303 - The Eton Wall Game

Here is a splendid British Pathé newsreel which was first broadcast in January 1956:

Presenter (Standard British “aristocratic” accent)

From the traditions of the East to an English tradition, the public school. It was in 1440 that Henry VI founded Eton College for 70 poor scholars. Today, beside 70, who are at Eton with scholarships, there are 1100 others who pay their way. Times have changed, yet old customs still survive, like the famous Wall Game.

Over 100 years old, the game is played with the simplest equipment: one ball – look closely, this is the last time you’ll see it! – and one wall, which can also be used as a spare dressing room. Kit for the match is a much more complex affair, the boys being allowed considerable laxity. That goes for the rules too, which is just as well. The game is now under way; you can tell by the clouds of steam and mud. See if you can guess what’s going on!

If you’ve given up, let us explain the game, eliminating unnecessary details. Perhaps you’ll remember a ball. Well, that ball is being pushed, carried or kicked in the direction of Windsor by one team, opposed by upwards of a ton of determination going the opposite way. The rule is, of course, to play the ball, but, as you’ll notice, some of the players are a little short-sighted.

The game is between scholarship boys, called “Collegers,” and “Oppidans,” who live in masters’ houses in the town, but it’s quite safe to leave the game for a while, so let’s look at some of the unchanging aspects of life at the great College, the historic buildings and the familiar yet attractively novel dress of the boys.

The game now, as you can see, has reached a new peak of excitement, so you can be sure that the players underneath that heaving mass are playing with great zest and skill, not that there’s any need for anxious mothers to worry unduly, for the rules assure us that the boys do not deliberately strike, bite, strangle, smother or jump on an opponent. Their motto may not be “Do unto others as they would do unto you” but to teach them otherwise is like beating your head against a brick wall!