae mony weel-beft skins;

Of a' the ba'-men there was nane

But had twa bleedy shins; [xx]

The fact that Skinner cuid find an intress in fitba shaws hoo muckle thaim in the kirk haed saftent on the sports o the ordnar fowk.


[i] William Cramond, The Records Of Elgin 1234-1800, (Aberdeen, 1908), pp. 76, 108.

[ii] Abbotsford Club, Ecclesiastical Records Selections From The Minutes Of The Synod of Fife 1611-1687, (Edinburgh, 1837), p.21.

[iii] Dr Gunn (ed), The Ministry of the Presbytery of Peebles AD 296-1910, (Peebles, 1910), p.32.

[iv] Dr Gunn (ed), The Book of Stobo Church, (Peebles, 1907), p.34.

[v] Cramond, Records of Elgin, p.86.

[vi] Ilk, p.158.

[vii] Ilk, p.204.

[viii] Robert Fittis, Illustrations of the History and Antiquities of Perthshire, (Perth, 1874), p.383.

[ix] David Hay Fleming (ed), Register of The Minister, Elders and Deacons of the Christian Congregation of St Andrews, Volume II 1582-1600, (Edinburg, 1890), p.296.

[x] Ilk, For this an ither instances in 1604,1605 an 1653 forby see pp.128,131, 198, p.215.

[xi] Ilk, p.215.

[xii] The Government During the Commonwealth, Volume I, Part II 1648-1660, (HM Treasury, 1872), pp.865-866.

[xiii] BH Hossack (ed), Kirkwall in the Orkneys, (Kirkwall, 1900), p.422.

[xiv] Cramond, The Annals of Banff, p.161.

[xv] Historical Manuscripts Commission, p.94.

[xvi] AW Cornelius Hallen (ed), The Account Book of Sir John Foulis of Ravelston 1671-1707, (Edinburgh, 1894), p.132.

[xvii] See Dr Gunn (ed), The Book of Stobo Church, (Peebles, 1907), p.34.

[xviii] William Chrystal, The Kingdom of Kippen Its History and Traditions, (Stirling, 1903), p.123.

[xix] Accoont o the paroch o Monzie bi Reverend John Reid Omond, Mey 1837, in New Statistical Account of Scotland, X  Perth, (Edinburgh, 1845), p.268.

[xx] Rodgers, Domestic Memorials,p.188.