Jedburgh’s doonies got the upper hand over its uppies this year, doing the double over their rivals as the town hosted its annual game of hand ba’.
Dozens of the town’s mensfolk young and old took to its streets to take part in the traditional event yesterday, cheered on by an equally large crowd of supporters.
Boarded-up shops and rough and tumble resulting in occasional bloodshed are usually a turn-off for tourists, but clearly not when it’s for Jedburgh’s traditional Fastern’s E’en hand ba’ games as plenty were in evidence alongside locals.
About 50 boys took part and around 40 men, all eager to secure bragging rights for the next year, and the event saw a double win for the doonies this year, leaving the uppies feeling down in the dumps.
They won by seven hails to five in the men’s game and 7-2 in the boys’ clash starting earlier in the day.
The long-standing event, traditionally held on the first Thursday after Shrove Tuesday, got under way at the Mercat Cross at noon with the throwing up of the first boys’ ba’, followed by the first men’s ba being thrown up at 2pm.
A total of 21 ba’s were hailed this year, all sponsored by businesses, couples celebrating milestone anniversaries or put up in memory of Jethart folk no longer there to enjoy the day.
Ba’ day veteran Billy Gillies, also the man behind the smooth running of the boys’ ba, said: “We’ve had a great turnout, and the boys ba’ is getting better every year.
“There’s people coming from all round. People have travelled from Workington in Cumbria here today and we’ve even got a boy all the way from Aberdeen. He’s originally from Orkney, and I met him on holiday, so he’s paying me that visit he always promised me.”
Taking time out from organising the ba’s, keeping the rucks out of the flowerbeds and playing part-time traffic marshall, he added: “It’s like everything else – the ba’ is only as good as the people that play in it.
“The way the boys have conducted themselves and the sporting attitude they have had there has not been a problem, with the cars or anything.
“And when there’s not a problem, it’s just a case of getting on with the game, and I’m looking forward to getting a break at 2pm and going to play with the men’s ba’.
“That’s me for the year, but it’s been a great pleasure once again.
“The Jethart folk should be proud of what they’ve got here.”
The game, played in the town for centuries, sees townsfolk split into two sides, uppies and doonies, to fight over a small leather, straw-stuffed ba’ said to resemble the head of an Englishman.
The uppies, those who first entered the town from the south or were born south of the mercat cross, must hail the ba’ at the top of Castlegate by throwing the ba’ over a fence at the castle, and the doonies, those who first entered the town from or were born to the north, must hail the ba’ over a gundy at the Skiprunning Burn, the town’s underground burn, at the foot of the Pleasance.
There are no boundaries, rules or time limits on the games, but most of the play takes place in the town centre, with the High Street and Castlegate being the main thoroughfares on the way to the hailing points.
In the past, some parents have gone to extreme lengths to ensure their children are of a certain side, diverting for miles to take their newborn home to Jedburgh either by the north or south.
The tactics and skulduggery don’t stop there either as previous games have even seen the ba’ smuggled in a variety of ways through the town, from being stuffed up jumpers to hidden inside children’s prams.
The boys’ ba is often faster in pace, with ba’s sometimes hailed in a matter of minutes, while the men’s ba’ can last well into the evening, relying more on ploys than pace, wrapping up at around 8pm yesterday.
Ancrum’s annual hand ba’ contest will be played tomorrow, March 4 with the boys’ ba’ starting at 11am and the men’s at 1pm, both from the village green.
Next week, Denholm’s yearly hand ba’ game will follow on the village green on Monday, March 6, from around 4pm.