QI has finally caught up with Memories. Last weekend’s programme, hosted by Sandi Toksvig, was on the subject of “oddballs”, and there was great hilarity when the fine sport of pushball came up. A picture was shown of pushballers with their 6ft diameter 50lb ball over their heads.

“So those people are about to die,” joked Jimmy Carr.

The guffaws grew as another picture flashed up showing people on horseback playing pushball.

Oddballs, indeed.

But, as Memories told in 2003, there were once plenty of oddballs here in the North-East – especially in Shildon.

Pushball was “invented” in 1894 by Moses G Crane in Massachusettes. Teams of 11 players had to push the monsterball into their opponents’ 20ft wide goal or, for a bonus point, over their crossbar.

Such excitement crossed to Britain in 1902 where it was premiered at Headingley in Leeds after which the massive ball – constructed from the hides of nine horses and which took two-and-a-half hours to inflate – went on a tour which included Middlesbrough and Newcastle and which climaxed with a big pushball event at Crystal Palace in London.

An equestrian version of pushball was added, and Edward VII went to see a game in 1904.

With royal approval, pushball went native – with Shildon taking it to its heart. There is a photographic record of a horseback game taking place in 1907, and Shildon Recall Society even has a set of rules for the horseless version of the game dated 1910 played by a team called All Saints Oakleys:

Pitch: 150 paces by 50 paces with a maximum fall of 12in either way. (Presumably in pushball, a significant slope would be even more advantageous to one side than it is in football). The boundaries of the pitch and a halfway line were marked out with chalkdust.

Team: Five players with three reserves.

Duration: A game of two halves, an hour long with a ten-minute break.

Ball: Leather, filled with dry hay and dry sand. About 6ft in diameter.

Push-off: the winners of the toss were allowed to push the ball two yards before their opponents could touch the ball. Similarly, when a goal was scored, the team pushing off to restart had a two yard advantage.

There must also have been some sort of offside rule, like in rugby, otherwise Team A could have sent their burliest player round to tear Team B’s pushers off the ball.

Pushball appears to have been booted into touch by the First World War, but there was a revival in the 1930s when the Daily Mail sponsored a pushball league in South Yorkshire and the News of the World promoted the game in Scotland.

In the North-East there are reports of the game being played in Sunderland (where the games, between shipyard workers and Wearmouth miners were rather violent) and Stanley, Crook, and Darlington where there was a Silver Jubilee Railway Pushball Competition in 1935. Harrowgate Hill took on Eastbourne with the winner being the team which pushed the giant ball into the town centre – Harrowgate Hill won the cup.

The Second World War pretty much put an end to such silliness, although Shildon did try to reintroduce it in the late 1940s when a pushball team was formed at the Cross Keys pub in Cheapside.

How very odd. Can you tell us anything more about pushball?