Twice a year, usually on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, the Uppies play the Doonies (also known as the “Up-the-Gates” and “Doon-the-Gates”) in a giant game of football. The game lasts for hours, and sometimes, even days.
The game is a Ba, a type of mob football that dates from the Middle Ages. Its origin is unclear, as it predates written records. Some believe it’s tied to the Orkneyinga saga, a 13th-century Norse saga.
There are two games played, one for boys and one for men (the only two women’s games ever played occurred in 1945 and ‘46). The men’s game begins when the cathedral bell strikes 1:00 p.m. A special leather ball—the Ba—is thrown into the crowd of players gathered below, which can number a few hundred men on opposing sides.
The aim is to win control of the Ba and get it closer to your goal, either by a sustained scrum, devious misdirection, or by surging. There are no rules, but instead a strict code of conduct, and there is no referee.
The Doonies win if the Ba goes into the Kirkwall Bay. The Uppies win if they can get it to the site of the old town gate. When the Ba has been put in one of the goals, an argument then starts to determine the individual winner, who usually decided in a popularity battle.
Know Before You Go
Outsiders are not invited to participate and are discouraged from attempting.