This year’s London Open ran at breaking point: 82 teams from 15 countries, 14 additional all-female teams (for Hell’s Belles Vol 2), 3 courts to be assembled and disassembled within a 6 hour window, rain storms sent from Neptune himself and 4 epic polo parties, here’s a (delayed) write-up.
During the months leading up to the Open the team list was becoming quite intimidating… many players had decided to abandon their usual teams in favour of creating international super-teams. Three teams of special interest were: PSG (Call Me Daddy’s Greg, Guardians’ Dustin and Iron Ponies’ Clement), Midwest OG (Clobber Politics’ Ben, Beaver Boys’ Brian, and Kev) and Reverends (L’Equipe’s Manu, Beaver Boys’ Kremin and Call Me Daddy’s Will), intimidating stuff!
As always though the real charm of the Open came from allowing every team the opportunity to compete, we hosted many fledgling teams from the UK including: Schnick Schnack Schnuck (Canterbury), BCC Polo (Frome/Somerset), Fenwicks (Oxford/Glasgow), Kim Jong-Il Memorial Society (London) and Sac Magique (Canterbury).
The Thursday evening Welcome Party at London Fields Brewery allowed everyone to share their memories of the Worlds (hosted the weekend prior) over a quiet beer. Many players drank more than their fill as only the girls had to be up bright and early the next day for Hell’s Belles Vol 2. We were kicked out at around 1am and everyone was guided home by their hosts (who’d generously offered up a spare room, a sofa, or some floor space to the most travelled teams).
Friday gave the girls the opportunity to shine and shine they did: Rolly Polly Dollies (Elena, Nora and Shannon) topped the qualification rounds and Cunning Stunts (Cherri, Maija and Suzy) showed their experience by qualifying a close second.
During the elimination rounds London’s very own Tornadoes played consistently awesome polo (they’ve had an awesome year) to take the winner’s bracket slot against Rolly Polly Dollies in the final. Tornadoes won the final 2-1, much to the delight of the LPC… it would have been awesome to play an untimed final but unfortunately we’d already run out of daylight (in hindsight we should have used single-elim as planned, but the teams voted to go with double-elim).
Friday evening we retreated to Pub on the Park for a hog roast and to present the prizes and trophies to the winners. The rain kept us out of the beer garden but failed to dampen our spirits. All the female players seemed jubilant at the prospect of more games (they were all competing in teams for the Open too), the looming wet weather forecast was banned from conversation and a good time was had by all.
Saturday morning signaled the start of the London Open and the first group of teams (morning round) were registered and ready to play in good time. The morning was a bit of a blur as we were struggling to keep on top of relieving referees, whipping teams, chasing unpaid reg fees, sorting out vendors, litter picking, court improvements, weather proofing everything and the impending registration of the midday teams. Perhaps the ratio of hungover zombies to willing volunteers was to blame, thankfully a core team of awesome volunteers meant we only lost about 20 minutes of game time overall. I didn’t catch any of the morning games but PSG finished top and Mix (Jamal plus Mambo and Deesk from Japan) finished second which was an awesome feat!
Saturday midday meant it was Spring Break‘s turn to play, we won our first three games and drew our fourth against Midwest OG. Adam and Ryan were playing well but my head was in the clouds. I don’t really remember much about any of the games except for the fun exchange of checks during the Midwest OG game (unfortunately the boards were pretty flimsy at times as the budgets were much tighter this year). Bromance were chuffed to qualify in second place for the midday group, they played very well in all of their games.
The afternoon group was next and just as all the teams had registered the rain started to increase in volume. The teams still played their first round of games with enthusiasm, although the games on court 2 were mostly played underwater. Morgan provided a much needed lifeline to the drowning teams by organising the removal of waves and waves of water via a human chain. We’d started the afternoon group in high spirits as some aggressive whipping had earnt back 15 minutes of game time to bring us back on schedule, but now it seemed we were pissing in the wind and crossed our fingers that the rain would stop.
The rain didn’t stop. The remaining courts flooded and the hardest of shots was reduced to a slow underwater crawl. Gazebos were held up by the penguin-like players below – clinging to each other to try and stay dry. A few players ran around in their under garments as the madness set in, everyone else struggled to raise a smile. All the generators and electrics had to be turned off, the scheduling cease, the spinning gears of the tournament ground to a halt.
We called off the afternoon group’s games and sent the players away to dry-off and get warm, the volunteers that stuck around to pack away everything in the rain were heaven-sent. The rain eventually stopped, but there wasn’t enough daylight left in the day to warrant trying to get everyone back on site, we went to the pub.
The contingency plan involved a 7am start for the afternoon bracket teams (brutal) and an initial round of “do or die” when we hit the elimination rounds. “Do or die” meant that if you lost your first game of the double-elimination process then you were out of the tournament for good, not ideal, but it enabled us to claw the schedule back from the brink.
PSG, Cocorico, Yank Your Wank (Nick, Koyo and Joey), Reverends, Midwest OG and Edisons all dominated their winner’s bracket games and were heading towards each other with each successive round. PSG narrowly lost to Cocorico who then narrowly lost to Yank Your Wank. Reverends beat Midwest OG, then Edisons and then us in quick succession to play Yank your Wank in the winner’s semi-final. Yank Your Wank took the winner’s bracket spot in the final by beating Reverends 3-2 and Reverends narrowly dispatched PSG in the loser’s bracket semi-final to give them another shot at Yank Your Wank in the final/s.
The first final was awesome with each team taking a one-goal lead before having it snatched away by their opponent. Lots of individual stick handling made for some speedy pressing plays up the court (often with a shot on goal), the ball would then travel at break-neck speed to the other end of the court as each team tried to catch each other on the breaks. It was a joy to see every player scoring goals and made for an unpredictable and exciting game, in the end Reverends took it 4-3 which meant there was going to be a second final, disaster!
Throughout the second day of the Open we’d been fighting to keep to a (possibly unrealistic) schedule as I didn’t want to cut another 16 teams with a second round of “do or die” (one round was bad enough). We were on schedule to finish the second final by dusk but a breakdown in communication earlier in the day meant all the games across all the courts had stopped for 15 minutes and there was no longer a way to gleam this time back. This meant we had been hoping for a single final and unfortunately it was going to be a double-header: “THERE’S NO TIME!”
Everyone was pretty amicable considering the light was fading fast, the make-shift mobile phone lighting helped a little and the teams played surprisingly awesome polo given the circumstances (passing plays were ruined by the dim light, so mostly it became a game of individual skill). Yank Your Wank ended up beating Reverends 5-3 to be crowned London Open 2012 Champions… the crowd’s favourite for MVP seemed to be Koyo who had gone from hungover legend to polo god throughout the course of the day!
Everyone was instructed to head to Electricity Showrooms for the after-party and prize-giving which was a riot, the partying continued into the early hours, with each after-after-party becoming more risqué than the last.
Overall I hope people felt this year’s London Open was a success, on a personal level it was very hard work to source both funds and volunteers for 2012 and I didn’t find it particularly enjoyable! It was also hard to see Adam and Ryan playing so well whilst I fretted about off-court antics and generally dropped the ball, sorry guys. Kev once told me that he feels tournaments become less enjoyable once they reach a certain size and I think he might have been onto something.
I absolutely believe that bike polo tournaments will continue to become more awesome as time goes on, but the future of the London Open is potentially a little uncertain: perhaps bigger is not always best?
Here’s the highlights video from the event, thanks Chan:
Thanks to all the volunteers that made the event possible and thanks to Paul for the above images, see his Flickr stream here.