Scottish curling history is long and deep, spanning at least 6 centuries. So if MCC wants to find a tradition to emulate as we celebrate our own first century, there’s no better place to look than Scotland.
When MCC takes to the natural ice at Tenney Park on Feb 11 (signup here!), we will be broadly modeling our Centennial Grand Match on Scotland’s hallowed Grand Match.
The Grand Match is an outdoor curling event between the north and south of Scotland run by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in which teams from across the entire country compete. First played on January 15, 1847, it quickly became “the great national gathering…the nation’s bonspiel.”
The number of curlers that gather for a Grand Match is staggering. 300 played the first year (1847) and that number more than doubled the next (680 curlers in 1848). When more than 5,000 spectators also showed up, the combined weight actually caused the ice sheet to tilt, not only causing great concern for safety but also skewing how the rocks would run. The RCCC then commissioned a tract of marsh to be flooded as a permanent and shallow site; 25 Grand Matches were held there from 1853 – 1935.
The 1929 Grand Match was the largest one ever, with 2,500 curlers and about the same number of spectators. Imagine the ice crew’s labor preparing the required 300 rinks! A favorite side activity is estimating how much weight is present on the ice during a Grand Match, counting the curlers, viewers, stones, and of course, bottles of whiskey. For 1929, it was an estimated 200 tons! (Incidentally, 1929 was the first time women curled in the Grand Match.)
Always dependent on weather conditions, the Grand Match has never been able to be a guaranteed annual event. Held only when ice conditions allow (ice thickness of at least 7 inches), there have been 38 in the 174 years since its inception, with the most recent being 1935, 1959, 1963, and 1979. Some are fearful that 1979 might have been the final outdoor Grand Match due to warming winters. In 2000 to celebrate the millennium, the RCCC established a spin off event: an indoor Grand Match. It is held every five years at about 17 participating ice rinks across Scotland, still north against south, with the winner being the side with the most accumulated points.
But as the RCCC acknowledges, “Curlers are nothing if not ever-optimistic” holding out hope for “maybe next year.” Indeed, it would be brilliant to once again have “370 tons of happy hectic humanity…throwing stones at one another” on a frozen lake of Scotland.
To get a sense of what the 3-hour spiel was like, enjoy this 7-minute video of the 1935 Grand Match at Carsebreck Pond, courtesy of the National Library of Scotland. https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/6030
The History of Curling: Scotland’s Ain Game by John Kerr (1890)
“The Grand Match” at www.scottishcurling.org/curling-history/grand-match
The Curling History Blog at http://curlinghistory.blogspot.com/2010/12/grand-matches.html