Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Carterhaugh and Forest Pitch, A Tale of Two Ba' Games

In the middle of the Olympic Games, I went to see ‘Playing for Scotland. The Making of Modern Sport’, the exhibition of sporting paintings, photographs and memorabilia now showing at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. I counted twenty four different sports in total, some of them hundreds of years old and many still practised today. Football is particularly well documented. I learned that it all started with the ancient tradition of the village ba’ game which incidentally is still played today in certain Scottish towns, when whole communities or parishes got involved behind two opposite sides, the ‘uppies’ vs. the ‘doonies’. 
One particular ba’ game still stands out today from the rest. We are reminded of it by a small etching by James Stephanoff entitled ‘Lifting the Banner of the House of Buccleuch at the Great Foot-Ball Match on Carterhaugh’. The epic encounter between Selkirk and Yarrow took place in December 1815. Volunteers from other parishes joined the two sides until their combined numbers reached the hundreds and all marched to the site of the game to the sound of the pipes. The military feel was reinforced by the display of the Buccleuch Banner, a relic of past wars. The Duke of Buccleuch in person supported the Yarrow side while Selkirk was championed by its Sherriff, none other than Sir Walter Scott whose literary works spread his positive portrayal of Scottish identity across the world.  Scott was greatly instrumental in the organisation of the contest.
Not surprisingly, the arts were part of the proceedings and the 2000 spectators were handed out verses by Scott and James Hogg, the poet and novelist. The pitch was over one mile long with the Ettrick Water and the River Yarrow for goal lines. Selkirk wore twigs of fir and Yarrow, sprigs of heather. The game lasted more than four hours and remarkably, humour and good behaviour were maintained throughout even though betting money was at stake. Eventually it ended nil-nil, such was the athletic fitness of the men.
Almost two hundred years later, another football event is currently being organised in the Borders with the patronage of the arts. ‘Forest Pitch’ is the creation of Edinburgh-based artist Craig Coulthard and was selected to represent Scotland in the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The project which is supported by Creative Scotland, involved felling spruce in a commercial plantation in the Borders to make the pitch. The trees were then recycled into changing rooms, goal posts, seating and fencing. 

Craig Coulthard in front of the pitch
picture by Angie Catlin, courtesy of 'Forest Pitch'

Two matches are to take place bringing together four amateur teams, two male and two female with many of the players having recently arrived to Scotland from various parts of the world and all will be wearing strips designed by schoolchildren. After the event, the pitch will be planted with native trees as a lasting reminder.

Forest Pitch strips with their young designers
picture by Angie Catlin, courtesy of 'Forest Pitch'

Coulthard’s inspiration evolved from his memories of playing football as a boy in a forest in Germany where he grew up. He has been closely involved with the games and the players but will not be taking part in the matches and, as a keen amateur footballer, finds it difficult to resist kicking the ball when watching the practice sessions. He explains that although he was aware of Scott and Hogg neither men nor their work have a direct influence on his work and that the Carterhaugh Ba’ just happened to be a wonderful coincidence. I see in what similarities there are between the two, a heartening sign of the continuity of the Scottish spirit and identity. 
The Cultural Olympiad got under way in 2008 and like the Olympic Games it has involved and inspired millions across the UK. ‘Forest Pitch’ is a celebration of Scotland’s cultural diversity, its passion for ball games and the spirit of amateur sport.  It also shows that when the arts and sports come together, anything is possible!

For information:
The ‘Forest Pitch’ games will take place on August 25 and tickets are available from the ‘Forest Pitch’ website. www.forestpitch.org/
The Buccleuch Estates at Bowhill are considering a re-enactment of the Carterhaugh Ba’ game in 2015 to mark its bicentenary. www.bowhill.org

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

With thanks to Craig Coulthard for his information and images and to Matthew Shelley of ‘Forest Pitch’ for his images.

The National Galleries of Scotland, ‘Playing for Scotland’ exhibition www.nationalgalleries.org/whatson/exhibitions/playing-for-scotland#.UCD1sGFSQlw
Craig Coulthard www.craigcoulthard.com/
‘Forest Pitch’ www.forestpitch.org/
Buccleuch Estates at Bowhill www.bowhill.org

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