Top football clubs played host to Scots sport of shinty

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The Independent Online

Their wide acres might be best known for millionaire stars with a football at their feet, but Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge were originally frequented by sportsmen hacking away with their "caman" sticks at a small ball, academics disclosed yesterday.

Both Manchester United and Chelsea's grounds were early venues for shinty, the Scottish sport better known as camanachd or iomain in the Scottish Highlands, where it is now predominantly played.

Details of the game's early venues were presented to the Society of Sport Historians by Dr Hugh Dan MacLennan, the sport's pre-eminent historian and vice- president of the Camanachd Association - the sport's governing body.

Dr MacLennan's findings include details of a seminal match in 1879 at Old Trafford between the two locations still battling it out today in football's Premiership: Manchester and the Bolton Camanachd Club. Manchester evidently came out victorious.

Stamford Bridge's shinty history is even more colourful. The once powerful London club, made up of expat Highlanders, often played there and its popularity made it the improbable venue for the shinty World Cup in 1898. Beauly went down from Inverness to play a London side - and won. The game's roots in England were provided by hundreds of Scots who went south to find work in factories and established a presence for a sport which, back home, was run and played by wealthy Scots, almost all of whom had grand titles.

"There were two ends to the social spectrum," said Dr MacLennan. "Some Scots went down for menial work but Scots also formed the hoi polloi in London. This exiled social elite formed Highland Societies wherever they went, and organised huge events and gatherings. There was a great social scene and all the great and the good were attached to shinty clubs as patrons."

The first patron of the Camanachd Association, in 1893, was Lord Lovat of Inverness, who went down to London as an MP, but all those listed as patrons were ennobled. Among them was Captain Archibald MacRa Chisholm of Glassburn, Strathglass - one of the most notable exiles of his day who played for the London Camanachd at Stamford Bridge. Chisholm first wrote the "Strathglass rules" of the game and became the first chief of the Camanachd Association.

Teams from Cumberland, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottingham and Lincoln competed too, though some took a while getting to grips with the name of the sport. In Derbyshire it was known as "shinny", and during the game players called out: "Hun you, shin you."

The association's football club links are an intricate part of the history, Dr MacLennan's findings reveal. Nottingham Forest was actually formed as a shinty club." Just like today, money was everything. The Scottish nobles bankrolled their teams to hire the best players and none more so than the Stamford Bridge side, which overcame the mighty Manchester Cottonopolis in 1878 with the help of Rt Hon Lord Lovat, the Roman Abramovich of his day.

Scots' sport

* Shinty, which was imported to Scotland by 14th-century Irish settlers, is played using the caman, a stick of about 3.5ft. The aim is to get the small ball into a goal (or hail) at either end of a 160 yard pitch. There are 12 players per side, including the goalkeeper.

* Things can get a bit lively. The ball can be hit while in the air, which is not permitted in hockey. The stick may also be used to block and to tackle.

* Who'd be a shinty 'keeper? The goalkeeper may use his hands but only with an open palm.

* This year shinty was shown on a BBC Scotland show for the first time.