Scotland’s Game: What is Shinty Anyway?

What is shinty anyway? Most people might have heard of the sport, though that may depend on the amount of time spent in Scotland as to the level of shinty knowledge one possesses. It is a game of the Highlands. A rough, athletic, trying sport - a particularly Scottish pastime. Shinty has similarities to ice hockey, hockey, and hurling. With most of the games deriving from shinty.

In a shinty match, each team has twelve players on a side including their goalkeeper. Shinty matches are played over the span of two forty-five minute halves. The objective of the game is to get the ball into the other team’s net using your stick, known as a caman. The field on which shin- ty is played usually stretches around 150 yard long and 70 yards wide. Two unique aspects of a shinty field are the “D” and the penalty spot. The “D” is an area in front of each goal measuring ten yards in radius.

Only the goalkeeper and the defenders are allowed inside what is also known as the ten-yard area. If an offensive player and the ball are inside the “D” at the same time, it is an off-side offense. In this situation, the result is a penalty hit from the penalty spot which is twenty yards in front of the goal. If a foul is committed outside of the penalty area (the “D”), then the game restarts with a free hit. A free hit gives the ball to the other team, the one that did not commit the foul, and they start play again. A corner in shinty is rewarded when a team plays the ball over their own bye line. Conversely, if a team plays the ball over the opposing bye line, a goal hit from the edge of the “D” is rewarded. These two plays are similar to those which take place in a hockey match. However, a shy in shinty, is more similar to a football throw-in. If either team hits the ball out of bounds and it crosses the sideline, the resulting action is known as a shy. The taker of the shy tosses the ball above their head and then hits the ball with the shaft of their caman. The ball must be directly over their head when struck back into play.

Something fun, exciting, and dangerous about shinty is the fact that the ball is allowed to be played in the air. A fun, real shinty term to describe a player dribbling down the pitch with the ball bouncing up and down off their caman is known a keepy-uppy. Yes, keepy-uppy is in fact a legitimate shinty term.


Players are allowed to stop the ball in a few ways. The most obvious and common being with their caman. However, a player may also use their body. If and when they choose to use their body, their two feet need to either be together, or they must at least have one foot on the ground for it to be considered a legal stop. Like football, only the goalkeeper is allowed to use their hands. However, the goalkeeper must stop the ball with an open palm since they are not allowed to catch it.


Additionally, playing the ball with one’s head is considered a foul, whether intentional or not, since in shinty it is considered dangerous play. Not only is playing the ball accidentally or otherwise with one’s head considered dangerous, but players must be aware of where their ca- man is at all times. That may seem like quite an obvious rule, however, in the heat of the game, camans fly all over the place as players attempt to block, tackle, pass and score.


Shinty players are allowed to use both sides of the caman, another way in which shinty differs from hockey. But, like hockey, players may not bring their stick directly down onto that of their opponent’s as that is known as hacking and is a foul. While they may not be able to hack one another ’s camans recklessly, players are able to use their bodies.


Players are allowed to tackle one another. Tackling definitely gives shinty its probably deserved rough and tumble reputation. As long as contact between players is shoulder-to-shoulder, it is considered a legal tackle.


In a shinty match, like football, there are a limited number of substitutions allowed for each team. Originally, however, shinty did not have any substitutes. Substitutions were only introduced to shinty in the 1960s. A maximum of three substitutions were then allowed for each team in a match. However, as of 2011, rolling substitutions became legal in shinty matches at the senior level.

On the pitch, there are twelve players per team on at a given time, including both goalkeepers. Moving out from the goalkeeper there are left and right wing backs, a half back (also known as buckshee back), left and right wing centers, a full center, a half forward (buckshee forward), left and right wing forward, and a full forward. This formation is that which the Northern District employs. The Southern District of Scotland takes a different approach to the formation of their field players. Again, starting with the goalkeeper and moving out, there are two full backs, two half backs, left, full, and right wing centers, two half forwards, and two full forwards.

No matter the formation, shinty is an incredibly exciting sport to watch. Shinty is definitely something every St. Andrews student should go to before the end of their four years here. Check the Saints Sport website and head out to support shinty in their next match. You may even want to give it a go!


Image: George Watts

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