Scottish Sports: A Beginner's Guide To Shinty
At one time, shinty was a popular sport throughout Scotland but these days it is played predominantly in the Highlands. The game pre-dates the recorded history of Scotland and is believed to be at least 2000 years old.
Some comparisons can be drawn with field hockey and with the traditional Irish sport of hurling, but shinty is a unique sport with its own set of rules and regulations which have, since 1893, been overseen by the Camanachd Association. Traditionally a male sport, the game is now played by men and women alike.
What Do You Need To Play Shinty?
- Two teams of 12 players - 1 member of each team will go in goal
- A place to play. The pitch should be between 140 and 170 yards in length, with goal posts at either end. Traditionally, the game is played on grass.
- A ball. A little smaller than a tennis ball, it will consist of a cork core covered in leather with a raised seam. The ball is most often white, but this is not mandatory. It must weigh between 2.5 and 3 ounces
- A hooked stick, known as a caman. Traditionally the caman is made of ash. It is usually around 48 inches in length.
- A team uniform and studded boots.
- Although not mandatory, some players choose to wear protective headgear. If they do, all players on a team must wear the same color of helmet.
Promotional Video For Shinty
How To Play Shinty
The game is played in two halves of 45 minutes each and the object is to score goals. The team which scores the higher number of goals wins. A referee oversees the game and it is up to him to interpret the rules and ensure that the conduct of the players is not dangerous. There are also goal judges and linesmen to assist the referee.
At the start of the game, one player from each team stands at the centre spot with their camans crossed above head level. The referee throws the ball up and the players try to be the first to strike it. This is how the game restarts each time there is a goal scored. In order to score a goal, a player has to get the ball over the goal line, below the cross-bar of the goal posts. A player can play the ball in the air and may use their caman to block and tackle. Players are also permitted to tackle using the body as long as it is shoulder to shoulder. The only player who is allowed to use their hands is the goal-keeper but others may stop the ball using their chest or feet. Penalties are incurred if a player uses their head to play the ball or if they swing their caman in a way which would constitute a danger to others. If fouled against, a team is awarded a free hit.
There are some similarities with field hockey but in shinty it is permissible to play the ball in the air, to raise the caman in the air and to return the ball to play by hitting it overhead. The full rules and regulations for shinty can be found at the official website for the game.
Where Is Shinty Played?
The game predominantly played in the Scottish Highlands these days. However, there are also clubs in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow and the game is played at some of Scotland's universities. Outside of Scotland, there are shinty clubs in London and, farther afield, there are clubs in North America where the game is gaining popularity. Shinty had been played extensively in Canada and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries as immigrants from the Scottish Highlands brought the sport with them. A game of shinty played on a frozen lake in Canada in the 1800s is often cited as one of the origins of ice hockey.
Many of the small towns in Scotland where shinty is played have their own grounds with a clubhouse, such as the one in Portree, Isle of Skye, which is pictured here.
The shinty league system consists of five different tiers:
- Tier 5 - development league.
- Tier 4 - North Division Three
- Tier 3 - North Division Two and South Division Two
- Tier 2 - North Division One and South Division One
- Tier 1 - National Premier Division.
Teams move up and down through the divisions depending on their performance during the playing season which typically runs from March to November. There are also some shinty leagues which operate out-with this league system, including Women's Shinty, the University Shinty League and the Norcal Camanachd League in Northern California.
Success in the cup games is seen as more important than the league games. There are several cup competitions in which teams participate. Amongst these are the Camanachd Cup in which all the Premier Division, North Division One and South Division One teams may compete, and the Balliemore Cup which is for teams in North Division One and South Division One.
There are also many cup games that are played annually between rival teams. One of the trophies for which two rival teams compete is the Lovat Cup. Since 1904, Lovat Shinty Team and Beauly Shinty Team have competed annually at New Year for this cup. It attracts the second largest crowd of spectators, and its popularity is rivalled only by the Camanachd Cup. While bad weather does not generally deter the players from competing, nor the spectators from turning up in large numbers, the game was cancelled in 2010 due to heavy snow.
The Camanachd Association
During the Victorian era in Britain, many different associations were formed to formalise rules and regulations and to oversee various sports. In 1893, the Camanachd Association was formed as the governing body for shinty. Its members include the various shinty clubs in Scotland and it is only via the Camanachd Association that the rules of the game can be changed.
Based in Inverness, the Camanachd Association's motto is 'More than a game' and it uses both English and Gaelic as its official languages.