British bulldogs (game)
British bulldogs (often the singular British bulldog, also octopus, seaweed, bullies, bullrush or simply bulldogs) is a tag-based game, of which red rover and cocky laura are descendants. In South Africa this game is called Red Rover.
Most commonly one or two players – though this number may be higher in large spaces – are selected to play the parts of the "bulldogs". The bulldogs stand in the middle of the play area. All remaining players stand at one end of the area (home). The aim of the game is to run from one end of the field of play to the other, without being caught by the bulldogs. When a player is caught, they become a bulldog themselves. The winner is the last player or players 'free'.
The play area is usually a large hall or large area of a playing field, though there is no definition of the size of the pitch nor the number of players as long as there is enough space for the players to manoeuvre and enough players to have fun.
It is played mainly in the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other Commonwealth countries by children at school. It was originated in Great Britain. The game is also known to have been played, often on asphalt recess yards, by schoolchildren in Rhode Island in the 1960s, under the name "cock-a-rooster." The game is characterised by its physicality often being regarded as violent leading it to be banned from many schools, although this trend is now being reversed.
As is usual with games, the particular rules applied vary from location to location, but with the same principle. The playing area consists of a main playing area, with two 'home' areas on opposing sides (similar to the touchdown areas used in rugby or American football). The home areas are the width of the playing area and are usually marked by a line or some other marker.
Each game of bulldogs consists of a sequence of rounds, and it is usual to play a number of games back-to-back with different bulldogs each time. The game is initiated with a single player (or sometimes two or more players), commonly selected by all players standing in a circle with their legs apart and a tennis ball being bounced in the centre; whoever's legs the ball goes through is "it". The objective for the non-bulldog players is to run from one home area to the other whilst avoiding the bulldog(s) in the middle.
Each round is usually initiated by the bulldogs chanting and goading, often naming a player to be the first to attempt the run from one end to another, and the bulldogs then attempt to 'catch' the player. As players are caught and turned into bulldogs if they are clung to for the duration of the bulldog exclaiming, "British bulldog; one, two, three!" — having not reached the other side. Another version requires the player's forward progress to be halted (for several seconds), for as long as the player is moving toward the goal they are not 'caught'. If the player successfully enters the opposing home area without being caught, they are considered 'safe' and may not be caught by the bulldogs. Players are also safe while they remain in their original home area, although there are sometimes rules for how long they may remain there. If they are caught, they become a bulldog themselves. Once the player has reached home or been caught, all the other non-bulldog players must immediately attempt to cross the playing area themselves, with the same rules applying (this period of the game sometimes being called a 'rush', 'bullrush' or 'stampede'). The bulldogs may catch any number of players in a single rush, all of whom become bulldogs. The round is then repeated in the opposite direction until all players have become bulldogs.
The aim of the game for the bulldogs is to catch all the players as quickly as possible, whilst the aim for the other players is to stay uncaught for as long as possible with the last player to be caught is usually considered the winner. In some variations, non-bulldogs become bulldogs if they go off a boundary, such as a line and they can be pushed off by bulldogs.
In general, the most recent loser chooses which player must cross the field on their own. In other variations, the single player can call a 'bullrush' at any time by shouting 'bullrush', brave (or foolish) ones will cross alone first. In some versions there is no choosing of players, and all players must attempt to cross simultaneously, the choosing of the first bulldog[s] is also subject to variation. Either the first or the last players caught become the bulldogs for the next game. In some versions, only the first player caught in each round becomes a bulldog, catching other players is simply for fun and has no strategic advantage. Sometimes, the players must run to a set target, the last one there becoming the bulldog. In some versions players may not re-enter the 'home' area once they have left.
The method by which a runner is caught varies according to local custom, but can involve physically tackling the runner to the ground. This form is sometimes known as "take down bulldog" or "bring down bulldog", normally played on turf. Another variation is lifting the runner off the ground. Due to the nature of such tackles, games with adult supervision usually use simple tagging (touching) to catch players. The physicality of the game caused it to gain some notoriety and to be banned in a number of school playgrounds.
"Fishy fishy" and "sharks and minnows"
A gentler variant popular in Britain is fishy fishy. The set up is the same as bulldog, with a group of runners on one side of the area and one or two catchers in the middle. The runners chant "Fishy, Fishy, may we cross your golden water?" Another rhyme, "Please Mr[s] Crocodile, can we cross the water in a cup and saucer, upiside down?" is more commonly found in the Midlands. The catchers respond with a specific stipulation; "Only if you're wearing blue/have blonde hair/have an S in your name!" etc. This means the runners run across in smaller groups, instead of one large group, and the catchers only typically need to tag the runners to turn them into catchers, rather than tackle them to the ground. A similar variant, known as 'octopus', has the people caught by the first catcher rooted to one spot; they then try to tag runners without moving.
A variant in America similar to fishy fishy is "sharks and minnows", in which the original selected player(s) are the sharks, who attempt to "eat" the minnows. Commonly used as a fun recess activity for elementary school students. If a "shark" tags a "minnow", they become "seaweed" and can't move from where they're tagged for the rest of the game.
Another "sharks and minnows" variant is played in swimming pools. One player is selected as the "shark" and starts on the opposite side of the pool from the rest of the "minnows" (i.e. runners). In each round, the "minnows" must swim from one side of the pool to the other without being touched/tagged by the "shark(s)" while above the surface of the water. Any "minnows" who are tagged above the water's surface while crossing the pool then join the "shark(s)" for the next round. The game finishes when only one, or zero depending on local variation, "minnow" is left.
A generally milder variant of British bulldogs once commonly played in the American West and Midwest is Pom-pom-pullaway, where children line up as in Red Rover and run across the field when the one who is "it" calls "pom-pom-pullaway" or something similar. Players usually are caught by being tagged, although the rules differed among regional variants.
The game is normally played by children and offers an interesting means of letting off energy and involves rugged physical contact. It appeals to competitive spirits but at the same time produces ad-hoc team activity with all the "losers" endeavouring to bring the "non-losers" to the ground. The strongest, most athletic competitors will find it extremely difficult to win British bulldogs as the number of bulldogs grows. Parents tend to deplore the game since it results in muddied and even torn clothes, bruises, bloody noses, knees and elbows and sometimes tears (when played on tarmac) but both boys and girls participate in it.
As a game of physical contact that results in a mêlée of people attempting to drag others down to the ground, bullrush bears some similarity to a rugby scrum which may explain the presence of the game amongst children in a nation beloved of the sport of rugby. The game when played in Australia tends to be particularly rough, with the version known as pile-ons or cocky laura being common.
"His neck was flexed forcibly while his head was against the floor, and immediately after the injury he had severe pain of the cervical spine ... [which] shows that games such as British bulldog can be as dangerous as rugby football."
|British Medical Journal, June 1985|
The game has occasionally resulted in slight injury, such as cuts and grazes, owing to its rough nature, but when schools started to fear more serious injury and legal action, many took the decision to ban the game. One such serious injury was reported in the British Medical Journal in June 1985, reporting a child had suffered a spinal injury whilst playing the game. Some schools decided to discourage the game, others implemented an outright ban. A 2008 survey of one thousand children by the British National Children's Bureau revealed a third of them had been banned from playing the game. Although no national ban was agreed in the United Kingdom, many schools feel that health and safety laws and regulations leave them no choice but to ban the traditional game.
Recently, there has been a change of attitudes towards the game. Many schools now see it as a traditional sport that should not be lost, an attitude which has prospered as concerns about how much exercise children do become more prevalent. In September 2008, the Local Government Association decided that, in an attempt to reduce child obesity, it would advise councils and authorities in England and Wales to encourage the game, along with other such playground activities. Nevertheless, some organizations fear the traditional game will still be lost as schools will introduce certain rules restricting the boisterousness of the game.
A 2011 survey of a British Teachers' Union reports that the game is increasingly being banned by schools as they become more risk-averse.
In 2013, an eight year old girl was accidentally killed by another child playing the game.
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