Watergate Bay Beach polo draws record crowds
Top professional players treated an estimated 3,500 people to a thrilling exhibition of beach polo at Watergate Bay last night (Thursday 16 September).
A record crowd watched Veuve Clicquot Polo on the Beach, which saw Midas Construction ride out as convincing winners over Joules – inspired by a blistering performance from England international Andrew Blake Thomas.
The final scoreline, Midas Construction 9, Joules 5 1/2, did not reflect what was in fact a fiercely-fought contest, with the lead changing half a dozen times throughout the match before Midas blitzed their opponents in the final chukka.
Commentator Peter West, a highly respected figure in the sport, was full of praise for the spectacle: â€œThis was beach polo at its best – some of the finest beach polo Iâ€™ve ever seen and a much faster game than last year. Youâ€™ve got two exceedingly well balanced sides out there – itâ€™s been fast and furious and a real treat for spectators. Itâ€™s a great privilege to be able to commentate on something I would happily pay my own money to watch.â€
The hard packed sand of the two-mile-long beach made for an ideal playing surface, allowing the game to proceed at a very fast pace from the outset.
Starting with a half goal handicap advantage, the Joules team of Andy Burgess, Jamie Le Hardy and Richard Blake Thomas made the early running in the first chukka, piling pressure upon their opponents in the goal mouth. But it was Tim Vaux of Midas Construction who scored first as he guided the bright orange ball up the beach, holding off persistent challenges from Joules riders to calmly knock the ball between the posts. Ed Olof doubled his teamâ€™s score with an under the neck shot, but Joules quickly responded with a goal from international star Jamie Le Hardy, who struck on the break a minute before the hooter sounded for the end of the first chukka.
The lead in the match changed hands throughout the second chukka, with Joules going ahead for the first time through a goal from Richard Blake Thomas, who rode on to the ball at speed to score soon after the restart. After a pause in the action to allow the goal scorer to change ponies following a fall, play restarted at a furious pace with Andrew Blake Thomas regaining the lead for Midas with a goal scrambled in at the goalmouth. Captain Andy Burgess struck back for Joules with a long-range hit from the middle of the field, the ball creeping over the line just before half time to give his team a lead of 3 1/2 goals to 3.
During the interval spectators flooded on to the pitch to smooth the playing surface – a polo tradition known as â€˜treading inâ€™, where divots in the turf are stamped flat.
Starting the third chukka was a moment of pure sibling rivalry, as Andrew Blake Thomas and his brother Richard rode off against each other on a charge towards the Joules goal. Andrew emerged victorious to score for Midas, only for Joules to immediately claw a goal back through Jamie Le Hardy. Andrew Blake Thomas then displayed a brilliant piece of skill, scoring a goal with a backhand shot from close range to give Midas a lead of 5 goals to 4 1/2 at the end of the third chukka.
With the scene set for a final chukka showdown, spectators were bathed in golden light as the sun burst out from behind the clouds.
Midas piled on the pressure, scoring four goals in quick succession – two each from Tim Vaux and Ed Olof – to give their team an unassailable 4 1/2 goal lead. Joules never gave up, however, with Richard Blake Thomas narrowly missing the chance to score an undefended goal at the other end, hitting out at the goalpost in frustration. He made amends in the very next play by scoring what would turn out to be the final goal of the match, making the final score Midas Construction 9, Joules 5 1/2.
Picking up the Shop on the Beach trophy for the Most Valuable Player was Andrew Blake Thomas. He said: â€œI thoroughly enjoyed it – it was a lot quicker this year and there was a higher goal rating on each team. Everyone played their backhands and there was some hard marking. Also the field was a lot flatter so we were able to keep the ball moving which made it a lot more entertaining. And thereâ€™s nothing like beating your brother!â€
Also picking up a special trophy was Tibu, the pony ridden in the fourth chukka by Andrew Blake Thomas. Tibu won an embroidered horse blanket after being judged the Extreme Academy Best Playing Pony.
For organiser Andy Burgess of South West Polo, the event was a great success – despite finishing on the losing team.
â€œIâ€™m really pleased at the way itâ€™s turned out – the polo was a hundred times better than last year, with some of the best players weâ€™ve got in the country playing. The response you get from the crowd is awesome, everybody gets really behind the teams. Getting to see this standard of polo is a real eye-opener and in this setting itâ€™s just awesome, and I hope it inspires some people to take the game up.â€
Veuve Clicquot Polo on the Beach will return for a fifth year in September 2011. Dates are yet to be confirmed, but will be announced at www.watergatebay.co.uk/polo and on Twitter at @PoloOnTheBeach.