Chance to play ancient Scottish sport at Highbury Fields open day

London Camanachd

London Camanachd - Credit: Archant

It may not be a household sport in the south, but thanks to one such club of the pre-historic Scottish game, more and more Londoners are taking a shine to shinty.

London Camanachd played the first officially recognised match outside of Scotland for 80 years back in 2006 and, having won the English title in style with a 14-1 win over Cornwall just over a year ago, the 121 year-old club are now looking for new recruits.

But ahead of this weekend’s open day at Highbury Fields, first-timers have been warned not to draw comparisons between the sport and hockey.

Amyas Varcoe, communications and recruitment secretary, told the Gazette: “It’s fine to compare it to hurling, but only the goalkeeper can catch the ball. If you say the other ’h’ word to shinty players, they won’t take it too kindly!

“There’s a real pride to shinty – it’s thousands of years old. The direct comparison would be ice hockey, as the ball is allowed to travel in the air.

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“The open day aims to reach out to people, whether they be Scottish expats or locals who just fancy a go. One of the best things about the team is that there’s no age limits, no ability limit, no specialist knowledge or equipment is required – and it’s mixed gender as well.”

Shinty is similar to many stick sports in that there are two teams of 12, with the main objective to score more goals than the opposition.

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Varcoe began his love affair with the game back in December 2013, when he met current club captain Graham Love on a ceilidh, a social event with Scottish folk music and singing.

After the King’s shilling was dropped in his Christmas drink, he didn’t look back, and is now a fully converted Englishman.

“I got to 30, and someone offered me a sport I’d never played before,” Varcoe continued. “What I didn’t realise was that it came with the prospect of an England cap! I thought my dreams of an international career were over.

“It’s a huge amount of fun, and it’s so informal that it’s great for people to join in. We also enter the Bullough Cup each year, which is like the shinty equivalent of the FA Cup, involving teams from all levels from Cornwall to the Highlands.”

With the sport governed by the Scottish weather, the regular season runs from spring to autumn. Camanachd, who are based in Earlsfield, begin their new campaign with a trip to face Kyles Athletic in Argyll, west Scotland.

Even if a 1,000-mile round trip to play a 90-minute match isn’t your idea of fun, locals are encouraged to attend Saturday’s training session on the top field at Highbury Fields for the ultimate shinty experience right on your doorstep.

The open day runs from 1pm to 3pm, and will include a meet and greet and a training session run by the captain and other team members.

In the afternoon, there is an exhibition game between London and Oxford, with the chance for newcomers to get involved themselves.

“It’s like an open audition,” Varcoe added. “We’re not looking for superstars, just people who want to come down and enjoy the sport. It’s crazy to think there are so many Scots in London who don’t realise there’s a team.”

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