British Bulldog (game)

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British Bulldog (also octopus, seaweed, bullies, bullrush, Russian bulldog, bulldogs charge, or simply bulldogs) is a tag-based game, of which red rover and cocky laura are descendants.

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 (as bullrush or kingasini),[1] Canada and other Commonwealth countries by children at school. It was originated in Great Britain.[citation needed] 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.[2]


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, often by tackling. 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.[3] 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.


The game has been known since the 1920s as "pom-pom-pull-away", "rushing bases" and "Hill, dill, over the hill".[4]

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.[5][6][7]

"Fishy fishy" and "sharks and minnows"[edit]

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, upside down?" is more commonly found in the Midlands of England. In America, children often chant "Oh Captain, my Captain, may we cross your ship?" 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.[8][9][10]


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.[11][12]

Chinese wall[edit]

Chinese wall is another variant, where the "catcher" is confined between two lines smaller than the larger field (the "wall") and players must cross the "wall" without being caught.[13][14][15]


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.[16]


"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

Despite the Local Government Association's 2008 encouragement of traditional playground games such as British Bulldog, more than a quarter of teachers surveyed in 2011 said the game had been banned at their schools.[2][17] Its rough-and-tumble nature has resulted in at least one spinal injury, reported in the June 1985 BMJ, and the death of an eight-year-old child in Twickenham in 2013, who collided with a player of British Bulldog while playing a different game.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pollock, Kerryn (2012-11-16). "Te Ara | Encyclopedia | Childhood - Play and recreation". Te Ara Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2016-03-03. 
  2. ^ a b McFarlane, Andy (2008-09-02). "UK | Magazine | The return of British Bulldog". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-07-14. 
  3. ^ McQueen, Craig (22 October 2008). "New book celebrates games which were playground favourites of yesteryear". Daily Record. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  4. ^ Grover, Kathryn (1992). Hard at play: leisure in America, 1840–1940. Univ of Massachusetts Press. p. 262. ISBN 0-87023-792-6. 
  5. ^ Sarah Thomson (2000), "Playground or Playpound: the contested terrain of the primary playground", Department of Education, Keele University, cited in "Break with tradition", Times Educational Supplement, 22 December 2000, retrieved 19 May 2007
  6. ^ "The games children play", BBC News Online, 21 May 1999, retrieved 19 May 2007
  7. ^ Alastair Taylor, "Barmy teachers ban tag", The Sun, undated, retrieved 19 May 2007
  8. ^ Luebbers, Mat. "Swimming Games: Swimming Sharks and Minnows". Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  9. ^ "Sharks and minnows". KidSpot Australia. Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  10. ^ Nieboer, Geof. "Sharks and Minnows". Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  11. ^ Pom-pom-pullaway. Dictionary of American Regional English. University of Wisconsin. Retrieved August 7, 2014.
  12. ^ Joy Forbes. Typical Games Played In & Outside One-Room School Houses. The One Room Schoolhouse. Retrieved August 7, 2014.
  13. ^ Ministry of Education Pamphlet – Volume 25 – Page 83 Great Britain. Ministry of Education – 1954 "All players should have a turn as catcher. Chinese Wall, or ' Hill, dill, come over the hill ' (206) ll For Chinese Wall two parallel lines, 10 feet apart, are drawn across the centre of the ground to represent the wall. One or more players stand on ..."
  14. ^ Movement activities for places and spaces – Page 5 Carolyn J. Rasmus, John Stuart Fowler – 1983 Chinese Wall — Players line up along one side of the gym. Two parallel lines are drawn down the centre of the gym about three to four feet apart. The catcher stands between the lines and tries to tag players as they try to cross the "wall.
  15. ^ Handbook of active games – Page 41 Darwin Alexander Hindman – 1951 "I. COUPLE HILL-DILL All players, chasers and runners, form groups of two, holding hands. The call is "Hill dill, come over the hill." The game may be varied by having three or four in each group, instead of two. 2. CHINESE WALL A tagging ..."
  16. ^ "Column 8". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 August 2005. 
  17. ^ "British bulldog 'vanishing from schools'". BBC News. 2011-04-19. Retrieved 2011-04-19. 
  18. ^ "Girl died after British bulldog game at Twickenham school". BBC News. 2013-11-04. Retrieved 2013-11-04.