Well, this year’s European Championship was as awesome as the previous years, it’s always a thrill to see so many of the European polo community come together in one place, big respect to all the Barcelona guys for organising everything, it’s always a mammoth task!
Spring Break arrived Thursday morning and caught a blacked out bus all the way to the courts with two thirds of Tornadoes and one third of HERoeZ (traveling in style). After missing the turning for the courts (and after some fretting from Tornadoes and HERoeZ that they’d miss their first game) we arrived at the courts where some last minute throw-ins were underway.
After catching up with some Euro friends (mid morning beer anyone?), the wildcard tournament got underway and put the courts to the test. The low court height meant checks along the boards were banned (instant 30 second penalty) which was a bit of a shame, everyone loves to see some enforcer action now and again! The surface was also fairly slippy and the non-padded players seemed to be suffering a little with the constant impacts. On the plus side though, the main court was huge (and in the shade!) and each court had a proper electronic scoreboard, always handy for mid-game glimpses of the clock.
Spring Break spent most of the day drinking and heckling before going to collect our apartment keys and preparing some evening food for the girls. In hindsight this was a bit silly as we missed their last two games of the day… constant updates on Challonge isn’t quite the same as being courtside. Tornadoes and HERoeZ missed out on qualification by a small margin (Tornadoes missed it by one goal), shame. Still they all played well and London was apparently already repping hard in the support/heckling stakes, good stuff. The girls (and Josh) got sprayed in champagne that evening for their troubles… on to day two!
Spring Break still weren’t playing on the Friday (you either played Friday or Saturday in Round Robin groups) so we supported the other London teams and reffed a few games. Surprisingly there were lots of teams doing well by “D-ing” up in goal and playing one on the hustle. This is always a shame to see and it’s why the “hook the keeper” tactic is a legitimate one… there’s nothing worse than seeing a team dominate a game with shots at double goalies all over the court, only to lose by one goal on a cheeky break by the other team (the slippy courts made tracking back and covering the breaks pretty tricky).
On to Saturday and it was our turn to play (whoopee)! We were in the “hardest” group with El Club, MSM, Monkey Punch, King Salami (wildcard winners), Hyenas, Torino Bike Polo and DFA. We won our first game 5-0 against Torino, but then lost to Monkey Punch 2-1 after they defended extensively and caught us sleeping with two awesome shots… lesson learned: Only hook the keeper when you have control of the ball on your own half (we were pretty manic for the duration of this game, very fun). We then beat MSM 4-1 and were feeling in good shape.
Unfortunately next we came up against “wildcard” and were perhaps feeling a little too confident. King Salami destroyed us 5-1 and were much hungrier for the game, with more speed, aggression, communication, etc. Oh dear, we’d now have to fight hard to stay in the tournament as only the top 4 of 8 went through. We won the next game against Hyenas 4-0 and then had El Club to play.
The game against El Club was pretty dirty, both teams were downing the opposition off the ball (with elbows in turns or by cutting across the opposition’s path at speed – a t-bone screen if you will), Bill called Jono on a more obvious reckless check on the ball and gave a 30 second penalty, before we knew it, we’d lost 3-1 with plenty of bruises for our troubles. Our final game was against DFA and luckily we managed a 5-0 win which put us through to the double-elimination day in 4th place. Not convincing, but good enough.
Sunday morning we were up early despite the hangovers and had drawn Hooks for the first round of double-elimination (who we’d previously beaten twice in Brighton). It was a really fun game with both teams fighting hard, Hooks got a last second goal to win 4-3 and Spring Break were in the loser’s bracket. In hindsight we played Hooks too furiously, often challenging to win the ball in their half, leaving us to be broken on (3 on 2) with our hustling man now out of position behind the ball, another lesson learned (in the future we’ll turn with the player instead until they’re in our half) and Hooks leave their court with big smiles on their faces.
Next up were South Cat who we beat 5-1 (another team that tried to play defensively, although Ryan’s hooking kept them from causing an upset). We then got a taste of the main court (much larger than the other two and in the shade) against Budapest. This was our game of the tournament, with some awesome long plays, full possession of the ball and lots of London cheers to keep us going. Jono missed a winning goal just before time, but with 4 seconds on the clock went and fetched it again and passed to Ryan who hit it home, good stuff, 5-0.
Our final game was against Alejandro’s Los Pelos team, we struggled here and all seemed to be playing at 50%. After an initial leading goal, we seemed to get lazy and before we knew it they had equalised. They then got another goal and we realised far too late that we needed to get back in the game. An “iffy” call by the ref penalised our last break to goal because two players had crashed, we were given possession of the ball back in our half, but with 20 seconds to go we couldn’t find another scoring opportunity, Spring Break were out and stuck with 13th place.
We’d have loved to beat Los Pelos and will give them more of a game in the future, perhaps we were too busy thinking about our next game (a chance to destroy hooks on the big court) rather than concentrating on the immediate game-at-hand. We were a little disappointed with out final standing but now want to get back to training hard for the London Open in July… after seeing some of the abilities of L’Equipe, Polosynthese, Hooks, El Club, etc, we need to get faster and more technical. We’re hoping a grippier court plays to our advantages a little more so we can get the Spring Break mojo going again, fingers crossed.
Our tournament highlights were the Cosmic vs El Club game (super speedy), L’Equipe’s performance throughout, Guns At a Knife Fight taking out Bambule’s keepers at full tilt and the London community supporting each other in bucket loads.
A Spring Break compilation and some footage of the final are below, it’s only been a few days but we miss Barcelona already, tournaments are the highlights for bike polo players and the crowning jewel is surely the European Championships, see you in 2012.