If you've not heard of The Ba' let alone seen it, you're in for a treat! On Orkney, the year begins and ends with the spectacle of street football played out in the heart of Kirkwall. It's rough, it's tough and it's one of Orkney's best known local traditions.
Kirkwall's Ba' games are held on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, with 'the throw-up' at 1.00pm sharp (If the days fall on a Sunday, then the matches are carried over to Boxing Day and 2nd January). Two sides challenge for the honours - the Uppies and Doonies, the names being derived from Up-the-Gates and Doon-the-Gates (from the Old Norse gata meaning road), a reference to the team members' exact place of birth in Kirkwall. And with around 100 men in each team, the result is a source of considerable local pride and prized bragging rights.
The rules are pretty simple for a game that can last for hours. To begin, the Ba' is thrown up in the air with great ceremony by an honoured Ba' veteran and all hell breaks loose as the teams jostle for possession and territorial control. Tactics are all important and it is not unusual for the Ba' to disappear for periods in a scrum of bodies as the teams attempt to outsmart each other and gain precious yardage.
The game is finally won when the Ba' reaches the goal of one of the sides. This is the cue for the celebrations to begin, as the successful team selects the Ba' winner - the player who has proved the most influential over several games. Tradition dictates that the victor takes the Ba' home and hosts a party for all the players - time for the losing team to hatch a plot to get revenge next time!