The prince expressly hath forbidden this bandying in the Verona streets.
– Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
As illustrated by this quote the concept of bandy is not exactly a new one. But what is bandy? Simply put, it's field hockey on ice, or maybe winter soccer.
How did it all start?
There is not clearly documented exactly when bandy became bandy, but in ancient Egypt 4000 years ago people played games with a ball or ring and bent clubs. This tradition was continued in Greece, and later in the Roman Empire, where it was called Paganica. This was probably where the Brits got it from, and there are pictures from around year 1000 that shows how a bandy like game was being played. Among the various sources there are stained glass windows in Canterbury Cathedral from around 1300 depicting the game. It was probably the Brits that exported the game to Iceland where it is called Knatterlekir.
On the British Isles the game split into three related games. Hurling in Ireland, shinty in Scotland and bandy or hockey in England and Wales. The name bandy actually comes from an old Welsh word, bando, which in turn comes from the Teutonic word bandja, meaning curved stick. It is probable that all these games were played on grass as well as ice, depending on season, but that in England the gradual difference between bandy and (field) hockey slowly got more seasonal.
Bandy in its modern form started in the English Fen district (Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire), where Bury-on-Fen was the early champion. In 1813 they were unbeaten for the last 100 years. If that was because they were great sportsmen or just shrewd negotiators is difficult to know. At that time the rules were agreed between the teams before each game. It was not until the forming of the National Bandy Association in 1891 that common rules were established. It was probably using these new rules that Bury-on-Fen beat Haarlem from Holland in the first bandy international. During the rest of the 1890s the sport was exported to Scandinavia, Germany and Switzerland.
So how do you play?
First of all you need an ice-covered field the size of a soccer pitch (110 x 65 m) with a low wooden barrier (10-15 cm) around. Then you need two teams with 14 players each, of which 11 can be on the ice simultaneously. Of these 11 one will be goalkeeper. That means defending the 2.1 x 3.5 m goal armed with nothing more that a good pair of gloves and cricket style kneepads. The rest of the team carries 1.2 m high sticks (they look like flattened field hockey sticks) which they can swing up to shoulder height to hit the solid orange ball, slightly smaller than a tennis ball. As opposed to the Gaelic sports mentioned above, it is almost no physical contact. Players are allowed to lean against each other shoulder-to-shoulder as they fight over the ball, but no tackles or offensive use of the club are allowed. Apart from that the rules are similar to soccer with offside, 2 halves at 45 minutes each, etc. The main difference there is that you can use and re-use the 3 substitutes as many times as you want.
Are there any championships?
Yes, since 1957 the World Championships are held every two years, arranged by the international Bandy Federation. Ever since then it has been completely dominated by USSR/Russia (14 times) and Sweden (6 times). However, in the last few years the sport has gained in popularity in USA and Canada, and it will not be too long until that domination is threatened.
In addition there is a World Cup for club teams arranged in Edsbyn every two years since 1974, and here the Swedish teams has been extremely dominant.
In Sweden, which is where I'm from, bandy is the third most popular sport after soccer and ice hockey. But the audience is much calmer and generally more dedicated. You have to be to endure 100 minutes (2 x 45 minutes + 10 minutes intermission) standing still outdoors in minus 10-15°C. It helps to pack your "bandy brief case" with some sandwiches and a thermos flask with mulled wine or a traditional vodka-coffee mixture.