Uppies and Downies

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Workington in West Cumbria is home to a tradition known as Uppies and Downies, a version of Medieval football with roots in even earlier games.[1][2][3][4] The modern incarnation of Uppies and Downies was rejuvenated some time in the latter half of the 19th century. Workington still holds annual Uppies and Downies matches every Easter, raising money for various local charities.[5][6][7]

The game[edit]

The object of the game is to "hail the ball" (throw it up in the air three times) at the opposing team's goal. The Downies goal is a capstan at the harbour, while the Uppies is the gates of Workington Hall Parklands.

Curwen Hall.

There are no other ostensible rules of play and the game is primarily a rough and tumble scrum interspersed with break-away sprints by members of one team or the other (with some similarities to rugby). Some players from outside Workington take part, especially fellow West Cumbrians from Whitehaven and Maryport, resulting in about 1000 players on each team.[8]

The ball[edit]

Uppies and Downies balls hailed in 1871 and 1950.

An Uppies and Downies ball is made from four pieces of cow leather. It is 21 inches (53 cm) in circumference and weighs about two and a half pounds (1.1 kg). Only three hand-made balls are produced every year and each is dated.


The owner of Curwen Hall awards a sovereign to the player who hails the ball.


Uppies and Downies refer to the residents of the top (East) and bottom (West) of the town, which slopes down East-West towards the sea. In the modern incarnation of the game, the Downies were originally residents of the marsh and quay, a large important working class area of the town demolished in the early 1980s. Hence the definition of who is a Downy is now changed from the original.

The modern incarnation of Uppies and Downies, for decades after its inception, in effect contained strong elements of rivalry between the seafarers around the marsh and the colliers of the top end of the town, and significant class undertones, the marsh and quay traditionally being looked down with somewhat disdain on by the more affluent top of the town, where the local petty bourgeoisie were generally located.

Safety concerns[edit]

Due to its unpredictability, the game can spill over into the town centre. In the past police have issued safety advice to visitors and local parents warning of getting caught up in the inevitable rough and physical encounter.[9]


A pair of coal-black iron-ore coloured figure statues depict the Easter mass event, created by Maryport sculptor Colin Telfer, one stands outside Workington Hall, the other at the town harbour.[10][11]

Threat from supermarket development[edit]

In 2009, proposed development plans to build a Tesco Extra store on the Cloffocks threatened the future of the event.[12]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]