Away from football: Scotland’s most obscure sports

A men v women roller derby match takes place in Grangemouth in 2013. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
A men v women roller derby match takes place in Grangemouth in 2013. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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SCOTLAND is far from unique in its obsession with sport but a perception remains that attentions are focussed squarely on one or two games in particular, writes Chris McCall

Football, rugby union and golf are the sports that dominate headlines north of the border.

Octopush, or underwater hockey, is played by around 10 clubs across Scotland

Octopush, or underwater hockey, is played by around 10 clubs across Scotland

While the global success of Andy Murray has boosted the profile of Scottish tennis immeasurably – and athletics briefly became the subject of animated discussion during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow – other sporting pursuits can find themselves scrambling for attention.

“Scotland is pretty unique, not because of our national obsession with football, but because no other sport really gets a look-in – in terms of funding, crowds and media coverage – which isn’t the case anywhere else,” said Henry Hepburn, author of The Beautiful Games: Scotland’s Hidden Sports. “That’s not a healthy situation for Scottish sport in general, or Scottish football itself.”

Nonetheless, a variety of weird and wonderful activities remain popular in Scotland, despite age old obstacles such as the nation’s climate and a lack of resources to contend with.

OCTOPUSH

It’s fair to say most people haven’t heard of our sport

Katy Firth, Glasgow Underwater Hockey Club

Known around the world as underwater hockey, this unlikely sport is commonly called octopush in the UK. Two teams compete to manoeuvre a puck across the bottom of a swimming pool into the opposing team’s goal by propelling it with a pusher. It was first played in 1954 at an English sub-aqua club as a means of keeping members interested during winter when open-sea diving was ruled out. “It’s fair to say most people haven’t heard of our sport,” said Katy Firth, chairwoman of Glasgow Underwater Hockey Club, which has around 40 members. “I was introduced to it at school in Orkney, where we called it octopush. It’s much bigger in New Zealand where people seem to more appreciate zany sports.” There are around 10 clubs in Scotland, who take part in a variety of UK-wide competitions. The annual Scottish championships take place in February, usually at the University of Stirling sports complex. http://www.gbuwh.co.uk/

COAL CARRYING

Kelty, like many former mining communities in Fife, is the proud host of an annual gala day. The most popular gala event is the grandly-titled Scottish Coal Race, first held in 1994. Female competitors carry a 25kg sack of coal, with men heaving double that, over a 1km street course. “You’re at work. You’re a schoolteacher. But somewhere in your back pocket is the fact that you’re a Scottish coal-carrying champion,” Hazel Porter, an eight-time champion, told The Scotsman in 2013. http://keltycoalrace.co.uk/

ROLLER DERBY

It started life as a popular pastime in 1970s America before enjoying a Scottish revival in the late 2000s. Two teams on rollerskates race round an indoor track, normally a sports hall, while simultaneously trying to push each other over. “It can be a rough sport. It’s a bit like British Bulldog on skates,” said Dani Connell, who cofounded the first Edinburgh roller derby club, Auld Reekie Roller Girls, in 2008. http://teamscotlandrollerderby.com/

WILD SWIMMING

Less a sport and more an outdoor activity that can be enjoyed by anyone brave enough to enter the cool waters of Scotland’s lochs, rivers and burns. Organised swims are held across the country during warmer months for those looking for something a bit different to their local municipal pool. Regular wild swimmers are understandably safety-conscious and reviews of locations are posted online, as well as helpful tips on access and changing facilities. http://wildswim.com/

KORFBALL

Korfball, which has similarities to netball and basketball, was first played in the Netherlands in 1902. Unlike other team sports, it is played by mixed-sex teams of four men and four women. The goal, or “korf”, is a plastic basket on a pole 3.5m above the ground. The Edinburgh University Korfball Club was founded in 1991 and competes against two other capital clubs, Edinburgh City and Edinburgh Mavericks, as well as four others across Scotland. http://www.scotlandkorfball.co.uk/wordpress/

ROYAL TENNIS

It was the most fashionable sport of renaissance Europe and retains an unlikely following in Fife to this day. Real tennis, or royal tennis, is the original racquet sport and predates the modern lawn variety by several centuries. There are around 40 surviving courts across the world, the oldest of which is found at Falkland Palace and was built for James V in 1539. Rules are similar to lawn tennis, but the royal variety is played on a hard surface court which is surrounded by four walls. The Falkland Royal Tennis Club was founded in 1975 to organise regular matches on the historic court.