Who knows why some sports have stood the test of time? The Olympics showcases some of the finest sportsmen and women but not necessarily the classic sports that can bring in the really big crowds. Some are confined to their location and origin – think cheese on Cooper Hill or silver ball frolics in St Ives, Cornwall.
Originally, in the first four decades of competition in the modern Olympic games, medals were awarded for painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, music and of course, athletics. These medals were discontinued after the London Games in 1948 amongst fears that the majority of entrants were arts professionals, not amateurs.
But what of the sports that never made it, but have been concreted by artists to be remembered and appreciated forever? Here is a small selection you can still get involved in today.
Gloucester Cooper's Hill Cheese Roll has been dominated by the infallible Chris Anderson for the past eight years. He appears to have mastered what can only be described as a kamikaze tumbling down the hill that is renowned for its steepness, with a large 8lb Gloucester cheese wheeling on ahead. Not only that, he appears also to have mastered the race to the top of the hill prior to the rolling down. As the prize is also a cheese, it is recommended that you also enjoy eating cheese. Chris doesn't. The history of this race predates official records, though suspicions point to it having been around in the 1700s.
Get your feet out and start practising, as this sport is gaining in popularity every year and has particular worldwide interest. Originating from a pub in Staffordshire, two participants lock big toes and then attempt to wrestle each other's foot to a designated area at the side of the ring. With broken toes and sprained ankles commonplace, the only saving grace is that hygiene standards are high. All feet are inspected by a nurse for fungus beforehand. Do note, it is not for the fainthearted or those suffering from back problems.
Silver Ball Hurling
This Cornish contest between town and country depends on whether or not either side can throw a small silver ball to each other to retain possession. It is a bizarre take on rugby with wild boundaries of the playing field, as some players dive into the sea to evade the other side. The one to return the ball to the mayor on the steps of the St Ives Guildhall on the stroke of midday wins a silver coin. It's one to watch.
Crab Catching (not racing)
Catching crabs at Cromer has long been a quality way to while away the afternoon, however every August the World Pier Crabbing Championships take place. The keen crustacean catchers are rewarded for the greatest number of crabs and the biggest crab that has been safely hauled up the height of the pier. It's a far cry from a crab race between friends on the beach. That comes after, when they are released back into the waves.
Duckstones, or Duck on a Rock
Neither title speaking volumes to you? You don't know what you've been missing! This is a remarkably simple set up using a big stone – the 'Duck'. One player guards the duckstone, upon which their stone is placed. Other players attempt to throw their stones to knock off the guard's. Once the throw has taken place, the guard attempts to catch the thrower before they reach 'home'. One of the all-time British classics, there can be little doubt that were it not for the invention of screens, this would still be a popular pastime
Quoits is traditionally played outdoors, throwing an iron or steel quoit (ring) that is thrown at a post in the ground eleven yards away. Tactical positioning of your quoit to block the pin is often advantageous to prevent your opposition from scoring through looping their quoit over the post first. Theories over its origins speculate that it evolved from an ancient game of throwing horseshoes at a pin, the horseshoe being the poor man's quoit. The game is a pub sport in the North now, but was synonymous with agricultural and mine workers in the past.
Sports and the arts have legs
The beauty of these slightly obscure sports is that you don't need to don a wealth of equipment nor wear expensive, specialist clothing to take part. It is the quintessentially British historical approach to start at the pub, the park or the beach and see where it takes you. Potentially these sports are the ones that have legs, that can promote our social interactions and keep our communities flourishing. Interest from far-flung places will continue to spread the word of these fine activities but their heritage and history will be forever ingrained in our art and our souls.
Jane O'Connell, freelance writer