Bringing back bandy: Hunts is birthplace of world sport
IT S 200 years old, is watched by millions of people around the world – and it began in Huntingdonshire. The sport of bandy – similar to ice hockey, but played with a ball on an ice rink the size of a football pitch – was first played on Bury Fen 200 year
IT'S 200 years old, is watched by millions of people around the world - and it began in Huntingdonshire.
The sport of bandy - similar to ice hockey, but played with a ball on an ice rink the size of a football pitch - was first played on Bury Fen 200 years ago, and in some countries it is now more popular than football.
Bury parish councillor Bob Johnson has set himself the task of bringing bandy back to the area after discovering the sport while researching a Bury village newsletter.
"When I looked further into it I found out that we had a very successful club, the Bury Fen Bandy Club at Bluntisham, who were unbeaten for 100 years," he said.
"This is one of the most popular games in the world - and it started at Bury Fen."
The game was made famous across the world by the Bury Fen club, led by captain Charles Tebbutt, a Bluntisham county councillor and timber merchant.
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Historian Bob Burn-Murdoch, of the Norris Museum in St Ives, said: "He was very much the moving spirit behind the spread of the game."
"Charles Tebbutt was a real go-getting character and was very enthusiastic about the sport. He took his team on a tour of Europe in the winter of 1890-91, visiting the Netherlands and Scandinavia, which were big skating countries.
"Similar games may have been played in those countries at the time, but the name bandy comes from the Fens, so that's how we can trace game back to here.
"In the 19th century the game was very popular in this area - everybody would have played it.
"Bury Fen led the way in bandy, and it took the world over 100 years to catch up. In its time, the Bury Fen Bandy Club was the equivalent of Lord's cricket ground in cricket."
The Norris Musem has bandy skates and sticks in its collection.
The game was most popular in lowland villages such as Colne and Earith, whose flat fields would freeze over. Fierce rivalries would build up between villages, and hundreds of spectators would flock to support their teams. Match results were reported in newspapers, including The Hunts Post.
"The games were organised by the gentry, but the working classes would have been encouraged to take part in order to keep them out of the pub," said Mr Burn-Murdoch.
"The Fens in the 19th century was a hard place and you had to be tough to survive. The game certainly had a competitive edge - if a player dropped his stick, the opposition were allowed to throw it away. It was a tough game."
Bandy's popularity began to wane in the early 20th century as milder winters meant the fields no longer froze over so frequently.
Now Cllr Johnson is aiming to bring the game back, by organising a visit from representatives of the bandy federations of Sweden and the USA. They will arrive next week to visit Bury Fen, and take a tour of the museums of St Ives and St Neots.
Bandy is to be trialled in next year's Winter Olympics and is expected to be included from 2014.
Mr Johnson hopes to stage a number of games between top Swedish teams at the ice rink in Peterborough.
"Bandy is one of the top spectator sports in many countries so, understandably, they are very keen to come over to visit the home of bandy," said Mr Johnson.
"The federations from around the world are hoping to bring bandy back to this country because, after all, this is where it all started.