The Field Game is a sport unique to Eton. It may seem, to a casual observer, a strange mix of rugby and football. The Field Game is certainly as old, if not older than these two other sports, with the first codified Field Game rules dating back to 1847 according to the College Archives.
Indeed, such was the sport’s popularity at Eton that no separate team for association football was created until 1930 and even now every boy has the chance to play the Field Game during their five years at the school.
The sport is, at heart, a dribbling game, and relies on the ‘bully’ (somewhat similar to a scrum in rugby) moving the ball forward in a tight mass towards the opposing team’s end. There, points can be scored in a variety of ways. A ‘goal’ is three points, but the greatest reward comes in successfully scoring a ‘rouge.’
In such a scenario, the attacker will typically hit the ball off a defender and then touch down on the ball. This affords the attacking team five points and allows them the chance of a conversion (a further two points). Formerly, a conversion would be attempted by means of a ‘ram,’ in which players from the offensive team would ‘charge’ a defensive scrum to try and move the ball over the line. However, since 2002, the conversion has become more akin to scoring a rouge.
Either bully is buttressed by ‘behinds,’ whose role is to control the ball once it goes past the bully and send it back over their heads to gain territory. The most prominent behind is the ‘fly,’ who will try to dribble through the bully.
The rules of this game are rather complicated, and it’s doubtful how many pupils themselves truly understand the wide variety of laws, certainly I do not! A player could be penalised for ‘sneaking’ (a variant of offside), ‘firking’ (hooking the ball backwards in the bully), passing-back or even ‘cornering’ (being offside laterally), allowing the opposing team either a set piece or an offensive bully depending upon the nature of the foul.
A player could be penalised for ‘sneaking’, ‘firking’, passing-back or even ‘cornering’.Rules of the Field Game
When the fly has the ball, every member of his bully must make an effort to get behind him or else they will be ‘sneaking on the fly.’
Although the Field Game is an internal Eton sport, there are nonetheless hundreds of fixtures every season. In addition to ‘School Field,’ in which eight teams of current pupils play off against returning Old Etonians every Saturday, there are wide variety of House Competitions – allowing as many pupils as possible to play. Senior pupils can also become qualified to umpire junior games, thus allowing for the involvement of students at every stage of the process.
Despite the cold wintry weather, the Field Game is a sport which many love – the ultimate test both of physical fitness and mental understanding of the rules.