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“A trophy unlike any other, ever made”

Updated on July 11, 2017

“C’mon lads keep it going!” we shout, “keep it together, keep it together!” they shout to each other. We are standing before the “Merket cross”, Christmas day 2010, two minutes to one, we’ve watched the two “armies” march towards each other in their bright coloured rugby shirts and t-shirts that create the pack. Steal toe capped boots marching from one end of the street to the other like a “wedding of birds” (as my grandad used to say) emigrating to another climate. The flock has gathered beneath us their roars and the crowd’s roars and my roars echo throughout Kirkwall, our team cries send vibrations out into the streets.

This year it will be my Dad who will finally grab hold of the magnificent orb and be hoisted into the air, Triumphantly with it above his head. I could see him in the mess, his curly silver hair blowing in the frosty wind he is dressed in his grey, scuffed steal-toe-capped boots, blue jeans and black long-sleeved top. He is getting ready mentally and physically and at the same time wishing a merry Christmas to his companions. I had a feeling that’s hard to describe, it was in the pit of my stomach and somehow I just knew it was his turn for glory. The clock ticked away, but it seems slower than normal. I looked up towards the “Merket cross” where the ba committee surrounded the thrower and there it was, the ba. Glistening in the daylight, polished to perfection and bigger than previous years but never the less still as beautiful. You can’t buy a ball like that they are unique each and every ba has its own story to tell.

Each panel softened, stretched and sewn together, hand stitched between the fibres of time. Its surface painted a dark dusky brown and a black so dark that it could hide any imperfection in it may have had, but naturally it was perfect. A repeated pattern on the top half and on the bottom with opposite colours, and the smell of paint and the leather surrounds it wherever it goes. You could almost smell it filling the air with the sense of hard fought blood, sweat and tears. It takes each of the four ba makers a couple of months to make the ba and years of learning how to perfect their craftsmanship, they spend their spare time; cutting, working, sewing, painting and each carefully presents their spherical trophy in the windows of local shops around Kirkwall with a made up display of ba history as its background every year. Winning a ba is a privilege not a right, a lesson that I have learned through my family and its teachings. To prove you are worthy of winning one will take years of hard work, determination, dedication, respect and patience and when you think about all the hard work it takes to make one and how rare it is to win one you can see how it takes such dedication to become worthy of possession. But ultimately even if you do show all of these things it still doesn’t necessarily mean that you will win one at the end of the day it depends who raised the ba above his head and was lifted up as the winner.

The elected ex-ba player to start the game by throwing the ba into the players below as the sound of the cathedral bells roar at 1 o'clock on Christmas day.
The elected ex-ba player to start the game by throwing the ba into the players below as the sound of the cathedral bells roar at 1 o'clock on Christmas day.

One minute to go. All the spectators including myself surround the melee the atmosphere is buzzing await to start this extraordinary game, we are all wrapped up in coats, hats, gloves and scarves ready for the long frosty day ahead of us. I wear my uppie hat proudly as I wait for the bells to ring. I see photographers fumbling about with their cameras ready to take an action shot, I see nervous mothers and wives checking that they have everything their boys may need during the game, water, inhalers, energy bars etc. My mind switches to the whether and how it may affect the game. Today seemed particularly frosty and icy and there is still some snow along the sides of the roads, paths and walls. My thought process is interrupted by the loud ringing of the cathedrals bells and just like so the ba thrower launches the orb into the pack, only for it to disappear instantly, kicking off the game.

I stand and watch it for a while, I watch the motion of the pack like the sea it swirls, creates ripples, at some points its rocky and of others, calm. It makes like a storm raging through Kirkwall taking out everything in its way. Screams and cheers echo from the crowd sending out vibrations of support to their team giving an invisible push toward their goal just as if they were playing the game too. While we all individually freeze and shake in our boots from the cold as the steam rises from the heat generated in the middle of the shoal of men they are not cold.

After hours of pushing and shoving and tireless struggle, the ba makes its way to the wall with an almighty thud. The Uppies come out victorious but now those who have put in all their energy into getting the orb to the goal have to scrape together the little energy they have left to claim the trophy they have been fighting for over the whole day. Shouts and roars emerge from the crowd of who they want the victor to be. For the last (I don’t know how many years), I have shouted and shouted and shouted in support of my Dad but this year I know, I know it’s his turn to be the winner. I have butterflies in my stomach just thinking about what this would mean to my Dad, myself and my family we would be so proud and of such honour gained through an indescribable achievement. Which my great Grandad, Grandad and Uncle have already had the privilege of knowing. All of a sudden I see him. My Dad, raised high above the pack with the trophy raised above his head twenty-five years to the day since he won his boys ba, with a cheer from the crowd and unbearable screams coming from me and my family with the excitement, pride and joy over powering me I rush up the road to my Grandparents house (which is located near the uppie goal) to tell them the news that they have waited years for and then frantically run back down toward my father who is being congratulated by the hundreds and hounded by photographers and people asking him questions. I then squeeze in-between them all and run into my Dad’s arms and just like that he places the trophy into my hands while we are blinded by the endless flashes from hundreds of cameras, we just know this is now it will forever be known as our ba.

This trophy will now be hung next to the other five ba’s in my Granny and Granddad’s living room window allowing the public to gaze upon their beauty each day they walk or drive past them and also allowing our family and friends to watch them age and remind us of the good memories we have and the pride we share in possessing them. Each one’s story will be told throughout the generations of our family, their individual journey’s story told through the markings they gained during the game. As their stories are told over the years, the winners will live on forever in them and will never be forgotten. As we all have been told time and time again the Ba is a trophy unlike any other ever made.

By D.J.D

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