This round and rather plain looking object has a fantastic tale to tell. It is in fact the world’s oldest football at almost 500 years old – and it belongs to Stirling! It was discovered, like all real treasure, hidden away during building works at the Castle in the late 1970s. Tucked behind panelling installed in the roof of the Queen’s Chamber in the 1540s, a time when a young Mary Queen of Scots was living in those very rooms. We know from historical writings, that Mary was keen on sports – she played football, tennis and golf. It is not too great a leap of imagination to wonder if this football belonged to her, used in the castle courtyards and the royal gardens.
The football is roughly the size of a small melon, not nearly as large as the footballs in use today. It is made from thick leather panels which have been stitched together then turned inside out – making it much more aerodynamic. Inside there is an inflated pig’s bladder, which could be topped up with air whenever it got a bit too soft. You can see some stitching on the outside – these are places where the ball has been repaired, which tells us it wasn’t just for display but a much-used object which gave its owner a lot of enjoyment.
How did the football arrive in its lofty hiding place? Was it kicked there accidentally by a Queen? Or stashed away then forgotten about? Perhaps even deliberately placed there as a good luck token to ward off evil sprits (not as unusual as it sounds in 16th century Scotland)? We will never know for sure, but it’s a great story!