The World's Oldest Football – Stirling, Scotland - Atlas Obscura

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The World's Oldest Football

Stirling Smith Art Museum & Museum

Tucked away in this local museum is a piece of sporting equipment that dates to the 16th-century. 


Just below Castle Rock, beneath the westerly shadows of Stirling Castle, lies the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum. Among all the various displays and artifacts that tell the history of this town that was once the seat of the royal residence, lies an item of particular importance. Showcased in plexiglass and surrounded by an information board that includes a certificate of authenticity, sits a rather diminutive artifact.

Sitting on a piece of green velvet lies a round object constructed from some type of animal skin, surrounding a pig’s bladder and held together with thick stitching. This leather ball was located in the rafters of what was once the queen’s chambers in Stirling Castle. It was discovered lodged in the ceiling during renovations in 1981 and hails from the reign of King James V. 

It’s believed this ball, which is half the size of a modern football, may have once belonged to Mary Queen of Scots. She was a child at the time and all persons, including royals, participated in the activity that was to become known as football/soccer. There is some evidence that this ancient relic was either kicked very high and forgotten about, or was placed in the rafters to ward off evil spirits.

Know Before You Go

Entry into the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum is free of charge. It operates Thursday to Sunday, from 11 am to 4 pm.

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