Uppies and Doonies


I left the Jedburgh Handba’ game wondering why someone hadn’t been maimed. Every year the men and boys of the borders town gather on the High Street to wrestle over a small leather ball with ribbons on it. Traffic continues as normal. The pitch is made of concrete. The only safety measure is that all of the shops board up their glass windows.

There is a legend that the first ever game was played with an Englishman’s head and the ribbons on the ball symbolise his hair but, being from near Sheffield, this wasn’t something I really wanted to dwell on for too long. The teams are the ‘Uppies’ and the ‘Doonies’, each struggling to get the ball past a goal at either end of the high street. It is a struggle to photograph as well as to play.

The best moment is often at the start of a game when the ball is thrown into the middle of the players. After that, you spend quite a lot of time looking at a writhing mess of backs and backsides, which doesn’t make great photographs. When the ball eventually emerges from the scrum, it inevitably disappears at speed in the hands of the fastest boy or man towards their goal.