THE countdown has started for this week's Cultural Olympiad event in the central Borders with a search for an ancient football cup.

Two football matches will take place on Saturday in the middle of a forest outside Selkirk.

The �500,000 project has come in for criticism as well as support.

But organisers are confident the games will attract a great deal of support.

And they are hoping an ancient trophy from another football game that took place near Selkirk almost 200 years ago will give the event even stronger local links.

Carterhaugh ba' took place in 1815 and saw teams drawn from the estates of Duke Charles of Buccleuch take on the men of Selkirk, Hawick and Gala in a contest involving hundreds of players and very few rules.

Sir Walter Scott, responsible perhaps more than any other figure in the arts for raising the issue of Scottish cultural identity, was involved in designing a commemorative 'cup' or plate and was present on the day.

Forest Pitch will see some 60 players, many of them people new to Scotland, take part in football matches on a woodland pitch on the Buccleuch Estates.

Craig Coulthard, the artist behind Forest Pitch, said: "Sir Walter Scott had an immense influence on Scotland's sense of cultural identity and on how the nation was perceived by the wider world.

"These issues are just as important today at a time when Scotland is debating its future, and at a point when its population has become so incredibly diverse.

"There are some fascinating parallels, and differences, between the Carterhaugh ba' and what we are doing today. Both displayed a passion for amateur sport and both tell us a great deal about the values and ideas of the times in which they took place.

"Something that particularly interested me is that the Scottish Football Museum told me that Sir Walter Scott was involved in commissioning a commemorative cup or plate, but have no idea whether it still exists - if it does I would love to see something which takes us so far back in the game's history." The idea for the Carterhaugh ba' originated at a dinner held by Duke Charles at Bowhill House. He and his brother in law, the Earl of Home, would captain a team of shepherds, farmers and other tenants.

On 4 December they faced an opposition made up of a large body of men who had marched 12 miles from Hawick to join up with teammates from Selkirk and Gala. All enjoyed a dram before play started.

Curator of the Scottish Football Museum, Richard McBrearty, has spent many years researching the early history of the game.

He said: "The Carterhaugh ba' was a very important game and very much a part of Sir Walter Scott's drive to assert a strong and positive identity for Scotland. Football was a game with a tradition stretching back hundreds of years in the Borders, and he wanted to tie in with that.

"There is a letter that shows Sir Walter was closely involved in the design and commissioning of a cup or plate which was to be awarded by the Duke to the opposing team. It describes how they had tried various different designs.

"I would love to know if someone still has it - so far I have not been able to find out, but if anyone knows we would love to know where it is. If so, it must be about the oldest commemorative award in Scottish football."