These days football watching has become dominated by UEFA’s elite tournaments and the all-pervading presence on TV screens of the English Premier League. Long gone are the days of 10 minutes of European football action midweek on Sportsnight hosted by Des Lynam. Live football watching has advanced to such an extent that it is easy for anyone – whether in London or Singapore – to watch Liverpool versus Barcelona or the Portuguese league instantly via the TV screen, a mobile phone or iPad.
But it’s worth remembering that life at the bottom of the football pyramid can also see many other types of footballer catch that moment of fame. The FA Cup exploits of lower league minors are a regular occurrence in England.
As we know football is for everyone whether on public parks or at Old Trafford; whether via iPad or television screens. Football has the potential these days to be played or watched by everyone regardless of age, location, gender, religion or social background and level of fitness.
Organised football for the over 35’s and walking football are becoming more common as is football for the Under 9’s. Pathways to the adult game are available for all children while girls football is amongst the fastest growing sports in the United Kingdom.
The Scottish borders sit between the Lothians, Dumfries and Galloway, South Lanarkshire and the Northumbria region of England. Mountainous and largely rural the River Tweed flows west to east through its heart eventually dropping into the North Sea at Berwick Upon Tweed in England.
Its towns are amongst the most picturesque in Scotland with many designated some of the most pleasant to stay in the UK. Melrose, Jedburgh, Kelso and Peebles offer excellent quality of life to locals while the bigger centres of Hawick and Galashiels serve as bases for many of the larger retail stores and local transportation hubs.
Local tradition points to a form of football being played in this part of the UK since medieval times. The game ‘Ba’ was a type of a male mob football or village football where those with birth allegiances to parts of a town fought to get a leather ball into a goal. Games moved through a town’s streets during local festivals with the game often starting in the central market square.
This form of football generally had no boundaries (neither pitch markings or timekeeping) but the organised football that is played in this part of the world today continues to be popular despite the borders being a traditional rugby playing area. The Scottish Borders still exerts a disproportionate influence upon Scottish rugby. In local schools, it is the oval-shaped ball which is more popular amongst youngsters. But that does not mean football is not played – there are now borders football teams in both the Lowland League and the EoSFL (East of Scotland League).
Both of these leagues now serve as pathways to the senior SPFL League two.
Selkirk, Gala Fairydean Rovers and Vale of Leithen from the towns of Selkirk and Innerleithen have acquitted themselves well in the Lowland league despite the struggles of Hawick Royal Albert who sit at the bottom during the current 2017-18 campaign. Meanwhile, the EoSFL sees football played in Peebles, Berwick Upon Tweed, Eyemouth and Coldstream. The latter town of Coldstream sits on the Northumbrian border, with England just a short walk over the River Tweed.
While the boundaries between the sports of rugby and football remain strongly evident in the borders – with most of the traditional and better sports facilities concentrated on the former sport – football continues to be played in an organised fashion at an amateur level.
Affiliated to the Scottish Amateur Football Association is the Borders Amateur Football Association, a league system in which teams have played since the 1930’s. A total of 33 clubs currently compete in three separate divisions and compete for a selection of cup trophies over the course of an autumn to spring season.
Amongst the sides catered for are the Colts teams affiliated to the larger Gala Fairydean Rovers, Selkirk and Berwick Rangers. Meanwhile, the larger towns of Hawick and Galashiels having the biggest concentration of teams.
It is the football grounds and clubs of BAFA (many so far away from the great cathedrals of European football) that are the subject of this ongoing football photo journey for the next two years.
The objective is to capture the unique identity of the league and those involved – removing peoples consciousness as far away as possible from the normal perceptions of modern business driven football.
Home to hundreds of grassroots football players and a smattering of rain-soaked local fans, these far-flung often remote pitches sit on the outer fringes of the Scottish game.
Amongst the backdrops are rolling hills, croft out-house buildings, adjacent noisy rugby pitches and farmed lands which dot across these amateur football landscapes. At Berwick Upon Tweed, the North Sea can be viewed in the background at Berwick Colts while a selection of rivers flow near to some of the most basic yet picturesque football grounds.