When I was just a laddie
I went and asked my maw
If I could have a tanner
To buy a tanner ba’.
For those not familiar with the Scots dialect or British coinage in the days before the conversion to pounds and pence (“decimalization”) in the early 1970s the term “tanner ba’” will probably require some further explanation. A “tanner,” as you might have guessed from the verse above, is an amount of money, specifically, a sixpence coin. A “ba’,” sometimes written without the apostrophe or as “baw,” is Scots dialect for “ball.” Thus, a tanner ba’ is literally a “sixpence ball.”
Made from cheap rubber and rarely measuring more than six inches in diameter, the tanner ba’ could be found in Scotland as early as the 1920’s, but it gained in popularity in the lean years following the Second World War and for several decades afterward. Much of the tanner ba’s popularity was due to its cheap price and its small size, which was well-suited to the alleyways and waste grounds of urban Scotland where much of the youth population was introduced to the game of football.
Many of Scotland’s greatest players in the post-war period- Jimmy Johnstone, Denis Law, Kenny Dalglish, Jimmy Baxter, and Billy Bremner, to name only a few- credit learning the game by playing with a tanner ba’ on makeshift pitches with makeshift goals for producing the ball skills, close control, and creativity that made them successful on both the club and international levels. It is might not be a coincidence that the disappearance of the tanner ba’ as cheap, full-sized balls became available in the late 1960’s seems to have immediately preceded the decline of the Scottish game on both the club and international level.
I chose to name this website The Tanner Ba’ for several reasons. First, to honor the humble, working class origins, of the beautiful game in one of the countries that gave birth to it. Second, because much of the content of this website was originally centered on the game in Scotland- from the Highland League to the Premiership- and of the national team that benefitted so greatly from the exploits of the players groomed in the “tanner ba’ era.” Finally, much of the remaining content of this website will be devoted to Major League Soccer, specifically, the New England Revolution and the U.S. national team. I am, after all, not Scottish, but Scottish-American, New England born and bred.
Thanks for stopping by,