British bulldogs (game)

British bulldogs (game)

British bulldogs (often the singular British bulldog, also Octopus, seaweed, Bullies or Bullrush) is a tag-based game, of which Red Rover and Cocky Laura are descendants, played mainly in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other Commonwealth countries by children at school. It was originated in Great Britain. The game is also known to have been played, often on asphalt recess yards, by schoolchildren in Rhode Island in the 1960s, under the name "Cock-a-Rooster." The game is characterised by its physicality often being regarded as violent leading it to be banned from many schools, although this trend is now being reversed.[1]

The play area is usually a large hall or large area of a playing field, though there are no definition of the size of the pitch nor the number of players as long as there is enough space for the players to manoeuvre and enough players to have fun.

Most commonly one or two players —though this number may be higher in large spaces— are selected to play the parts of the "bulldogs". The bulldogs stand in the middle of the play area. All remaining players stand at one end of the area (home). The aim of the game is to run from one end of the field of play to the other, without being caught by the bulldogs. When a player is caught, they become a bulldog themselves. The winner is the last player or players 'free'.



As is usual with games, the particular rules applied vary from location to location, but with the same principle. The playing area consists of a main playing area, with two 'home' areas on opposing sides (similar to the touchdown areas used in rugby or American football). The home areas are the width of the playing area and are usually marked by a line or some other marker.

Each game of bulldogs consists of a sequence of rounds, and it is usual to play a number of games back-to-back with different bulldogs each time. The game is initiated with a single player (or sometimes two or more players) selection may be determined by various means, but a common one is by all players standing in a circle with their legs apart, a tennis ball is bounced in the centre whoever's legs the ball goes through is "it". The objective for the non-bulldog players is to run from one home area to the other whilst avoiding the bulldogs in the middle.

Each round is usually initiated by the bulldogs chanting and goading, often, one of the bulldogs names a player to be the first to attempt the run from one end to another, and the bulldogs then attempt to 'catch' the player. As players are caught and turned into Bulldogs if they are clung to for the duration of the Bulldog exclaiming, "British Bulldog; one, two, three!" — having not reached the other side.[2] Another version requires the player's forward progress to be halted (for several seconds), for as long as the player is moving toward the goal he/she is not 'caught'. If the player successfully enters the opposing home area without being caught, they are considered 'safe' and may not be caught by the bulldogs. Players are also safe while they remain in their original home area, although there are sometimes rules for how long they may remain there. If they are caught, they become a bulldog themselves. Once the player has reached home or been caught, all the other non-bulldog players must immediately attempt to cross the playing area themselves, with the same rules applying (this period of the game sometimes being called a 'rush', 'bullrush' or 'stampede'). The bulldogs may catch any number of players in a single rush, all of whom become bulldogs. The round is then repeated in the opposite direction until all players have become bulldogs.


The aim of the game for the bulldogs is to catch all the players as quickly as possible, whilst the aim for the other players is to stay uncaught for as long as possible with the last player to be caught is usually considered the winner. In some variations, non-bulldogs become bulldogs if they go off a boundary, such as a line and they can be pushed off by bulldogs.


The game has been known since the 1930s as Pom-Pom-Pull-Away, Rushing Bases and Hill Dill.[3]

In general, the most recent loser chooses which player must cross the field on their own. In other variations, the single player can call a 'bullrush' at any time by shouting 'bullrush', brave (or foolish) ones will cross alone first. In some versions there is no choosing of players, and all players must attempt to cross simultaneously, the choosing of the first bulldog[s] is also subject to variation. Either the first or the last players caught become the bulldogs for the next game. In some versions, only the first player caught in each round becomes a bulldog, catching other players is simply for fun and has no strategic advantage. Sometimes, the players must run to a set target, the last one there becoming the bulldog. In some versions players may not re re-enter the 'home' area once they have left

The method by which a runner is caught varies according to local custom, but can involve physically tackling the runner to the ground. This form is sometimes known as "Take Down Bulldog" or "Bring Down Bulldog", normally played on turf. Another variation is lifting the runner off the ground. Due to the nature of such tackles, games with adult supervision usually use simple tagging (touching) to catch players. The physicality of the game caused it to gain some notoriety and to be banned in a number of school playgrounds.[4][5][6]


The game is normally played by children and offers an interesting means of letting off energy and involves rugged physical contact. It appeals to competitive spirits but at the same time produces ad-hoc team activity with all the "losers" endeavouring to bring the "non-losers" to the ground. The strongest, most athletic competitors will find it extremely difficult to win British Bulldogs as the number of bulldogs grows. Parents tend to deplore the game since it results in muddied and even torn clothes, bruises, bloody noses, knees and elbows and sometimes tears (when played on tarmac) but both boys and girls participate in it.

As a game of physical contact that results in a mêlée of people attempting to drag others down to the ground, Bullrush bears some similarity to a rugby scrum which may explain the presence of the game amongst children in a nation beloved of the sport of rugby. The game when played in Australia tends to be particularly rough, with the version known as Pile-ons or Cocky Laura being common.[7] However, hard contact sports are very popular in that country, constituting a number of national sports, and very rough play is considered a normal and healthy part of childhood in Australian culture. The violent nature of the game is reflected in its more common name of "Bullrush". Softer versions that only involve touching runners such as tag bulldog are generally treated with contempt in Australia, being regarded as a wimpy version of the "real" game.


"His neck was flexed forcibly while his head was against the floor, and immediately after the injury he had severe pain of the cervical spine ... [which] shows that games such as British bulldog can be as dangerous as rugby football."

British Medical Journal, June 1985

The game has occasionally resulted in slight injury, such as cuts and grazes, owing to its rough nature, but when schools started to fear more serious injury and legal action, many took the decision to ban the game. One such serious injury was reported in the British Medical Journal in June 1985, reporting a child had suffered a spinal injury whilst playing the game. Some schools decided to discourage the game, others implemented an outright ban. A 2008 survey of one thousand children by the British National Children's Bureau revealed a third of them had been banned from playing the game. Although no national ban was agreed in the United Kingdom, many schools feel that health and safety laws and regulations leave them no choice but to ban the traditional game.

Recently, there has been a change of attitudes towards the game. Many schools now see it as a traditional sport that should not be lost, an attitude which has prospered as concerns about how much exercise children do become more prevalent. In September 2008, the Local Government Association decided that, in an attempt to reduce child obesity, it would advise councils and authorities in England and Wales to encourage the game, along with other such playground activities. Nevertheless, some organizations fear the traditional game will still be lost as schools will introduce certain rules restricting the boisterousness of the game.[1]

A 2011 survey of a British Teachers' Union reports that the game is increasingly being banned by schools as they become more risk-averse.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b McFarlane, Andy (2008-09-02). "UK | Magazine | The return of British Bulldog". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-07-14. 
  2. ^ McQueen, Craig (22 October 2008). "New book celebrates games which were playground favourites of yesteryear". Daily Record. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  3. ^ Grover, Kathryn (1992). Hard at play: leisure in America, 1840-1940. Univ of Massachusetts Press. pp. 262. ISBN 0870237926. 
  4. ^ Sarah Thomson (2000), "Playground or Playpound: the contested terrain of the primary playground", Department of Education, Keele University, cited in "Break with tradition", Times Educational Supplement, 22 December 2000, retrieved 19 May 2007
  5. ^ "The games children play", BBC News Online, 21 May 1999, retrieved 19 May 2007
  6. ^ Alastair Taylor, "Barmy teachers ban tag", The Sun, undated, retrieved 19 May 2007
  7. ^ "Column 8". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 August 2005. 
  8. ^ "British bulldog 'vanishing from schools'". BBC News. 2011-04-19. Retrieved 2011-04-19. 

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • British Bulldogs (game) — British Bulldogs (often used in the singular British Bulldog or simply Bulldog [s] ) is a tag based game, of which Red Rover is a descendant, played mainly in the United Kingdom, Australia, and other Commonwealth countries by children at school.… …   Wikipedia

  • British Bulldogs — For the tag based game, see British Bulldogs (game). as the British Bulldog. For the Bulldogs, Great Britain s national Australian rules football team, see Great Britain (Australian rules football National Team). Infobox Wrestling team article… …   Wikipedia

  • British Bulldog — may refer to:* Davey Boy Smith, a professional wrestler known as The British Bulldog * British Bulldogs, a professional wrestling tag team ( Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid ). * British Bulldogs (game), a tag based game played mainly in the… …   Wikipedia

  • British Columbia Hockey League — Current season or competition: 2011–12 BCHL season Sport Ice hockey Founded 1961 …   Wikipedia

  • British Collegiate American Football League — The British Collegiate American Football League (BCAFL) was an American football league consisting of players from various colleges and universities in the United Kingdom. In 2007 it was succeeded by the British Universities American Football… …   Wikipedia

  • Tag (game) — Children playing a version of tag Players 2 or more Age range 3+ Setup time 1 minute or less Playing time …   Wikipedia

  • Minnesota–Duluth Bulldogs women's ice hockey — Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs women s ice hockey Current season …   Wikipedia

  • Batley Bulldogs — Infobox esl club | clubname = Batley Bulldogs fullname = Batley Bulldogs Rugby League Football Club emblem = Bulldog colours = White, burgundy and gold founded = 1880 sport = Rugby league league = National League One ground = Mount Pleasant web …   Wikipedia

  • Manhunt (urban game) — Manhunt refers to a number of variations on the game of tag. The goal is to avoid being tagged by anyone designated as it , or (for those already it ) to tag anyone who has not been tagged.[1][2] Some variations include teams and point scoring.… …   Wikipedia

  • Tri-City Bulldogs — The Tri City Bulldogs were a Canadian Junior Football team based in Coquitlam, British Columbia. The Bulldogs played in the B.C. Football Conference, which itself is part of the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL) and competes annually for the …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”