For many boys, St Andrew’s Day is the highlight of the Michaelmas Half. At the heart of this celebration is the Wall Game.
Even amongst Eton sports, the Wall Game is unique: only a small minority of boys will ever play it and fewer still will be involved in the match on St Andrew’s Day – the pinnacle of any Wall Game career.
The game revolves around the Bully, which could be described as a clump of players pressed against the Wall. This mass of boys is supported, on each side, by three positions: a Fly, Long and Lines, who become particularly crucial if the ball ever breaks out of the Bully. Whilst the ball can be moved up and down the Wall by kicking it, in truth most movement occurs due to penalties.
To score a point, the ball needs to be moved into Calx (a location situated at the very edge of each end of the Wall), raised up against the Wall and then touched by a member of the attacking team. The player then shouts ‘got it!’ and, if the umpire agrees, he responds ‘given’ and a point is awarded. This point is known as a Shy, and allows the attacking team a chance at a goal (which is far rarer).
The Wall Game has been played between Oppidans and Collegers since 1841 and, on the face of it, appears heavily biased in the Oppidans’ favour. Whereas College (The boarding House in which the King’s Scholars live) only has a selection pool of 28 boys (those in College who are in Years 12 and 13), the Oppidans (any boy at Eton who is not a Colleger) can choose from around 500 boys from the remaining 24 boarding Houses. However, the game has been relatively balanced over the last 182 years, with the Opppidans only enjoying a narrow lead of 48-44 victories. The Collegers may be less physically talented than their Oppidan counterparts, but they have typically practiced the Wall Game for far longer and so generally understand the rules and tactics better.
This year, College was particularly well placed for success as six members of its team were Old Colours, having played in last year’s St Andrew’s Day. This was reflected in the outcome of the match, as College’s tight Bully play and excellent discipline allowed them to creep down the Wall and into Calx early in the first half. Here, Rajan A scored a Shy – the first point since 2016 (the intervening years have all been 0-0 draws). The rest of the match was superbly controlled by College, who simply kept the ball in the Bully and denied the Oppidans any chance at scoring, leading to the ultimate scoreline of College 1, Oppidans 0.
The game was fought competitively, but in an excellent spirit. This was a credit to both teams and their respective Keepers, Freddie S (College) and Rufus H-S (Oppidans).