A new look at the Swedish game of ‘Bandy’

First published in translation in Gaelic in Gairm (no.171, Summer 1995) and re-published in the original Scots version in Lallans (no.63, Autumn 2003).  

A kiek at the Swdish game o bandy

Södermalm in Stockholm is a gey caal place in the hairt o winter. Yet, for aa that, ye canna haud the Swedes back fae stravaigin oot intae the winter nichts, especially fan there’s a bandy match on. Ae nicht in Novemer, wi aa gaed saunterin tae the pairk tae hae a keik at the game. Truth be telt, A really didna ken fit sort o a game it micht be. luggin intae tae Nadja an Tino bletherin A jaloused it micht be a bittie sibb tae ice-hockey. Fylst it’s maistly played outside in the heich leagues, foggies an bairns scutter around at it indoors forby. A boorach o fowk clad in the green an fyte o Bajen (the local club) stood clappin their airms, stampin their feet an warmin thirsels wi a wee drap aquavit. Eence inside we didna hae lang tae wait er the twa teams cam oot. But ye didna hae tae be the brichtest star in the sky tae see at this game wes gaan tae be different fae ice hockey. Nae waa o gless for the supporters tae coorie in ahin. The pairk wes mair the size o a fitba pitch nor an ice-rink. An forby yon, there wes a hantle mair fowk in ilka team. An yon gart me think. Their sticks resembled the “caman” o the shinty players in Scotland. They didna use a puck like the ice hockey chiels, but a baa like the shinty “cnapag”. An they played like shinty players forby – A mynd that weel eneuch fae ma student days at the varsity. A thoucht aboot bandy an shinty for a minute or twa an a speirt masel gin the twa games micht be sibb. Ma mind gaed raikin in amun the wee bit history a kent, raikin for onie inclin o cultural exchange atween Scotland an Sweden at micht explain the closeness o the twa games.

It’s weel kent at a lang time syne, aroun the 8th an 9th centuries, Viking raiders cam tae Scotland fae Scaninavia. Maist o these cam fae Norway, but likely a pucklie cam fae Sweden. The Norse teen muckle oot o Scotlan, – especially gowd, siller an waur – slaves. Fooiver, the Scaninavians werna just thieves. They traded aroun the warld an reached America, Asia an near ilka kintra on the continent o Europe. Did the slaves (or the Norse gaan hame) tak wi them a wee bit o the sportin the culture o the Scots tae Scandinavia? Ye dinna hae tae bide lang in onie museum in Scandinavia tae see airt fae the time o the Vikings fae baith the Celtic an Norse fowk. It near aye shows the osmosis o culture, especially on jewellery an cairved steens – Celtic an Norse pattrens interwoven. There is even ogham on ane or twa o the rune-stones an it is possible at the slaves or migrant Scottish airtists warked their airt in Scaninavia. We maun consider these exchanges as ane o the weys at the game o bandy reached Sweden (or shinty cam tae Scotland). Fooiver, monie mair Scots gaed tae Sweden in the centuries efter the Norse, an mair probable origins come fae thir latter periods.

Tak the sixteenth century – raiks o Scots traded in an aroun Scandinavia an the Baltic. Fowk sic as Hans Stuart, Jakob Scott, Peter Forbes, William Hamilton an Blasius Dundee, aa weel kent tae scholars the day. Thousans upon thousans mair gaed tae serve in the Swedish airmy. In 1574, the Scots (in Ruthven’s regiment) focht  for the Swedes in Russia wi ither sudgers fae Germany. The fremmit fowk in Swedish service didna aye get alang fooiver. In ae case the German cavalry chairged the Scottish fit fowk efter a stooshie atween a pucklie sudgers fae the twa kinricks. A Scottish cavalry officer cried Moncreiff seen fit wes gaan on fae the ither side o the camp. He sent his ain cavalry intae the flank o the Germans efter fitch they slauchtered ilk-anither oot o haun. The Swedish airmy lost 1,500 fowk at day killed bi sudgers fae their ane side! But far did these Scots come fae, an were there onie shinty players in amun them?

Truth be kent we dinna ken, but the century efter, a muckle war, noo kent as the Thirty Years’ War, 1618-1648, tore Europe apairt. It wes focht maistly, though nae aye, atween the Norlan Protestant Pouers an the Hapsburg Holy Roman Empire. Scots fae the lallans an Gaels fae the heilans o Scotland teen pairt, an descriptions o Scots in kilts an tartan breiks are fun in monie librars in Germanie the day. Ane o the Scottish regiments, ‘Mackay’s Regiment’, wes weel kent at the time an since for ane o the crouners kept a memoir, published in 1637 an aye in print. Maist o the sudjers in Mackay’s regiment wes Gaels. Fae 1626 they focht agin the Empire in the airmy o Denmark-Norway wi about 1,500 men. But fan Denmark-Norway made it’s peace in 1629, the Regiment rared tae haud gaan intae the Emperor. Tae a man the survivors gaed ower tae the Swedes for they kent Sweden wes aboot tae tak ower the runnin o the war for the Norlan Pouers. In the Swedish airmy at yon time there micht hae been as muckle as 13,000 men fae Scotland: Monro’s Regiment, Hepburn’s Green Briggade, Spens’s Division, Hamilton’s Airmy an raiks o ithers fae the Highlans an NorthEast o Scotland – traditional shinty playin areas. Afore the war wes ower near 30,000 served. An A’m siccar there maun hae been a shinty stick or twa amun these loons. Ye jist hae tae tak tent o the auld Gaelic grave slabs in Clonca in Ulster tae ken at Shinty wes a warriors game.

Shinty Stick

Ane o the steens shaws an image o a sword, a shinty stick an a baa as the main icons o the warrior yirded aneath it. An here in this war there were thousans o Gaels an ither Scots at wuid hae kent the game. Forby onythin ither, thir sudgers were favoured bi Gustav II Adolf, an ane o the Scottish regiments fyles formed the bodygaird for the Swedish king.  Sae fa’s tae say at the great chiel didna see, or even tak pairt in a game o shinty hisel  – an fit wey nae? Just hink o it, just afore the battle o Lützen in 1632, the king o Sweden wi his shinty stick heich abeen his heid tae smack the baa atwards the goal: But the chance tae score a point wes lost fan the king wes hacked doun bi a michty stout defence an tae an unco roar fae the onlookin thrang….!

The roar snapped me oot o ma historical dwam. ‘Bajen’ haed scored an the crowd wes gaan feel. There wes me, stood on the terrace o a bandy pairk in the snaa an Gustav II Adolf  350 years in the grun. Efter the game, as A daundered hame wi ma Swedish kith an kin, A thocht aboot fit maist fowk in Scotland ken the day anent history or shinty let alane bandy. The Scots an the Swedes (an a hail bing o ither fowk forby) focht thegither an traded wi ilk-anither ower hunners o years. But fit did we get telt at the skweel fan they learnt us aboot history? 1066 an aa that……….



English Version

Södermalm in Stockholm is not the warmest place to be outside in the heart of winter. Yet, for all that, the Swedes are often found out and about of a winter’s evening. We reached the field where we went to watch the game of bandy, but I didn’t know what sort of game that might be. I heard it was like hockey and that many people played it outside on the ice while others play it inside in halls. The players arrived in the playing ring; twelve in each team just like a shinty team. It gave me a surprise when I saw the sort of stick they used since it was just like the “caman” of the shinty players in Scotland. The team began to play. They didn’t use a puck like the ice hockey players, but a ball like the “cnapag” in shinty. And they played like shinty players too. I thought about the game for a minute or two. I asked myself, “could the two games be related?”  I cast my mind back through history searching for cultural exchanges between Scotland and Sweden.

A long time in the past, in the 8th and 9th centuries, Viking raiders arrived in Scotland from Scandinavia. The majority of these came from Norway, but it is possible that a few came from Sweden also. The raiders took much from Scotland, – especially gold, money and treasure, but also slaves. However, the Scandinavians were not just raiders. They undertook trade around the world. They reached America, Africa and Asia and every country on the continent of Europe. Did the slaves or the Scandinavians returning home take with them the culture of the Gaelic people? There is certainly much to see in the art from the time of the Vikings from both the Celtic and Norse peoples, which shows the osmosis of culture, especially on jewellery and carved stones. There is even ogham on some of the rune-stones and it is possible that the slaves or Scottish artists did there work in Scandinavia. It is possible that that is how the game of bandy left reached there. However, more Scots reached Sweden in later centuries after the time of the Vikings.

In the sixteenth century, many Scots traded in the Baltic. People like Hans Stuart, Jakob Scott, Peter Forbes, William Hamilton and Blasius Dundee. Many more, thousands upon thousands, worked in the service of the Swedish army. In 1574 the Scots (in Ruthven’s regiment) fought for the Swedes in Russia with other soldiers from Germany. They did not always get along however and on one occasion the German cavalry charged the Scottish infantry. The Scottish officer Moncreiff saw this and sent his own cavalry into the flank of the German whereupon they began to slaughter each other. The Swedes lost 1500 men that day. But where did these Scots come from and were there any shinty players amongst them? We can’t answer that right now, but the following century a huge war engulfed Europe which we now know as the Thirty Years’ War. That particular war was fought largely between the Protestants and the Holy Roman Empire. There were many Gaels participating in that war and there still exists a woodcut of Scots in kilts and tartan trousers made in Stettin in 1631. Some historians say that there were as many as 25000 Scots who also fought for the Imperialists! There was one particular regiment which became very famous, ‘Mackay’s Regiment’, and many of these men were Gaels. They began to fight in 1625 against the Empire in the army of Denmark with about 1500 men. But when Denmark made it’s peace in 1629, the Regiment wished to continue fighting and transferred over to the Swedes. In Sweden there were already 13000 men from Scotland in the Swedish army: Monro’s Regiment, Hepburn’s Division, Hamilton’s Division and many others from the Highlands and NorthEast of Scotland. I’m sure there was a shinty stick or two amongst these boys. The Scottish soldiers were favoured by the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf. On particular Scottish regiment formed a bodyguard for the king and it is possible that he saw, or even played a game of shinty himself  – why not? Just think, Lutzen 1632, the king of Sweden with the shinty stick raised high and the ball hurtling towards the mouth of the goal: a chance to score a point before he was cut down by some stout defence. And then came a roar comes from the watching multitude….

I was staring at the ice rink, the game over and the players leaving the field. As I was walking home with my Swedish friends I reflected on the lack of knowledge people have today about times gone by. The Scots and the Swedes (and other people as well) worked, fought and traded with each other, but what did we get taught in school when we learnt about history? 1066 and all that!


About Tentsmuir

Tentsmuir is a 50 something ex-ultrarunner/ sort of mountainbiker with Asthma and Diabetes. He is often to be found going round in circles in the Tentsmuir Forest trying to make sense of the contradictions in history, Buddhist philosophy and Scottish malt whisky. Also to be found stravaiging in the Scottish mountains, in deep jungles or lurking on Twitter @Tentsmuir
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