Kirkwall Ba game 2009
The Kirkwall Ba Game (also spelled ba') is one of the main annual events held in the town of Kirkwall, in Orkney, Scotland. It is one of a number of Ba Games played in the streets of towns around Scotland; these are examples of traditional football games which are still played in towns in the United Kingdom and worldwide.
The two sides are the Uppies and the Doonies, or more correctly, "Up-the-Gates" and "Doon-the-Gates" from Norn gata (path or road), although it is also common in Scots. Originally the side any individual played on was decided by whether he (or she) was born up or doon the gate but a hospital built in the 1950s made family tradition determinant. For ferryloupers (incomers) and people from the isles or rural areas their side is determined by the route taken on their first arrival in Kirkwall, by family influence, or by the side their friends play on. Recent housing developments favour the Uppie side to the point the Doonies are outnumbered almost 2-1 in modern games, and have only won a single game from 1998 to 2007.
The Men's Ba is thrown up at 13:00 at the Market Cross on the Kirk Green opposite the Cathedral, usually by an older Ba stalwart, but occasionally by some public figure, with up to 200 players eagerly awaiting the chime of the bells. The Ba disappears into the scrum, which may spend some considerable time on Broad Street. Much exciting surging and turning play often occurs on this wider part of the street, which can frequently determine the final outcome.
Occasionally the Ba appears out of the scrum and someone makes a dash through the crowds of spectators. To the casual onlooker this can happen at any moment, but the seasoned Ba watcher can often see what is happening long before the Ba suddenly erupts. Breaks sometimes occur on Broad Street, but can occur anywhere where one side gains sufficient control of part of the scrum.
The Doonies have the benefit of a flat push to Albert Street, while the Uppies have a hard push up to the top of Tankerness Lane. The game may also go down one of the flagstone lanes, or down Castle Street onto the open Junction Road. Once there either side may gain the upper hand by means of a smuggle and run, or the scrum may become immobile in one of the many closes and yards.
However if the Uppies manage to enter Victoria Street, or the Doonies Albert Street, the opposition have a much harder time, due to the narrowness and the press of often many hundreds of keen spectators. All the same the Ba may be restricted for several hours in any of the many lanes and neither side ever gives up the struggle until the goal is reached.
The Doonies goal is the sea, normally within the Basin of the Harbour, but so long as it is immersed in the salt water of Kirkwall Bay, the Ba has gone doon. The Uppies must round the Lang, or Mackinson's corner at the junction of Main Street with New Scapa Road, opposite the Catholic Church. Once Up or Doon, lengthy argument often ensues before a popular individual winner is acclaimed. When the winner is finally decided, many players repair to his house, where much needed refreshment rapidly appears. To Ba enthusiasts the ultimate honour is to have the trophy of the game, the Ba itself, hanging in the living room window.