This year marks the 180th St Andrew’s Day Wall Game, which will take place on College Field on 20 November for the first time in two years after a COVID-enforced break.
The Wall Game is a quintessentially Eton sport, resembling elements of both football and rugby despite at times looking like no other imaginable game. It is believed that the Wall Game was invented by errant Kings Scholars (pupils who live in College), bored by lessons and wishing to find a new way to spend their limited free time.
The sport consists of two bullies which face up against each other in a scrum-like formation. Both teams set up against The Wall (which traces the B3022 road between Slough and Eton), and the sport is notoriously physical. In one of the teams, a player known as second at the wall, kneels on the ball. The objective of the ‘offensive’ team is then to move the ball out of the bully to allow the fly, typically a good footballer who can run with the ball, to gain ground. The ‘defensive’ team, who do not begin on the ball, aim to dislodge the second at the wall and thus move the ball to their own fly.
Points can then be scored by a shy (one point), a kick to goal (five points) or a goal itself (ten points). A goal is a particularly rare phenomenon, with only three having been scored in a St Andrew’s Day match in the entire history of Wall Game and none for more than one hundred years. Inevitably, this has led to a high percentage of draws, with almost half of matches ending in this manner. Indeed, no point has been scored by any team in a major match since 2016.
The Wall Game is itself is dominated by two matches, which take place on St Andrew’s Day in the Michaelmas half and Ascension Day in the Summer half. Both these fixtures pit a College team against an Oppidan team. However, mixed-wall teams (consisting of both King Scholars and Oppidans) compete in scratch matches against Old Etonian teams regularly during the Lent half.
The St Andrew’s Day match, in particular, is viewed by many as one of the highlights of the year and is noted for its widespread fanbase, which sees almost the entire school turns out to holler well-intentioned if, at times, colorful chants. It is a bitterly contested clash, with the Oppidans holding a slight advantage at 48 victories to the 43 of College, with the remainder ending in draws. Indeed, both teams train for months in advance leading to a highly competitive and skillful match on the day itself.
Look out for the Press Office coverage of this year’s match in our St Andrew’s Day article, coming soon.