It wisna the men alane that played fitba in thae days even tho it wis affen regairdit a man’s gemm bi the kirk meenisters. As faur back as August 1628 the kirk session meenits for Carstairs paroch, in Lanrikshire, reportit that men an weemen haed brukken the Sabbath throu playin fitba an ither gemms, tho it isna clear whither baith played thegither. The mairried an aesome weemen o Innerness played a fitba gemm ilka year in the 1700’s while the meenister o Inneresk in the Lothians reportit in 1792 that the fish wifes o the paroch - a warslin kin o weemen - haed taen the gemm up. He commentit:
“...Their amusements are of a masculine kind...on Shrove Tuesday there is a standing match at foot-ball, between the married and unmarried women, in which the former are always victors.” [i]
But it wadna been until the late 19t century that fitba for weemen becam organised, affen in the face o narra-nebbit men. Ingauin the 19t century fitba wis played in parochs braid Scotland but mony auld festivities that haed aince been sib tae the saunts’ days haed dee’d or wis dwynin. The gemm itsel haed been shorn, sae tae speak. It wis either the callants or the wirking men - gin thay haed the time - that stotit a baw aboot. But as yet the war nae leagues or tassies tae play for. On Fastern’s Een 1779 the graimar scuil at Haidintoun haed stertit a fitba gemm gauin atween the maisters an students doun at the sauns.[ii] In the graimar scuil o Kelsae the rector an maisters awardit a fitba ilka Caunlemas (2 Februar) tae the laddie that gied the biggest donation. Aince lang syne the laddies haed gane aroond the toun wi a gildit baw on tap o a pole as pairt o the fest, but bi 1838 this haed dwyned awa. The meenister thocht that apairt fae braw simmer nichts whan a hantle prentices micht play on the knowes, the fowk o the paroch haedna muckle time “...by reason of the long hours which tradesmen must work in order to provide the means of subsistence...” tae play “...manly and healthy recreations...” sic as fitba.[iii] In twa-three airts a wheen fowk yet regairdit the gemm as a fash. For instance, the burgh o Kirkwall banned the gemm fae the streets in 1826 acause it brak the peace o the toun, set burgesses on a preen heid, an wis a threit tae guids an geir. Fowk claucht playin wis tae be liftit bi the burgh officers.[iv] But in 1837 fitba wis tae the fore in Perth [v] an it wis notit bi a toun squeek in Forres in 1840 that “...there’s they big gouts chasin’ that wee ba’ again...”[vi]
At the same time a bawin wis played atween the mairried an aesome men on Fastern’s Een at Scone. The gemm stertit at twa in the efternuin an skailt at sundoun. The baw wis threw up in the air an whitever body claucht it haed tae run wi it in his hauns. The contrair side haed tae tak it aff him. Gin thay haed a grup o him, an he cuidna get lowse, he haed tae thraw the baw awa til his freens. Naebody wis alloued tae kick the baw. The ettle o the mairried men wis tae get the baw til a hole in the muir cryed the dool (a dale) three times an pit hit in, kent as hingin the baw. The aesome men on the ither haun haed tae douk it in the watter o Tay three times, kent as drounin the baw. Whitever side done it the maist times wis the winner. Gin naebody won, the baw got cuttit in hauf at sundoun.[vii]
Ae parteeclar gemm o this ilk, kenspeckle in this time, wis the bawin held at Carterhauch in the Borders on 4 Dezember 1815. Nae less a body nor Sir Walter Scott haed wrutten a puckle verses an thir wis prentit as a braidsheet tae gie oot tae the 2,000 fowk that turnt up for the gemm, comprehendin nobles, lairds an ladies. Jeems Hogg haed eikit verses forby. The duik o Buccleuch stotit the baw atween the twa sides, Selkirk an Yarrae, an the players wis 200 strang. Three times the gemm wis played, ower sax or seeven houres throu the day, an baith sides won aince ilkane an syne drew the third time. It wis a gemm like nane we wad ken the day an is whiles descrived as the oreeginal o rugby.
[i] Accont o the paroch o Inneresk in 1792 bi the Reverend Alexander Carlyle, in Donald J Withrington an Ian R Grant (eds), The Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-1799, II The Lothians, (EP Publishing, 1975), p.297.
[ii] W Forbes Gray, A Short History of Haddington, (Edinburgh, 1944), p.134.
[iii] Accoont o the paroch o Kelsae bi Reverend JM MacCulloch in 1838, in The New Statistical Account of Scotland, III Roxburgh, Peebles, Selkirk, (Edinburgh, 1845), pp.324-5.
[iv] WR Mackintosh, Glimpses of Kirkwall and its People in The Olden Time, (Kirkwall, 1887), pp.277-78.
[v] Accoont o the parochs o Perth, bi Reverend Jeems Miller, in 1837, see Ilk, X Perth, p.276.
[vi] Bill McAllister, The History Of The Highland Football League 1893-1993 (Inverness, 1993), p.177
[vii] Robert Fittis, Illustrations of the History and Antiqities of Perthshire, (Perth, 1874), pp.384-385.