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Ba' Game in Scotland - Ein Film von Ulrike Becker

O-Ton Davie Flett
My name is Davie Flett, I am 34 years old and I work at the Highland Park Distillery and I am a "Uppie".

O-Ton Andy Cant
"My name is Andy Cant, 42 years old. I am a Doonie and a vet."

O-Ton Billy Jolly
"My name is Billy Jolly and I am a fish merchant. This is the shop here. I have started playing as a Doonie and will continue as long as I can manage"

O-Ton Gary Gibson & Söhne
They call me Gary Gibson, my given name is Edgar but I am known as Gary. I am an artist and a retired school master and I have two sons here who play on the same side as I do and I play on the same side as my father did, we are all "Uppies"

O-Ton Eric Kemp
"Oh this is the Ba´Game that we are going to play tomorrow. Christmas day and New Years day it´s played and it´s a gathering of may be 200 or 300 men fighting over a leather ball, the "Doonies" and that is up the street, and this is what it`s all about There is so much pressure that if this bar wasn`t there they break through the window all the windows were broken. You see, all the other shops put the the barricades up. So, it´s a big event tomorrow."

"Three hundred men, when the Ba' is thrown, they are no friends any more," says the song that everyone here in Kirkwall knows. Twice a year, on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, the streets of the town are the scene of a mass football event, the Ba' game. On the stroke of one o'clock, the Ba' goes up.

Football, but no kicking. The ball only moves when the whole pack of players move. The locals know that they won't see the black-and-brown leather ball again until a goal has been scored, putting an end to the contest. No one can say when that will be. In twenty minutes? In five hours?

The Ba' game has no rules. The only fixtures are the two teams, Doonies and Uppies, and two very unusual goals. The Doonie goal is the water of the harbour and the Uppie goal the side of a perfectly ordinary building. The goals are a mile part, with half of the town in between. The team that manages to get the ball into its own goal is the winner.

Kirkwall is Orkney's administrative center.

The Orkneys are seventy-seven tiny to middle-size islands ten miles off the north coast of Scotland. The climate is mild but there's always a stiff breeze. Though there are plenty of fish in the sea, the Orcadians' main source of income is agriculture. The very first settlers here, over 5,000 years ago, were crop farmers. Stone relics are all there is left of them, outsize monoliths arranged in mysterious patterns. In Orkney standing stones are found all over the place.

Rolling green hills wherever one looks. Snow lasts two days at the most. Deeply etched fjords cut through the landscape. Here, every path is a path to the sea.
Orkney is thinly populated. Only just over twenty thousand people live here, seven thousand of them in Kirkwall alone. An intact community. Crime is non-existent. The Orcadians are a peace-loving lot.

Except for two days in the year.

Billy Jolly, a man known for his level-headedness and his humor. He's a respected Doonie. In the Ba' game he keeps to the outer margins. In 1979 he was man of the match. As one of the senior players he acts more in an advisory capacity, telling his younger team-mates what to do.

Billy Jolly hasn't missed one single game since he was a boy. The same is true of retired schoolmaster and ardent senior Uppie Gary Gibson, on doctor's orders not to take an active part because of his weak heart.

Billy Jolly at his real trade. He owns the biggest and best fishmonger's shop in Kirkwall. When he was younger he went out in the boat himself. But fishing off the Orkney coast is hazardous. Sharp reefs and hidden rocks have sunk many an unwary vessel. With the shop to run, he prefers to play safe and have the fish delivered. When the salmon comes in, he really has his hands full.

O-Ton Billy Jolly
"These are farm salmons, they come from salmon farms. The main fish we have here is haddock and that`s the fish that we use more than any other kind of fish. But there is also codfish, lemon sole, plaice, whitefish, ray. All used for different things. There is very good lobster fishing. Lobsters are very expensive at this time of year. You know it`s Christmas time... There is good lobster fishing just right now. And crab of course. Scallop fishing... Mainly the scallops were caught by divers.

Most of the year, a very different Orkney specialty is brewing here: whisky. Kirkwall has one of the world's finest single malt brands to its name. The distillery closes for the winter.

Davie Flett, a Ba' player for the Uppies, on his maintenance rounds.

The Highland Park Distillery dates back to 1798. The first distiller was a clergyman; he had to indulge his weakness for whisky secretly, in the vestry.

Davie Flett works as a cooper. Rolling the barrels, he says, is pretty good training for the Ba' game.

O-Ton Davie Flett
I have won two Bas. I won the Boys` Ba at 1992 and I won the men`s Ba only last year. New Years special last year was that the Uppies just played as a team. Everybody was listening and looking and it was really a good team. One person would speak everybody would listen. Something the Doonies used to have, they had two good runs of 12 Bas going down the street. They had a range of players from 25-35 who were very good players, playing in the middle and they would taken all Bas down the street. But it was new force for the Uppies that we are older now and that the Uppies have the age range of players now who will manage to put it up the street. It is just a great honour to have people shout your name and it makes you think that you are doing right.

The ball itself is the winner's trophy. The man who takes it home in triumph is assured of VIP status in Kirkwall.

We celebrated, we celebrated the whole night and the whole month in January. People coming by just every night for the whole month of January. It was really good.

The game has been going on for two hours now and has gravitated away from the town center. Defeat stares the Doonies in the face. Slowly but surely, the whole pack moves further into Uppie territory. It could all go a bit faster, says Davie.
The pack keeps getting stuck at one point. The Doonies are playing for time. Their ploy is to keep the game going till dark. Then there's a chance that they might be able to snaffle the ball and smuggle it away. Many of the players are exhausted but no one would ever dream of giving up.

Perspiration flows copiously and a haze of vapor hangs over the pack. It smells like hundreds of people sweating off their Hogmanay excesses in an overcrowded sauna.

Whose idea was it for this organized chaos to take place on New Year's Day of all days?

Andy Cant, the vet, is purple in the face. He's packed in so tight he can hardly breathe.

A lot of Andy Cant's clients live on Orkney's biggest island, Mainland. The Orcadians are mostly livestock farmers, famed in particular for their Aberdeen Angus cattle.
Ever since British beef started making for grisly headlines, the farmers prefer to call in the vet at the slightest sign of anything unusual. So far, there have been no cases of BSE in the Orkneys.
Andy Cant is a Doonie. Farmer William Harcus is an Uppie. If he misses a game it's because his cattle keep him so busy.

In the last week of the year, the Ba' game is talking-point number one. Andy Cant's ribs are still sore from the Christmas clash.

O-Ton Andy Cant
There can be a lot of pressure. Sometimes it`s funny, sometimes in the middle there won`t be so much pressure, directly in the middle. Some boys are really strong, they can last a long time in the middle but I not. Your strength and arms get weak and you can`t hold on. You get pulled away and it moves. It depend were the game is, you know, if it`s stationally you might be struck in the middle for, you know, it sometimes gets stuck for hours. But when it`s moving it slowly tends to change.

We ask Andy Cant if there aren't perhaps one or two unwritten rules players have to observe, for example in critical situations.

O-Ton Andy Cant
There are no written rules, no, there is plenty of unwritten things that are done but there are no written rules. When it`s played, everything can happen, you know."

Question journalist: But how to avoid violence?

Andy Can
Violence is basically when folks are getting excited and hit in the moment and you very well see a punch for one and stuff like that. Ba rules itself. Nobody is gonna do any serious to..
But we all accept it is a bit of a heated debate. The danger actually comes when when the Ba goes down and things like that and men fall on each other. That`s the most dangerous what you see. The Uppies and Doonies are trying to avoid violence. Most injuries happen when folks are again clushed.

Bruises and broken ribs don't even qualify for a mention. And the senior players and the Ba' Committee ensure that nothing worse ever happens. This is Ba' Committee member John Robertson:

O-Ton John Robertson (Detlev Werner)

The game here comes like all British games from 4 centuries. Mostly played in the parishes and flat country and then by students and scholars of the grammar school. And people, when they got married they had to give money to them to play a Ba. So it has a long history. It has the same origin as Rugby and Soccer but we think it is even a better game perhaps. It is a special game with own traditions. No rules but lots of different understandings for the players.
Usually you can get some unessential violence, as you have just seen behind, but that`s just part of the game.
Very important is the unusualness of the game, because we are living at Orkney. And it must be maintained with pride and will be as you can see by the number of people who are here today.

The Ba' game has existed in its present form for more than a hundred years. It had its origins in the Middle Ages when Kirkwall was divided into two parts, Doonie territory and Uppie territory. The Doonies paid their tithes to the King's Earl, the Uppies to the Bishop.

In Kirkwall, taking part in the Ba' game has always been a question of honor. Many families have been involved in it for generations. Orcadians living on the Scottish mainland, studying at university, or getting married and moving elsewhere all come back home for the Christmas Day game. In Edinburgh the Ba' game is officially considered much too dangerous. But no authority in Kirkwall could afford to even contemplate banning the game.
Generations of men have played this game. One for all and all for one, as the Ba' song has it.

The Ba' game is what keeps the Orkneys together, say the younger players. However far they may roam, the Ba' game is the reason why they never lose contact with their old friends.

Between Christmas and New Year the players meet more or less every night. The meetings are important for identifying the other people on the same side. There are no team jerseys or any other recognition marks. You just have to know who you can rely on.
So the best "training camp" is the pub. Here the players agree on strategy, tactics, and who plays where.

As pre-game tension mounts, the Doonies and Uppies stick to the pubs on their own territory. The Uppies foregather in the tap-room of the West End Hotel.

At the other end of town, overlooking the harbor, the Doonies assemble in the bar of the St. Ola Hotel.

The luckless Doonies have lost twelve games in a row. They reckon the only chance they have of winning is to smuggle the ball out of the scrimmage and make off with it.

The game is nearing the three-hour mark. The Uppies are on top, clearly dictating the course of events.

Their senior players are in command of the situation; they know exactly where reinforcements are needed - and when it's time for a little sustenance.

Uppie Gary Gibson knows that victory is only a matter of time. The frantic cheers of the Doonie women are all to no avail.

The Uppies are jammed in like sardines in a can. They use hand signals to show where the ball is and which way it needs to go.

O-Ton Edgar Gibson
When we identify where the ball is in the game, we give signals to one or two guys in the middle . that`s where we hold the hands up and it is to show the pulks where to push. And they shout: go left, go left...
Because in the middle the game might go left, so you want your group to go in that direction. So you almost follow the middle of the game. The middle might swap over, so you want to go right and its to keep follow in the middle of the game.

The Uppies have nearly made it. After four hours they have pushed the entire scrum close to their own goal. The people of Kirkwall call this spot the Long Corner. The wall of the building with the road sign to Orphir is the Uppie goal. The ball has to hit the wall to the left of the sign. Victory is within reach...


As the spectators roar their approval, the team go into a huddle to elect the winner. After a few moments one of the men is hoisted into the air.

Martin Flett is man of the match. What comes next is a party that lasts at least two to three weeks.

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