One of the pleasant things about being part of a grass-roots sport such as bike polo, is that even fairly rubbish players of the game such as ourselves, can get invited to play at the European Championships. And so, in mid-July, myself, Ben and Dan (LJ) undertook a convoluted and way-too-early-for-breakfast journey which saw us arrive in Geneva:
After several wrong turns and false starts we elected to follow the convenient bike path adjoining the airport. It was entirely deserted, but took as all the way down the hill (Dan spinning madly on his stupid ‘fixed gear’ bicycle) to the courts:
We played a few sweaty throw-in games (whereby you mix up teammates randomly) with people from all over Europe. It’s always such a cool feeling to arrive at a tournament, especially one thousands of miles away from Brum, where there are literally hundreds of polo players. No more awkward explanations of ‘bicycle hockey/snooker/golf’ to passers-by! We met up with some of Manchester’s (2nd) team, Asbo, and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at the lake, which was awesome and clear.
After a few warm, budget beers from the supermarket, we retired to our free accommodation in one of the city’s famous nuclear bunkers:
Apparently, the city put up something in the region of £20,000 to put up the 150-odd players in these spotlessly clean and only slightly spooky underground buildings. At most tournaments, a massive effort is made to house players free-of-charge at fellow cyclists’/players’/sympathisers’ houses, but this was such a great result. Comfortable bunks and showers too.
Saturday saw the qualification games, with the aim of reducing the 48 or so teams down to a more manageable 32 for the double elimination tournament on the following day. We played 5 games in a tough group which included Toros (one of the top 3 teams in Europe, probably) and MGM (a ludicrously fast French team). We lost our first four games, which was entirely expected, although we scored in all of them except against Toros.
After such a humiliating morning, we had low expectations for our last game against Sparta, a bunch of Chileans living in Paris who ride brakeless-fixed with an emphasis on dirtiness. However, our mighty brakes were too much for them and we won a consolation game 4-3. Woot! (This gave us the distinction of not finishing last of the UK teams!)
The rest of the day passed in a drunken fug as we cheered for the other UK teams who had much harder routes to the Euros than us: Cosmic, Bad, Rotten Apples, Malice (all London teams), Fen-Boy 3 (Cambridge), Netto and Asbo (Manchester). Such is the standard of UK polo, they all made it through to the following day, with the exception of Asbo. And us, of course.
The Sunday was a double-elimination tournament, in which you have to lose twice to be knocked out. The games get more serious and often more entertaining at this point, as everything is at stake. One-by-one the UK teams fell, although it was clear that UK Champs Cosmic were going to go far. Apples too were performing well.
The day drew on until Le Equipe (Geneva) and Cosmic (London) made the final. The pre-game tension was punctured by polo’s first streaker:
It was an intense (and untimed) game, which finished 5-4 to the Swiss if I recall correctly. Le Equipe have dominated European polo for a few years now, although everyone else is catching up.
Celebratory drinks were drunk, goodbyes were said, and we retired for our last subterranean sleep.
We boxed up our bikes…
…and lugged them to the airport, tired and fed up with Laughing Cow baguettes.
Ben’s unfortunate doziness had been the cause of amusement all weekend, but he saved his best for last: forgetting that he had a beer in his bag as we went through customs:
Who will host in 2011?