What on earth is the game of Nobbie?

In times gone by (and in some places still) communities across Scotland played traditional games on particular holidays or festivals. Many were predecessors of association football (the ba’ games of the Borders burghs come to mind) and others like Edinburgh Academy’s Hailes (or clachan or caman) were shinty variants.

Musselburgh fishwives, Grier CollectionEast Lothian was no exception; in fact, Musselburgh (once in Midlothian) had at least two. The Fisherrow fishwives foot race (for a shawl) was a rare example of a female ‘folk sport’ that took place during the annual fishermen’s walk festivities on the first Saturday in September.

Nobbie appears to have been another. According to a newspaper account of 1915 (and in contrast to many folk sports) it had a well defined set of rules. Two teams of five competed to score goals on a marked pitch by hurling their nobbies over a five foot bar at each end. There were rules for players in eash position – goal, back, centre and wings – a fixed playing period and mention of a referee. Nobbies were formed from two pieces of rubber hose linked by a short string. They were picked up, carried, and hurled over the goal bar using nobbie sticks, metre long oak staves pointed towards the playing end and enhanced by a headless nail half-driven into that end!

According to the report ‘rough play and all striking or tripping with the sticks are absolutely forbidden’. Hmmm……

Nobbie is described in the Musselburgh News of Friday 19th March 1915, page 7 column 2. Microfilm of the Musselburgh News can be consulted at the John Gray Centre.

At the end of July 2012 the John Gray Centre will take sporting history as its theme. If you are aware of other folk sports once played in East Lothian, we would be delighted to learn more. If you would like to contribute your own account please don’t hesitate to get in touch in person at the John Gray Centre in Haddington, or email us, or comment below, or share a story about this topic at Your Stories.

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