Slide tackles | Football proceeds on ice, in the name of research

Ben Molyneux of the RRS (Royal Research Ship) Ernest Shackleton, a BAS resupply vessel, posts on 27 Feb 2005 about an away fixture against King Edward Point base members on South Georgia Island, an early-20th-century whaling center in the South Atlantic. The match site was selected for its significance in whaling and football lore. Molyneux, with the time afforded at sea, apparently consults source materials covering the early days in Grytviken, the island port established by Norwegian captain Carl Anton Larsen in 1904.

The hallowed pitch on South Georgia Island.

Tales celebrating creation of the island’s first pitch become elevated in Molyneux’s diary. We read of grown men weeping for lost memories “as the sun set over Cumberland Bay and the flencing knives were finally exchanged for mugs of warm beer.” On one such evening, Vic Noskfithrskula, a young whaler, set out with candle and pickax to construct a full-sized field. Although whaling operations ceased in 1965—some 175,250 whales were caught from South Georgia Island in this 61-year period, according to the whaling museum (Hvalfangstmuseet) of Sandefjord, Norway—the pitch remains.

“The match was definitely a game of two halves,” recounts Molyneux of the game played in this young whaler’s honor.

Shackleton’s first half was downwind which had a big part to play in the run of the game. For the downwind team a useful tactic was the lofty lob towards goal allowing one of the forwards to glance the flying ball deftly into the goal. … Obviously the hours of tactics discussion was paying off. What [midfielders] Ben and Hef lacked in ability they made up for in tenacity. Each chased, harried and kicked like men possessed forcing the tiring [South Georgia] squad into schoolboy errors and basic mistakes. The mighty forwards were quick to capitalise and sent the all-stars into an early lead.

Despite the halftime switch, the Shackleton crew held on 12–7. Yet another remote land mass, where elephant seals now “snooze among the conveyor belts that once carried blubber to boiling cauldrons,” had proven a suitable home for the most widespread of recreations.

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