Game still standing test of time

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It’s traditionally held on the Thursday following Fastern’s E’en, and it’s claimed the first-ever game was played with the head of a dead Englishman.

Yes, it’s Jethart ba’, the annual event that pits uppies against doonies in a battle spanning generations – and the latest one takes place today.

The story about the first game is probably apochryphal, but the ribbons on today’s ba’s are said to signify the supposed poor chap’s hair.

With teams drawn from those born north of the Market Cross, the doonies, and those born to the south, the uppies, play takes place in the town centre.

The boys’ matches begin at noon, with the men’s games following at around 2pm, although timings can change, as it is not outwith the realms of imagination that a game can take hours to complete.

Play starts in the Market Place and the uppies’ goal is outside the castle jail, with the doonies’ goal at the Pleasance, each a couple of hundred yards from the Market Cross.

Organiser Billy Gilles said the ba’ was steeped in history.

He told us: “It’s been going since time immemorial.

“It used to be that a ba’ was played in every town and vilage in Britain, but these days it is sort of confined to the backwaters, and they all have their own ways.

“For instance, in Alnwick, it’s played with a football and in Derbyshire, they play it with a big heavy medicine ball.

“Here in Jed, it changed from being based on football back in 1703, and even today, kicking the ba’ is kind of frowned upon. However, there are no rules as such.”

That does not mean it is strictly a free-for-all, though.

Billy said: “Anybody entering the game knows what it entails, and ba’ players know not to be obstreperous because it won’t work, and any outsiders who want to take part and maybe get obstreperous, they will be quietly taken aside and put in their place with a word in their ear.

“This year, there will be 10 boys’ ba’s and 13 men’s.

“For me, the boys’ game is a bit better to watch as they like to keep it open, whereas the men tend to take it to ground more.”

Several Borders towns and villages hold their own events.

Ancrum’s ba’ game will be played from 11am on Saturday, February 23, and Denholm’s takes place on the green there on Monday, February 25, from 4pm.

Hobkirk’s ba’ game, the first in the region, took place on Monday.

As for today’s action at Jedburgh, the biggest in the region, the Southern will film the action as it happens on Facebook Live, with a full report will appear in next week’s paper, out a week today.

Hobkirk ba’ game report

– pages 12 and 13