Welsh Bando (Field Hockey)

Bando is a hockey sport played in Wales since the end of the 18th century at the latest, thought to be a cousin of the game of bandy. In this game, players use sticks, called bandos, to strike a wooden ball, attempting to pass it through the goal of the opposing team. Historically, matches were typically held between two neighboring parishes, and as they were often subject to wagers, they were fairly well organized and officiated (unlike cnapan, a much more chaotic Welsh ball game from the Middle Ages).

Though the game is still played in some regions today, its peak of popularity has long passed. Earlier in its history, bando was a wildly popular sport both to watch and play. So many villages played this game that some regions underwent a level of deforestation of hardwood trees for the purpose of producing bandos, as noted by traveller through Wales in 1797. Other travellers through the region noted high numbers of spectators for these games as well. When fairly prominent matches were held, sometimes up to several thousand people would show up to watch.

Though bando was much more organized than other ball games coming out of the medieval period (notably, the collection of medieval mob football sports), it was still fairly violent. Beyond the roughness characteristic of contact sports, players were known to often strike each other with their bandos.


Origins and History

The earliest records of bando, most of which are writings of travelers through Wales, lie in the late 18th century. It is likely the sport was played for some period before this, though the absence of earlier records makes its earliest origins difficult to pinpoint. As bando is still played today, its recorded history runs over the course of just over 200 years. However, bando is thought to share a common ancestral sport with the game of bandy, and thus its true origins likely extend beyond this period.


How to Play

Historically, each team, consisting typically of 20 to 30 players each, would attempt to pass a wooden ball through the opposing team’s goal using only their bando sticks. Though some fields were set aside for the sport, there were no codified dimensions for the standard bando pitch. As such, the playing area would vary from field to field, though each one had its finite boundaries that players were to remain within.

Beyond these few rudimentary rules, not much of the game was codified. The participating parishes would typically determine the rules for each upcoming match beforehand, and as such, the rules could vary from game to game. For example, striking opponents with the bando was only illegal if determined beforehand – though it was typically discouraged. (Despite all this, violence with the bandos was fairly commonplace.)


Equipment

Historically, the bando stick was typically made of hardwood, such as elm or ash. Its shape was fairly similar to that of a hockey stick, though with a few key differences. The bando, typically measuring a little under 3 feet in length, would start off as a carved, straight, cylindrical stick. Through steaming, the club end would be curved to a nearly 90–degree bend. Somewhere in this process, three faces would be shaved into the stick from the beginning of the curve down to the end of the club, giving it a triangular shape at the end. This allowed for better ball handling. After all this, the bando would be varnished and adorned with strips of black paint and sometimes pieces of leather and string to serve as a grip.

While a traditionally crafted bando stick was the ideal tool for the sport, it was not uncommon for players coming up from the coalmines to use the shaft of a pick or shovel in lieu of a proper bando.

The ball, traditionally around the size of a baseball, was typically mad of softwood such as yew, box, or crabapple. When a proper ball wasn’t available for a game, players would sometimes fashion one out of rags or other scraps of garbage. The use of such scrappy tools and materials makes it clear that players would do whatever they had to in order to get a game going.

Bibliography

Fosty, G. R., Fosty, D., & Jelley, J. (2003). George and Darril Fosty’s splendid is the sun: The 5,000 year history of hockey. New York: Stryker-Indigo Pub.

Williams, G., Morgan, P., & Williams, M. F. (1988). Glamorgan county history. Cardiff: Glamorgan County History Trust.