Friday, 19 June 2009

Pitch n Toss!

Thanks to guest blogger Dan who relates the intricacies of a fascinating outdoor pursuit in Govan of old.
It was BIG before the days of television -- well, it was in Govan. Each weekend, Saturday and Sunday and every night during summer there would be pitch-and-toss schools in many places. No need for a stadium or players costing eighty million pounds -- all it took was a few pennies (old ones!) and, if you were like me, around ten years old, the permission of a very strict Mother who frowned on such an activity.
This, as well as ‘watching doos’ or going along to view one of the regular ‘battles’ between the Hoey Street gang and the Burndyke Street mob was a definite ‘no-no’.

Pitch and Toss was the ultimate in excitement -- presently to be compared with like-minded persons who have an interest in the Roulette Wheels of Monte Carlo or Card Tables in Las Vegas.

Picture the scene, a crowd of around 20-30 men (don’t ever remember any women being present, but there would be a few nosey wee boys, like me, wanting to see the action). It usually took place in a backcourt or a piece of waste ground or down at the bottom of Burndyke Street (as long as there was a ‘look-out’ at the top of the Street, in case ‘the polis’ came along).

The number of players was usually about six or seven, though there could be as few as two or as many as ten -- in fact, anyone who had a few pennies ‘to pitch’ up against the wall could take part in the game.
So, this was how the game started; in no particular order each player (gambler) took their turn ‘to pitch’ their penny to the wall from a line made in the dirt (distance, about ten feet). The person whose penny landed nearest the wall then took first turn at ‘tossing’ all of the ‘pitched’ pennies.
A big circle of the spectators was then formed and here, the game could get a bit complicated and ‘choices’ had probably been agreed upon prior to proceedings. The pennies could be tossed, two pennies at a time from the fingers of your flat palm (two heads you win, tails you lose, and a head and a tail you throw again).

An alternative, was to toss three pennies at ‘one go’ -- two heads would win you the three pennies or two tails mean you lose.
Second-nearest the wall would then be given the chance ‘to toss’ the pennies that were left from the first thrower and so on until all of the pennies were won.

There was skill in the pitching, some of the regular players were actually able to pitch and ‘stand’ their penny against the wall, which would win against a penny lying flat on the ground (touching the wall).
With the ‘toss’, there was, according to some, the opportunity to cheat. The pennies had to be tossed from the palm, tail side up, with the thumb well to the side -- however, it was claimed that putting the thumb above the pennies just as you were about to throw would cause the pennies to land as heads.

No fortunes could be made, even for the skilled or the cheat, since it would take a lot of pennies to make one rich. I feel quite sure though, that a ten-year-old was not noticing the side-bets that were being placed by the 20-30 spectators, on who was going to ‘head’ the pennies being tossed -- and this was where the real money was being made. Probably, all of one pound ten shillings or even two pounds on a good day!

1 comment:

sandra said...

I remember stopping with my Dad at an open piece of ground in Helen Street where some men had gathered and asking him what they were doing. He took me over and explained it to me and had a wee gamble himself while we were there. Can't remember if he won though!