Picture the scene: a chocolate box village, young families bathing in the sunshine on the green, the elderly ambling along with their ice creams….a typical August bank holiday (except yes I did mention sunshine!)…eyes focus on a river flowing peacefully through this village and then peace is shattered as twelve men enter the water and kick a ball around making everyone drenched. This is not some anti-social group of trouble makers this is in Bourton on the Water, well known tourist hotspot and home to the country’s oddest match of the beautiful game…the Water Football.
Water a goal!
Details are scant on its history, the team formed in 1894 and this competition is said have been done as long as the club has existed and most authorities state it is over 100 years old, being linked to celebrations for Edward VII’s coronation. This year I introduced the contrived catergory for the many curious modern customs, perhaps best described as ‘devised by blokes down the pub’. This is probably the grand daddy of such beer fueled brainwaves. No one appears to know why it begun, but it probably did so as a way to raise money for the team. I say team, because, this is neither a national tournament nor a local derby, but played between the A and B teams of Bourton Rovers FC. We had left home a little late on the Bank Holiday, and hadn’t intended to visit Bourton on the Water. Leaving late on this day to such a popular place is a possible recipe for disaster. Bourton on the Water is a delightful Cotswold village one of a number of noted charming places on the route. Unfortunately, charming on Bank Holiday means chocker block traffic jams and once we had reached Moreton in the Marsh the road snarled to a halt, so a detour via the villages of Swells was needed to get back to the Stow on the Wold road….then bang…straight into another snarl up and so another detour through the Slaughters, another delightful village which itself was having a fete. Entry into Bourton on the Water was unhindered however and we arrived at two thirty!
Water on the pitch
People swarmed around the village like the bees at such a honey pot, but finding a place by the ‘pitch side’ was surprisingly easy and so being a nice day, with the river Windrush peacefully flowing, it was not difficult to seat for a few minutes for the game to begin. At four, the teams moved their goals into the water and the crowds, several thousand of them, thronged banks. Those close to the edge wisely wearing water proofs, in most years I am sure this would be standard considering our bank holiday weather!
Football leagues under the water
The team wore no special uniform, not even wellies, but the referee was dressed in a pokadot dress, pink blouse, blonde wig and holding an umbrella…and yes it was a man – a water football tradition. Although this did largely seem a game without rules, after all how could you judge an improper tackle when obscured by a fan of water? The goals were moved into the water and the team prepared splashing each other to get over the cold. The whistle blew and the serious splashing begun. Indeed, for the first half the players took considerable pleasure in making sure that the crowds, especially those in the middle it seemed, that they got very wet more than any actual play. In some cases it became clear that some well known faces..to the team members…were getting more than their fair share of water. At first people kept to the banks, but realising that there was less chance of getting soaked in the water crowds gathered behind the goals or so they thought! I overheard one boy sagely state ‘ I don’t think much of these seats they’re very wet’
Took a dive
The half-time whistle blew and wet jerseys were swapped. Sitting were I was I had felt fall brunt of the a ball soaking so I decided at one point to position myself in the river near one of the goals. Good idea for a photo, bad idea for keeping dry. Soon I watched through the view finder, the players getting nearer and a nearer and looking down the ball was at my feet…and within seconds so were the players. I was even more drenched then before and this time a sizeable portion of the River Windrush entered my mouth! Great action pictures with the water smears!
It was difficult to follow what the score was. There’s no commentary. You would not be able to hear anyhow, the screams of laughter were too loud. Cheers went out when the goals were scored, and they came thick and fast in the second half when the teams appear to have got their ‘water’ wings. Then the final whistle was blown and the team threw themselves into the water in exhaustion. I could see why the game is only thirty minutes…ninety minutes in the water would be tiring to say the least. The goals were removed to the banks and the teams went off for an early bath. Bourton on the Water Water football have distilled in a way all the things which typify the English: picturesque village, Football and transvestitism. Long may it play!
Copyright Pixyledpublications if you’d like to use the photos contact me.