Early Sport at Harbour?

By bellmannews / April 1, 2024
old photo showing crumbling tolbooth and a goal-like structure at edge of harbour

STONEHAVEN could be the birthplace of the sport now known as water polo – so says a sports buff who spotted this old photograph, which he says is clearly of a crude goal post.

It has long been acknowledged that the now-popular Olympic sport was developed by a North-east man called William Wilson, who set out the rules of the game and refereed the first recorded match at the River Dee during the Bon Accord Festival in 1877.

The sport Wilson invented was first called water rugby. It was a brutal clash of strength and water skills – one of the permitted strategies was to hold an opponent underwater until they parted with the ball.

Visiting sports enthusiast, Mr Dennis Rivel, thinks he has found evidence of Stonehaven’s role in the development of the sport. He told The Bellman the game may have been inspired by locals and their energetic recreation in the harbour.

He said: ”We’ve always known the coarse, young fisher lads in Stonehaven had good swimming skills – they used to hold a bay swim event every year.

”It seems very likely Wilson watched youngsters challenge visiting crews to a crude rough and tumble game with a leather ball and took his inspiration from them.”

Mr Rivel said he was keen to hear from any one who could help authenticate his theory and is appealing for information. Did your grandfather tell tales of being half-drowned in the pursuit of sport? Did he boast of scoring goals against teams of visiting fishermen? And, as the date is clearly important, can you help pin down the year of the photograph?

Feature image – does one of a series of old photographs on display at the Station Hotel tell a story of Stonehaven’s unknown sporting heritage?

For anyone reading this story on any day other than April 1 – be warned! The first game did take place at the River Dee and William Wilson did indeed formulate the rules for water rugby / polo – the rest is, as indicated, whimsical drivel.

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