I was a bit of a rider back in my youth. Rallies, gymkhana, showing jumping, dressage, x-country, you name it and my steed and I would try it. It wasn’t, however, until I had swapped my reins for an Oyster card, that I tried my hand at Polo – despite, ironically, learning to ride on a pony by that name.
It was about four years ago now, in the heart of Oxfordshire, that I paid £70 for an hour’s tutorial. Now, I am a competitive person and I don’t like being bad at things – or worse average at things. In fact, rather just be awful and never touch the sport again, than to be alright, okay, mediocre at it. This, sadly, was exactly what I was – distinctly average.
“It’s like hockey on a horse,” people conferred as they dismounted and loosed girths. ‘But, I can bloody well hit hockey balls,’ I thought sourly, as annoyed at myself, I returned my pony (under 15.2) back to its Argentine owner.
My second-rate experience of playing the sport did not, however, deter my interest in it, and so, when invited to the Gaucho International Polo at the 02, I accepted immediately. I wouldn’t, after all, be participating, I’d be spectating. And what a spectacle it was.
A fleet of Maseratis entered the arena, out of which came – to the roaring screams of fans – the English and Argentinean teams. Spotlights shone on each player while the big screen showed close-up photos and their handicaps. It was England’s number 3, with a handicap of 8, who was met with the most raucous roars. The captain; the very, very attractive captain, Jamie Morrison.
Two national anthems later and the first (of four) Chukka[s] began. Horses collided and sticks fought each other as the two teams waged Polo war. Penalties were awarded in multitude as international superstar Nacho Figueras clashed with the English four. The Argentines threw their hands up and bickered with the referee – they didn’t need to, for, fluffing under the pressure, Morrison missed not one, not two, not three, but four penalties.
Driven by their competitors’ misfortune, Argentina came back in the third Chukka, with Figueras scoring in the first five seconds. His goals were followed by another two from his team mates and it looked like it was all over for England. But, it wasn’t. We fought back and after some teeth-clenching ride offs, we scraped it back to 10 all. Sailing through the last-minute and Argentina scored again…30 seconds, 20 seconds, 10 seconds, 5 seconds…and then, then with 1 second on the clock, England was awarded another penalty.
Holding the edge of my seat, and trying to ignore a mouthy blonde who – along with having practically her entire mammary glands on show – was f-ing and blinding furiously, I watched Morrison approach the goal. Slow motion…come on…he raised his stick…contact with ball made…and…miss. No!
Even though the outcome wasn’t what we wished for, and England bit the dust in another penalty failure (it’s always penalties!), I’d had a brilliant time. For a sport that I’d only had an hour’s experience of, the 32-minute game had, had me gripped.
Privy to a priority pass to the club, my evening was topped off when I bumped into Morrison, who fresh with sweat from the game, agreed to pose for a photo with me!
Gaucho International Polo at the 02 = awesome.