Trans World Sport: Filming the annual Orkney Ba’
The game of Ba’ is a version of medieval football played in Scotland, primarily in the Orkney Islands. The game is played four times a year, with a men’s ba’ and boys’ ba’ played on both Christmas Day and then again on New Year’s Day between two teams, the Uppies and the Doonies (Up-The-Gates and Down-The-Gates, the name coming from the old Norse word “Gata”, meaning a road or path). The Uppies have to get the ba’ up town to their goal at Mackinson’s Corner, while the Doonies go down to the harbour. The ba’ has to touch the water for a Doonie win.
Status as an Uppie or Doonie depends on what side of the Market Cross you were born, or where you first entered Kirkwall, the capital on Orkney. Since the days of hospital births, your status depends on family ties.
There have been other ba’s in the past as well as the men’s and boys’ games, including the Youths’ Ba’ (1892-1910), intended to stop so many men from joining the boys’ game. A Women’s Ba’ was also played on Christmas Day 1945 and New Year’s Day 1946, but it was considered too violent!
A typical men’s ba’, consisting of 150+ players, can take several hours, with games of up to 7 hours being regular occurrences, and there are few to any rules.