Spring Break had an awesome time at the London Open 2011 and managed to nab 5th place. I was extremely tired on day two (from organising and stressing) and felt I let the guys down a little. Ryan had also had a hectic week of no sleep as he was off to Canada the following Monday (we miss you Ryan)! But enough of the excuses, here’s the highlights video and a piece I’ve written for the event for publication (photos taken by London’s Robb, he has an awesome eye).
London Open 2011 article by Jon Marshall
The London Open bike polo tournament is a great idea on paper: encourage some of the best hardcourt players to compete in our fair city and never turn away any team with a desire to take part. Realising the idea is another story altogether though and the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the London bike polo community, the largest group of mallet wielding enthusiasts worldwide.
Last year’s event was a big success, a big success tucked away in a remote part of Southwark. But still, we hosted 48 teams from 13 different countries and we managed to build upon our legacy after starting the European Championships in 2009. The idea of the tournament is sound, although some say we’ve created a monster: what happens when over 50 teams want to compete? 100 teams? 1,000?
It’s a good potential problem to have. There are now over 26,000 bike polo players worldwide (predominately playing within North America and Europe) and there’s a huge amount of growth expected for the next couple of years across Asia Pacific and South America. Some of the grass polo clubs are starting to take notice in Africa and India too, the hardcourt game is definitely here to stay.
Looking to the future can be overwhelming and the plan for the London Open 2011 needs putting in place: “Money? Location? Promotion?” It’s at times like this that being a recognised sport would be a huge help, we’d sign on the dotted line and watch from the sidelines as our pockets filled with cash and our stands filled with spectators, maybe. Maybe we’d simply lose the grease that keeps bike polo moving forwards: the sense of community.
We chat between throw-ins (where players share a beer and play games with random teammates until the sun goes down) and discuss the need for extra courts this year. In London it’s a hard enough challenge to find one suitable bike polo court, so how will we source two or three? The decision is made: we’ll use one of our favourite new courts atop Hackney Downs and construct the additional courts alongside it ourselves, it’s easy when many hands make light work.
We were incredibly lucky this year to have Le Coq Sportif and Crumpler join 14 Bike Co (2010 sole sponsors) in financing the event and after a few months of hard work (and lots of red tape) the tournament comes together beautifully. There’s a buzz amongst the London bike polo contingent as we pull together to promote the event worldwide and source a couch (or three) for the international players to call home for a few days.
The Friday before the tournament rolls around and all the players are encouraged to take part in a traditional London “polocat” so they can get their bearings. Some of the check points surprise the newcomers as they attempt to complete a challenge with their mallet on fire, or a brief naked roller sprint whilst getting covered in glitter by the London ladies. Liquor was consumed and new faces were introduced to each other before they were given a deadline for being on court the following morning… a few teams disappear into the distance, eager to get a good night’s sleep.
The London community are courtside at 8am to help dress the site, everyone is given a role and we await the arrival of the teams. Every bleary-eyed player has their bike checked over before being labelled “fit for purpose” and is briefed on the tournament schedule for day one (five qualification games each in swiss rounds format). The first games get underway and the excitement and heckling starts in earnest, old rivalries die hard and the different cities start to band together in support of one another.
The game vastly improves each year with increased speed, bike control, stick handling and shot accuracy. A few players show off their new way of pivot turning the bike (spinning the bike around your planted mallet), or shots from the reverse side of their bike (swinging back with your right arm and then forwards behind your back before making contact with the ball). By far the biggest improvements come in the form of team drills and set plays that are shouted between teammates mid-game: Some taking advantage of weak defensive movement, some trying to draw the other team out to mid-court and some simply playing the long balls on the breaks to a teammate that just “knows” when to go.
Saturday turns to night and the majority of players head to a local pub for free pizza and beer whilst the Londoners put the site to sleep. We join them in high spirits and everyone hashes out what went wrong (or right) during the day’s play. The top 36 teams have qualified for the double elimination brackets on Sunday and the bottom 16 will take part in a “ones to watch” tournament, there are smiles all round as everyone gets to play more polo tomorrow.
The teams have their final briefing on Sunday morning and now every game counts: Lose one game and you’ll have to fight your way back to the final via the loser’s bracket, lose another game and you’re out of the tournament until next year. The all-star teams are now upping their games, challenges for the ball become much more ferocious and the spectators start to line the courts as the tension rises.
The teams that start to dominate include: Supersonic – an all-star team comprising two-parts Polosynthese (European Champs runner’s up) and one-part L’Equipe (three times European Champions); Call Me Daddy (French National Champions); Cosmic (London League winners and UK National Champions); Nice Touch (London League runner’s up and UK National runner’s up); Spring Break (London League third place and UK Nationals third place); Hooks (European Champs third place, French Nationals sixth place) and Monkey Punch (mixed city team from Germany who were fifth at the European Champs).
Supersonic and Call Me Daddy dominate the winner’s bracket and put out Hooks, Spring Break and Cosmic with a consistently accurate game from Supersonic and a fast, decisive game from Call Me Daddy. In the loser’s bracket Cosmic dominate and show that experience counts as they put out Spring Break and Nice Touch (who beat Hooks the game previously), both less mature teams with only one season under their belts. Call Me Daddy beat Supersonic in a tense game to claim a place in the final, before Supersonic knock out Cosmic in the loser’s bracket semi-final to earn the chance to take on Call Me Daddy again (although Supersonic must win the final twice to be crowned London Open Champions).
With the sun edging behind the trees it’s all eyes on the centre court as Call Me Daddy and Supersonic prepare to joust for the ball. Both teams have a portion of the crowd behind them as the cheering (and heckles) build up to a rumble, the ref urges everyone to hush so the game can start. Call Me Daddy leap from their end of the court with impressive speed which they seem to maintain for the first few minutes but Supersonic seem to be working out Call Me Daddy’s blocking game after their previous encounter in the semi-finals. Call Me Daddy seem to tire a little and make a few errors allowing Supersonic to take a lead which they extend over the course of the 20 minute game, the final score is 4-2 to Supersonic and both teams will now have to play an untimed final to decide the victor.
The crowd rumble once again as the teams take a five minute breather before being asked to take their positions, last minute tactics talks can be briefly overheard from each end before the ref requests that the second final gets underway, the teams pick themselves up and prepare to charge, their shorts have been pulled up since the previous game.
Call Me Daddy win the charge and seem fighting fit again after their brief rest, their relentless blocking game offers the odd opportunity but Supersonic don’t seem troubled and wait for their turn to attack on the breaks. Supersonic take a lead and start to control the game with a solid defensive strategy and accurate fast passes down the court. Both teams are using their left-handed player well with Call Me Daddy’s Will opening up exciting lines to goal and Supersonic’s David being mallet-side-in for quick passes on the attack.
Supersonic extend their lead and Call Me Daddy take a goal back to make it 3-1, the players start to look tired as the minutes roll by and the passing plays of Supersonic open up more space than the blocking plays of Call Me Daddy. A couple of big crashes end in two-on-three scenarios with both teams getting another goal to make it 4-2. Supersonic then make their own blocking move in front of Call Me Daddy’s goal and it’s all over with Supersonic’s Mo scoring the winning goal to crown the team London Open 2011 Champions!
After the prize giving and site take-down everyone reflects on the weekend and all the effort that was needed to make it a reality. We were incredibly lucky to play host to one of the hottest weekends of the year and we’re also incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many good friends that have no problem working hard in the heat of the moment.
There is a final push on Monday to disassemble the courts and put them into storage under our favorite polo pub, even the foreign players have showed up to form a human chain down through the beer latch as all the wood is tucked away neatly. Everyone resurfaces from the cellar to share a pint and reminisce once more. Talk soon turns to 2012’s event and we’re going to need more volunteers… it’s going to be even bigger and better.