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Encyclopedia > Winchester College football
Match around 1840.

Winchester College Football, also known as Winkies, WinCoFo or simply "Our Game", is a code of football played at Winchester College. It is akin to the Eton Field and Wall Games and the Harrow Game in that it enjoys a large following from Wykehamists and old Wykehamists but is unknown outside the community directly connected to Winchester College. The Winkies season is during Common Time (January-March). Image File history File links Winchester_football_(1840). ... Image File history File links Winchester_football_(1840). ... 1840 is a leap year starting on Wednesday (link will take you to calendar). ... Look up Football in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Winchester College is a well-known boys independent school, and an example of a British public school, in the city of Winchester in Hampshire, England. ... The Kings College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor, commonly known as Eton College or just Eton, is an internationally renowned public school (privately funded and independent) for male students, founded in 1440 by Henry VI. It is located in Eton, Berkshire, near Windsor in England, situated north... Harrow School, normally just known as Harrow, is one of the worlds most famous schools. ...



Winchester Football was originally played down the length of Kingsgate Street, with each team attempting to move a football from one end of the road to the other, with little or no rules or regulation to spoil this most primal version of the beautiful game. The only tribute modern winkies bears to this earliest form of the game are the measurements of a modern canvas, fitted to a particular section of Kingsgate Street.

Most likely after one broken window too many the game was moved a safe twenty minutes walk away from the College to the flat, grassy top of St. Catherine's Hill. The game persisted with few rules, but now required a long line of junior men to keep the ball from rolling down the slope and disappearing into the canal below.

The first addition to winkies which remains almost unadulterated in the modern game were then made when the lines of kickers in became depleted due to injuries caused by overenthusiastic players colliding into them whilst in the pursuit of rogue balls, and ropes were erected down the lengths of the pitch, supported by nine solid posts.

In the early nineteenth century, the necessary changes to the rules were standardised to create relatively the cultured, civilized affair that it is today. The fundamental rules of "dribble" and "tag" were added at this stage, presumably followed by the other rules. The game was also moved from the top of St Catherine's Hill to where it is played now, on Meads, as well as in Palmer Swamp. At the same time as this move, the lines of kickers in were finally replaced by canvas sheets, and very soon afterwards by netting, in order to allow others to appreciate the game without the aid of a ladder.

The Pitch

Winkies is played on a pitch known as a "canvas", which is approximately 80 metres long and 15 metres wide flanked on either side by 2 and a half metre high netting designed to prevent balls from being kicked off the pitch. Approximately a metre in front of the netting and running parallel to it is found a thick one-metre high rope supported by nine stout posts at intervals along the canvas (seven on some of the smaller pitches on Palmer Field). The distance between two adjacent posts is known as a "post"; hence the total length of the canvas is eight posts. The inaccessible area between the ropes and the netting is known as "Ropes". The area off the end of the pitch is known as "Worms".


Major matches are played with teams made up of 6, 10 or 15 people, though some inter-house competitions are played with different team sizes. In VIs, there are two "kicks" (full-backs), one "hotwatch" (half-back) and three "hot" (scrum) players; in Xs, there are two kicks, two hotwatches and six hot players, and in XVs there are three kicks, four hotwatches and eight hot players.


The aim of the game is to kick the ball (a standard association football) into Worms - the area at either end of canvas. A football is a ball used to play football. ...

There are a few main rules in Winkies and most revolve around the basic principle that each team can only kick the ball once before the other team touches it. These are called "tag", "dribble", "behind your side", and "handiwork". "Tag" occurs when a team-mate kicks the ball, and a man on his own team then kicks it without waiting for the other team to touch the ball. If, however, the ball goes backwards off the first kick, the second man may play the ball "down", ie kick the ball lower than five feet up. "Dribble" is much the same, but occurs if the same man touches the ball twice. "Behind your side" is designed to stop people loitering up the pitch. Once a man on your team kicks the ball, you must endeavour to get back to the point where he kicked the ball from before you can move forward up the pitch. "Handiwork" is any illegal use of the hands. Only the kicks (full backs) can use their hands to control the ball. Any other man may catch the ball on the full toss, but use of the hands at any other time is deemed handiwork. A catch on the full toss by any player enables them to take up to three steps and then "bust" (punt) the ball, usually as far as possible. Breaking any of these rules means that play is brought one or two posts back for a hot (scrum).

In a standard team of 15 men, there are 8 forwards, known as hotmen, collectively known as the hot, who play like a rugby scrum. Whenever the ball goes out of play, or a minor foul is committed, a hot is held. This can be held on ropes at the side, where the object is to flick the ball past the opposing team, thus making them all offside and forcing them to retreat under the "behind your side" rule, or into the middle of the pitch. However, unlike in rugby, the ball cannot be hooked by any player until the front row of one hot is entirely over the ball, at which point the ball is "through".

Once the ball is out of the hot, the hotwatches (half-backs) try to get the ball past the hot, either to kick the ball into Worms, or to kick the ball into Ropes. Alternatively, they can choose to knock the ball backwards to a better placed 'kick', remembering that the kick must play the ball down. If at any stage during the game the ball enters Ropes, it is usually the job of the hot to go in and retrieve it, by getting the other hot out of the way.

The winner is the team with the most points.


Points are awarded as follows: Behind: 1 Point; Conversion: 2 Points; Goal: 3 Points.

A 'Behind' is scored if the ball enters Worms after first been touched by an opposition player or if, at any stage after having been kicked by the attacking player the ball is in Ropes (the area between the nets and the rope). They can also be awarded if a team is penalised enough Posts to cross back into worms. Once a Behind is awarded play resumes as follows. All members on both teams except the Kicks on the scoring team must cross into Worms. The ball is placed one metre in front of Worms along the centre line of the canvas. The ball is then played forward by one of the opposition players, usually one of the Kicks. The ball must be "down" and go at least two posts before stopping or entering ropes. At this point the Kicks on the scoring team aim to kick the ball back over into Worms. If they succeed in doing this they score a 'Conversion', and the 'Behind' is converted to a 'Goal' - 3 points rather than he initial one ar awarded. Play then resumes from a 'Bust Off'(punt). This is where one of the opposition Kicks plays the ball out of his hands from Post 1, his objective being to get it as far down the canvas as he can manage.

A 'Goal' is scored when the ball enters Worms without being touched by an opposition player and without being in Ropes. After a Goal is scored play resumes from a 'Bust Off'.

OTH, Commoners and College

The houses of Winchester College are split up into 3 groups. These are the Old Tutor's Houses (OTH, in brown and white shirts), consisting of Furley's, Toye's, Cook's, Chawker's, and Hopper's; Commoners (in red and white shirts), consisting of Kenny's, Freddie's, Phil's, Trant's, and Beloe's; and College (in blue and white shirts), the scholar's house, which fields teams on its own. Each group has a captain who is responsible for organising their Canvasses and selecting the teams for matches.

Major Matches

The single biggest match of the Winkies season, and the most attended, is XVs (Fifteens). It takes place before leave-out in Common Time and is played between Commoners and OTH with teams of fifteen.

The following Tuesday and Thursday after XVs are the two College Xs (Tens) matches. This is where College play Commoners and OTH with teams of ten.

Towards the end of the Common Time is VIs (Sixes) which is the same situation as XVs but with teams of six. This usually isn't so well attended as XVs but the popularity has been rising due to the greater speed and standard of the game.

VIs is preceded by College VIs, again this is the same as Xs but with teams of six men instead. In these 6 matches each side plays 4 games allowing each a chance at a Grand Slam, though Commoner/OTH grand slams are generally more celebrated than College grand slams. College grand slams, although being less celebrated, are far more impressive as it means that this single house has succeeded in beating the teams fielded by the ten other houses - however, College usually face slightly weakened teams to account for the advantage given held by the other houses. The last grand slam was in 2004 when Commoners were unbeaten. The last College grand slam was in 2003.

Until recently the canvases were only reseeded at the end of each season and this led to a gradual degradation of the surface. Now areas are returfed each year and the College Canvas (the Wembley of the game) is properly drained. This has encouraged the development of so-called New Winkies, a much faster set of tactics invented by OTH and principally associated with the names of Andre de Haes, Tom Rae, William Herbert, Mike Bailey and coach Nick MacKinnon. New Winkies had its first success in 2005 VIs when a good Commoner side was beaten 52-26 by OTH. It is thought that this VI is maybe the best six that have played together for any Commoner or OTH team. Each department had individual brilliance surrounded by a great team spirit. A skillful two footed hotwatch in Bailey, a powerful yet skilful hot in Prichard, Herbert and Hawkins and two exceptional kicks in Rae and De Haes. It is thought by some that New Winkies will lead logically to the end of XVs in favour of Xs, but this is not the opinion of the originators.

On the last day of Common Time is 'Long Game'. This is a 15-a-side match played by 1st year men (who have been playing the games for just one season) from Commoners and OTH. This is usually quite popular as it is a preview of new talent on both sides. There are also 2nd and 3rd year Long Games but these are usually quite minor.

Other Matches

Two other notable matches are Herman Pot and Poon Pot. Both are played on the morning of the last day of Common Time. Herman pot is played by the VIth Book I men from Trant's and Phil's. These two houses are traditionally two of the strongest Winkies houses and they are both on Culver Road (as such it is a Culver Road Derby). The match is attended by both houses in full and, as all the players are out of their usual position and slightly the worse for wear, it's quite an entertaining game. The result is always twenty seven and a half all. Poon Pot is the same premise but played between Beloe's and Furley's (a Kingsgate Park (KP) derby) and is always refereed by Mr. Nevin. Recently these two matches have been copied with matches between Chawker's and Cook's (Edgar Road derby) and College and Toye's (Kingsgate Street derby) also being played.

Jun XXIIs is another end-of-term game, although somewhat less competitive as the score is by tradition seventeen and three quarters all. It is played between the junest twenty-two Collegemen who are not otherwise engaged and two top-year Collegemen, usually including the captain of College VI. It is refereed by the Aulae Prae, who will award free busts to all and sundry, giving any reason he chooses. The Bogle Prae (the most Sen Collegeman to keep a bicycle in College) will cycle up and down Ropes, and the crowd will periodically throw buckets of water over the players. Afterwards, a Hot is held in Logie, the stream which runs between the College buildings and the Warden's Garden.

Cocke Pot

There is a annual match between Toyes and Chawkers called Cocke Pot which takes place during the week before half term of the Easter term. It is thought of as a grudge match and was created by G.Frere-Cook and Andrew Fremlin-Key in 2006 due to the closeness of the two houses. In 2006 Toyes dominated the first half before Chawkers heroic comeback to level at 31 all at the end of play. Key players include K.Noble, T.Woodward, B.Hale, A. Fremlin-Key, M. Lyo for Chawkers and C.Moore, G.Frere-Cook and A.Marriot for Toyes. Toyes play in their traditional baby blue kit (normally supplied by D.Pakenham) and Chawkers in their favoured pink attire.


The principal tactical determinant is the wind. This usually blows from the South West towards College, the ad Coll. direction. H.A. Jackson (coach of OTH for many years and the Bill Shankley of the game) is said to have first posed the riddle: "Under what circumstances in Winchester Football does one win the toss and elect to play against the wind?"; to which the answer is: "Under NO circumstances in Winchester Football does one win the toss and elect to play against the wind". The normal approach therefore has been to win the toss, rack up a big lead, and then run the clock down in the second half by use of a variety of time-wasting tactics, the main one being to use hotting superiority to deprive the opponents of the ball. For this reason it was always reckoned that strength in hotting was crucial, not so much to secure the ball, for once won the ball must be immediately surrendered, but to delay open play. In the era of very wet canvases it was possible for the side with the inferior kicks to win a game provided they had enough weight in the hot and expertise in delaying tactics.

Factors leading to tactical innovation

Several factors have come together to make this tactical plan out-dated. In season 1997 College managed to win their VIs against OTH and Commoners by utilising an enormous OP called Sam Wass. Wass secured College very clean ball after pushing the hot two posts. The OTH captain James Pickering suggested at the end of the season that the rules should be amended to reduce the effect of a Wass-type player in what was meant to be a game of kicking skill not brute force. The following season the Pickering Rule was introduced, offering the offended against captain the option of a hot on ropes if the ball was kicked out of the canvas, an option that had hitherto been restricted to offences in close play down ropes. In 2005 season, partly in response to concerns about safety, it was decided that the ball would be called "through", and the hot ended, once the hot had travelled half a post. With dry Januaries and returfed canvases the possibility of the heavier side staying in control of the ball was much reduced. OTH coach MacKinnon, drawing on experience from the court game Fives, then observed that one or two good players in the court game Winchester Football could easily take on eight opponents, especially if their average skill level was low. The final piece of the jig-saw that produced New Winkies was Andre de Haes's observation following the drawn XVs in 2005, that the plants raised by his own team were stopping him from scoring goals. He thus articulated the main paradox of Winchester Football: uniquely among team games your own players can be a disadvantage to you even when they are onside and playing well. If they are offside they are unquestionably playing for the opposition.

New Winkies

In New Winkies the whole team defends, but once defence switches to attack only four hotwatches strung out parallel to the ball, and the front kick, take part at all. Ideally once breakthrough is made only one player carries the attack, thus removing the possibility of offside and tag. That player (who will often have made a diagonal run from the middle of the parallel line, thus outflanking the melee created by the beaten opponents) kicks the ball repeatedly hard and cannot be penalised for dribble. The remainder of the team are spread four posts back, waiting for easy catches and flyers from defensive panic. It is then easy for the referees to see the opponents breaking the rules. The hoped for outcomes include free busts for prevention of goal by offside and obstruction, and behinds for dribbles and tags. It is a tenet of New Winkies that a behind is better than a goal. Thus far the tactics described are essentially those of Commoners during the High-Fontes era. The true innovations are designed to evolve in every rally the ideal situation of a small number of active attackers against a large number of weak defenders, with the attacking side's weaker kickers well back. This is achieved by only sending one or two boys into the hots on ropes (now much more common because of Pickering) and even sending only three boys to the hots in the middle (now that the maximum loss of ground is one post, and bearing in mind that the hot is already two posts forward, because a side playing New Winkies does not often break the rules in attack; if they break the rules in defence there is no hot because a behind will usually be awarded). Success in New Winkies presently depends on a side having the better front kick, and the method has gelled around the commanding figure of Tom Rae. When both sides finally adopt these tactics it will depend on which side best understands the implications, and can harness the greater speed of thought. It has already been described as "just a kicks' game" but in fact it is the hotwatches who carry the game to the opponents. Teddy Pybus's formulation best catches the spirit. "Arrive at the ball and do anything you like so long as you kick the ball really hard. Eventually a situation will be created that will allow you, or the front kick or exceptionally the hot men deployed well back, to score."

VIs tactics

Tactics in VIs remain closely guarded secrets, though it has already been observed that the mammoth 2005 victory margin for OTH was created by simple use of the parallel man, allied to de Haes's technical mastery of defence. Strategic matters (heavyweight hot or six footballers?)are much more out in the open, because the selection of a canvas is public, and selection of the final VI has also always been public, though it seems to the game's gurus that this is an error, and that the team that the opponents will face should be secret up until the first hot of the game. VIs is the most interesting version strategically because six boys are never enough to cover all the conditions a side may face. A balance has to be struck between good footballers and strong hotters and the danger is always of falling between stools. There is a school of thought that a single very strong hotter playing at OP who is unable to do anything else is worth his weight, and this was amply proved by the example of Collegeman Sam Wass in VIs 1997. Also a left-footed kick may be worth selection over an otherwise better right-footed rival.The selection in VIs is like that for a fantasy football team: compromises have to be made. In New Winkies XVs the strategic attitude is more that of American Football's Special Teams: only 25% of your team might be playing at any moment so there are resources to cover all eventualities.


Understanding defence in Winchester Football is aided by the point of view that the game is played in a four-dimensional cuboid

{(x, y, z, t), 0 < x < 8 posts, 0 < y < 27 yards, 0 < z < ∞ feet, 0 < t < 3600 seconds}

Defence is the simultaneous control of x, y and t relative to to the score and the wind direction, with a subsidiary attention to z, for the wind speed varies with z as does the probability that dangerous opponents will make a catch.
The cornerstone of defensive tactics in Winchester Football matches for many years has been the assumption that conceding a behind (1 point), is always preferable to a goal (3 points). Therefore the defending team endeavoured to keep the ball in ropes hoping to keep the score for that rally to at most one point. However with the advent of New Winkies, coupled with the now flat and dry pitches, teams with good kicks are becoming gradually more and more likely to convert a behind, making the long-standing ropes defensive strategy less useful.
In the 2007 XVs match, using an extreme version of the New Winkies tactics known as The OTH Way, captain Pybus opted to play with one fewer standard hotwatch, two back kicks (the left-footed Jo Sayer and the right-footed James Plowright) and in effect two front kicks, Tim Lewis in the orthodox position in the pocket behind the hot and Angus Graham playing almost a libero role between his own worms and half a post behind Lewis. On a majority of occasions only three men were sent to hot in the middle, and only one man to nearly all the hots on ropes.
The three man hot concept is still poorly understood by the uninitiated, used to short games on Palmer field. The critical factor that a superior hot delivers is not control of x, but control of t, and a three man hot ensures that the game will not be delayed by continual hot offences, nor by tactical less-than-full-strength hotting by the superior side. Control of 600 seconds in the time dimension is far more important that one post of distance in x, though of course an 8-on-3 hot could achieve considerably more control if it were able to manipulate x and y. However the rules against wheeling reduce this possibility, perhaps regrettably: the wheel-heel and score technique perfected by Commoners in the 1980s is no-longer permitted.
The OTH Way turned out to be almost optimal and Commoners were unable to find the right lengths to receive or deliver their kicks. Pybus had rather rashly predicted in The Wykehamist match preview that the tactics would lead to annihilation for Commoners, but he was proved correct by the 53-31 final score, on a muddy day with non-stop drizzle that would conventionally have implied a victory for an enormous Commoner hot. This completed the march away from the misery of the 2005 losing draw that had given the first inklings of the new tactics. Sayer was able to play aggressively throughout in his left corner, hardly ever kicking the ball to touch and never tucking it into ropes. The ball came deeper to Plowright on the right but only on one occasion did he have to tuck the ball away (resulting in an inevitable Commoner behind) but he knew by then that his metronomic accuracy with the kick out would mean no subsequent conversion. In fact the superiority of The OTH Way tactics was even so masked by the remarkably consistent busting-off of Commoner captain Richard Wood, who answered almost every OTH goal and conversion with a behind from his bust off. The fact that as well as the superior hot Commoners also had by far the best buster of the ball (OTH failing to score from two four post busts) showed again the irrelevance of conventional metrics for assessing the chances in XVs.
In the post-mortem it was argued by hot watch Sam Donald (whose own remarkable interventions gave him the right to an opinion) that an even more extreme version of The OTH Way should be pursued in the 2008 season. A rational assessment of the match does point that way, except that one factor was not present in the 2007 match, namely the wind. On a windy day it must be politic to retain a fossil Old Winkies team within the XV in order to apply the standard delaying tactics against the wind. The old "if it's muddy you need a big hot" adage has been conclusively dismantled and need never detain a Way-playing captain again. But will the new tactics function so well playing against a strong ad:Coll wind? In the optimal version of The OTH Way would the captain not lead out thirty players from War Cloister to the Coll: worms, consider the wind strength and the result of the coin toss and then direct the ideal XV to take the field? This would require a degree of discipline in the XXX that would once have been thought unachievable, but Pybus's unprecedented hold over all XXX of the players on the OTH canvas is surely an indication that it is not an impossible vision.

Winchester Football in South Africa and South America

Winchester Football was the most popular football game before the arrival of Rugby in the early 19th century, and later association football. It has long been rumoured that there are still schools left in South Africa which play Winchester Football, but these rumours have never been confirmed. It is also believed that street Winchester Football is being played in Bolivia, and certainly the game's authorities in Winchester have been consulted by Bolivians about the rules.

See also

During the early modern era students, former students and teachers at British public schools developed many unique codes of football. ...

External links

  • Winchester College website
  • Steven Bailey, "Living Sports History: Football at Winchester, Eton and Harrow"

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