The weekend got off to a bad start when both myself and the Manchester contingent got stung for £90 excess baggage (each) by overzealous check-in staff. I was worried it would put a dampener on the whole three days, but it seems everyone stuck in on their cards, sucked it up and continued to spend on beer, schnitzel and commerative t-shirts regardless.
I followed my nose out of the train station and quickly happened upon a bike path which had signposts to Messe Karlsruhe, the exhibition space just outside the town centre which was the venue for the tournament. An ever-present headwind made carrying my bike-box more of a pain in the arse than usual.
When I eventually got there, the first thing that I saw was the scoreboard through the revolving doors.
This thing was as key-part in the success of the tournament, I reckon. Due to the layout of the court, players tended to congregate underneath the sign, leaving the opposite side open for the many passers-by to see what was going on. Having country-based teams with mostly very clear t-shirts and handy explanation boards made what can be an esoteric sport accessible to all, and the non-polo-playing crowd was bigger at this weekend than at any other I’ve been to.
Karlsruhe’s organistation was incredible. They had cheap food and beer for players, discounted booze and food in lively pubs and the whole thing went off pretty much without a hitch. They also kept tallies of the high-scorers across the tournament (1. Manu/Swiss, 2. Hugo/French, 3. Matt/English) which added another aspect to the competition and authenticated the whole thing a touch more.
I’ll write separate posts with my first attempts at making readable match reports, but suffice to say France won. Their final against Switzerland was the best hour of polo I’ve witnessed – fast, accurate, and mostly clean. England’s performance was admirable considering a very mixed-ability team. I played some of my worst polo ever, but still had a great weekend meeting people, taking photos and making notes and getting pissed.
One of the first things we noticed was that the standard of play was more aggressive than usual. I think playing in a team of ten means that when you’re on court, you’re very keen not to embarrass yourself or make a defensive mistake, so shoulder barges and hacking can get a bit out of control.
The teams who kept a perma-goalie generally did better. Without lots of experience playing together, three-up-manship makes you very vulnerable to breaks and long shots.
Teams with strong regular lineups (ie, two or three ‘sub-teams’) had an advantage. Germany and Switzerland could rely on strong team lineups when they needed goals.
If you want a lot of court time, you need to make a strong impression early on and/or have a specialism like being fixed/lefty/heavy/fast/a goalie. If you link up well with another player, all the better.
Long games are a mixed blessing – when they’re close the atmosphere gets very tense. When they’re not the second half is incredibly boring. Mercifully, most games were very close.
Round-robin (where each team plays each other once) is a great format, allowing everyone to make predictions and comparisons, and also get loads of court time. But when the final is going to be team A v B, and they have an academic game towards the end of the group stages, that game should probably be cancelled, or played last as ‘the final’.
I witnessed more incidents of unsportsmanlike behaviour at this tournament than ever before. Especially pushing people’s dropped mallets out of reach. There should be a ‘fair play’ (or unfair/shame) award at each tournament to encourage better behaviour, and individuals displaying this level of dickmovemanship should be sin-binned for the rest of the game.
Bench-minor is good from a spectator stand-point, and if you’re one of the better or more reliable players on your team you’ll get plenty of court time and involvement. If you’re one of the weaker players on your team, you won’t get much court time (and rightly so – I took myself out of a few games to make life on the captain easier and our team stronger).
At this level, players using clipless pedals seem to have a considerable speed and stability advantage probably by virtue of being better-able to push harder gears.
The cheater-mallet debate trundles on. I’m thinking of going back to a traditional mallet, as my possessive/dribbly style works wonders in Brum, but against better players always lets me down. Although, to me, many of the most aesthetically-pleasing plays are courtesy of cheater-mallets (I prefer a controlled dribble to hacky/stabby play), and only a handful of players can dribble effectively without some kind of cutout.
Bike polo is awesome.
…general observations over.
Overall, I had an excellent weekend, and I really appreciated how BM mixed things up a bit.
The return journey was a mess, although we didn’t get charged excess baggage this time. Asbo and Netto decided not to bag-up their bikes until boarding the train, which led to a 10-minute train delay and lots of disapproving muttering from our fellow German passengers. Then their relaxed attitude extended to them sitting in the bar a few minutes too long and missing their flight. At least Woody got to have his third McDonalds of the day.