The long, dark, tournament-free winter came to an end with the first UK National Series event at Bristol’s recently acquired indoor venue last weekend. It’s a sports hall setup with great lighting, viewing galleries, space to socialise and organise, and they even have toilets. Such a well-run event at such a great location was always going to be popular, and the 25-team cap was reached within minutes of registration opening.
The team list was missing a few big names (most notably Cosmic) and no French/Swiss/German über teams decided to make the trip, so I felt confident of a top-ten finish, despite not playing with Black Stabbath since the BFF 2010. I could only identify five teams which I thought were definitely better than us. Another ten or so I felt roughly equal to, and the remainder I’d never heard of. So it looked likely to be a great tournament for mid-level teams such as ours. The seeding was released and we were placed 12th. Well done to whoever trawled past results to find our team!
I usually hate playing on indoor courts after my god-awful performance at the Griefmasters Bench Minor. It’s hard to judge grip on wooden or tiled surfaces, and it can really affect your confidence when you slip at a crucial moment. So I suggested to my teammates that we get up mega-early, in time to get there to have a few throw-ins before the tournament started. Sure enough, we were first to arrive. One of the benefits of living in Birmingham is that you’re usually less than two hours from wherever you want to go.
Fin and I got a game before the tournament and I thought it felt really good. Fin was less convinced, but then he had a squared-off Marathon Plus on the back. Andy didn’t bother.
As the tournament went on, I fell more and more in love with my bike and tyres. I could feel it slipping when I really pushed the limit, but it was that rarely achieved situation of the front and rear wheels sliding in unison, neither over- nor under-steering. When I felt it start to go I had plenty of warning to back off a bit, or jab the pedals to kick the back out and self-correct. It was awesome, and I mentally awarded myself the 2012 Marino Bike Designer Award for Perfect Weight Distribution Qualities in a Polo Frame.
The tournament was to be 5 Swiss Rounds, followed by double elimination for the top-16 teams.
Black Stabbath 2 – Passed It 1
Our first game was against a mid-level London team. I was concerned about playing Bill, as he’s lefty, and since Dan_LJ’s departure from Birmingham polo we haven’t had much practice playing against one of those. He was replaced by someone else though, and the game went our way. I felt we had control of the game, and I missed a sitter and hit the post, so we could have won by more.
Be Right On 5 – Black Stabbath 1
Brighton’s Danny had been up in Birmingham for a few games in the preceding weeks, so we knew they were going to be good. This was the first of three games in which we got the early lead, but failed to exploit it and went on to lose. Brighton racked up the goals steadily until we were 3-1 down with a few minutes less. We took risks playing three out and they punished us with more goals. They absolutely deserved to win, but I think the score flattered them a bit.
Hacked Off 2 – Black Stabbath 1
On paper this looked set to be a good game between two evenly matched teams, and so it proved. We went out and got the early goal, and they fought back hard. This was the first game where shit got physical; I particularly remember some uncompromising play against the barriers with Andre (I think). All totally clean and fair, but the smaller guys on the previous teams didn’t push me like that. It was an awesome game to play, and felt like a clash of styles. They put three out quite often, but I think we defended really well, and didn’t allow them to get in close. It was 1-1 for ages, until they snuck in a slap-shot late on, or was it golden goal? I can’t remember.
Black Stabbath 5 – Piripiriatrics 0
We didn’t know what to expect from these guys, but almost immediately after the charge I came together with one of their players (Sandy?) and an awkward fall into the barriers was the result. It didn’t feel like a foul to me, but we could see he was hurt so we stopped to see what had happened. He got up but his shoulder was messed up, and he decided not to play on. There were frantic calls for a substitute, but Angelo was busy comparing and contrasting the pizza oven to his own, and they couldn’t find anyone else who wasn’t already in the tournament. Personally, I would have been happy to let them sub someone else in of roughly equivalent standard. Anything would have been preferable to the game of shame we played against their two remaining players. The boos echoed around the court as we scored goal after goal into an open net. Fin suggested we sit someone out, but I knew we needed the goals, and the victory, after our previous two games, so we played on. A new low…
Black Stabbath 5 – The Commies 0
The Commies are a new team from Canterbury. It’s great to see polo spreading, and in their previous games they had put in spirited performances, hampered somewhat by one of their players’ ridiculously slippery front tyre. We expected to win, but thought it could be a messy game. Nothing could have been further from the truth. It was strange, but we stayed in total control and played really slow and picked them apart. The last goal we made was a lovely long pass from behind our goal, right up to Andy who slotted in a first-time wrist-shot around their goalie’s back wheel. Perhaps our pre-game ritual of Rollapaluza-style sprints on the court-side exercise bikes woke us from our bed-time drowziness.
We finished the day in 11th place, almost exactly where we started it!
We awoke the next day with fresh heads for a change, and checked out who we were playing.
Pouces En L’Air 3 – Black Stabbath 2
These guys had done really well the previous day, and finished the tournament in 5th overall, so I was expecting a bit of a drubbing. Valentin was ripping teams apart with lefty bullshit all day long on Saturday, and both John and Harvey are big boys so as our team’s cruncher I was expecting to be a target. As it turned out, neither really came to fruition. We controlled Valentin well, and I don’t think he scored. I had some fun shoulder-barging moments with Harvey, but it was on one of these breaks that he got past me and scored another last-seconds winner. For the third time we’d squandered an early lead! It was a great game though. Into the losers bracket we went.
Black Stabbath 5 – Passed It 1
I can’t really remember much besides and encroaching worry that we would fuck up again and lose our lead. Fin was always looking to attack while I was just worried about conceding.
Spring Break 5 – Black Stabbath 1
Eventual winners, Cambridge’s Get In Wild put these guys down into the loser’s bracket, setting us up for a tough game. Although I doubt we would have done any better against the new superstars… I don’t remember much apart from feeling a bit outclassed. They seem to be able to control the game and change up their style as required, which I suppose comes with experience at the highest level.
All in all I think we neither excelled or embarrassed ourselves. We started the weekend seeded 12th, and finished 9th, which is going the right way, but I think other teams (Hackney Goal Slotters) did better. Our biggest failing was our inability to capitalise on the early goals we got. I don’t like – and hence don’t practice – sitting back and looking for a break, but perhaps that tactic would have worked in those situations.
Fin and I resolved to practice our mid- to long-range shooting, as you can’t often get very close to goal in competitive games, and we saw a lot of long-range slapshots go in. We need to work on dialling down the power from 100% to 80% to improve our accuracy, and make sure we’re only shooting against one goalie, though. Oddly, my favourite tactic of sneaking one in round the back with a wrist shot didn’t work once for me, and I hardly saw any goals go in with this method.
Big thanks to the Bristol players for putting on an awesome tournament. You guys are welcome to come and play in Birmingham any time!