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Polo for the Brave

June 27, 2012


Overcast’ is this year’s ‘blue sky’ but in the polo world the situation is growing ever more serious. Livelihoods are being threatened by tournament cancellations, match pile-ups and increased strain on horsepower due to the heavy going – if and when games get going at all. Luckily the grounds at Coworth Park are amongst the best draining in the country, so while their top-end irrigation systems quietly rust off to one side at least Polo For The Brave in aid of The British Forces Foundation and the Household Cavalry Operational Casualties Fund was able to go ahead as planned. Our thanks to the decision makers for allowing this to happen, as the post-match repairs needed to the number one ground would have been nothing short of a labour of love for the Head Groundsman and his team.

Charity polo matches are traditionally the dullest polo matches imaginable. Often the best way to make them truly unbearable is to add a 10-goaler to sashay around at the back and execute some delightful aerial displays with the ball when passing anywhere near the crowd. You don’t need to know anything about a sport to know that none of the participants have a stake in the game and, as a result, that no one really cares. Not caring is to polo what not caring is to almost everything else in life – the capacity for interest from everyone involved is greatly diminished.

Fortunately names in sport have the power to stir up old rivalries, respect and that all-important urge to win.  No two names in polo can bring together players who overlap in the game’s professional sphere quite like Hurlingham GB vs. The Commonwealth.  Add to this the sensational holidays kindly provided by Original Travel for each member of the winning team and you have a “high-goal” game worthy of the term.

The Berenberg International itself did not disappoint.  An encounter at this level, between two teams suitably galvanised to win for pride and a stunning prize, that ends with one team scoring in the final seconds to secure a half-goal win is always going to capture what the British Army refer to as the “hearts and minds” of any crowd.

Nick Britten-Long – who was born in Nairobi to a third generation Kenyan family and was playing under the auspices of his Kenyan roots – cleared the way from the number one position for the Commonwealth team to score two goals in quick succession and overturn with interest their ½ deficit from the start.  Throughout the match, goals arrived in pairs and James Harper provided the preparation work for Oli Hipwood to score the next two and the Commonwealth responded with their own double courtesy of some instinctive interplay between George Meyrick (a last minute UK replacement for the number 2 position) and Gareth Evans.  After half-time Tristan Phillimore seemed either to settle into the pace of the match or emerge from the lethargy of a stag-do the night before to follow the example set by Nick Britten-Long in the first chukka.  With the Commonwealth side unable to convert two penalties, Tristan prepared the way for some clinical shots from David Allen to re-establish the Hurlingham GB side’s 1½ goal lead – leaving the score at 6½ – 5 going into the last.  Penalties from both sides were wasted and two field goals in a row gave the Commonwealth team the fragile advantage with a minute left to play out.  The nerve of the two red collar umpires Roddy Matthews and Chris Hyde was not unduly tested by a last-ditch foul from Nick Britten-Long, who had arrived a stride short as the first man back in defence.  Hurlingham GB made a laborious display of not converting a 25-yard spot, claiming another last-last-ditch foul while running the ball in and finally converting from the second spot at a distance of 10 yards.  A comparatively quiet end to what had been an otherwise expansive encounter.

Wives and girlfriends on the Hurlingham GB side were ecstatic.  Wives and girlfriends on The Commonwealth side were less than pleased to see their holidays snatched away at the 11th hour.  Four players are now very popular at home, the other four less so.

The second match marked the first outing of the Wallerstein Team on British soil, as the visiting side took on the dominant force in British military polo – The Household Cavalry Regiment.  3-goaler Viscount Melville, or Bobby Dundas as he is known in the polo community, leant his prowess to the Wallerstein team and, by virtue of his 18-month attachment with The Honorary Artillery Company (Territorial Army) to The Household Cavalry in Afghanistan, Tim Johnson re-joined the Regiment to which he had been so tightly bonded. 

With a display of leadership that would have resulted in phone calls from the Army, Navy and RAF Polo Association’s in his formative years urging him to consider a spell in one of the tri-services, Bobby got the best out of Prince Carl, Princess Anna and Christian Badenhop and the result was never in doubt.  For their part, The Household Cavalry team has long been declared un-coachable due to their unerring ability to abandon their military poise and scamper around like giddy debutants with infectious but entirely unfocused enthusiasm.  In the past two years this has manifested itself in snatching defeat from the gaping jaws of victory at back-to-back Inter-Regimental finals. 

However, in fairness to the four players that took to the field, they produced a sterling effort against a side that was simply better on the day.  Every glimmer of hope was snuffed out by Melville and his three teammates and a hugely enjoyable game of fast, fun and competitive polo ended 5-2 in Wallerstein’s favour.

The joint prize giving began well, with the four teams arriving in individual Rolls Royces.  Oli Hipwood’s 15-year old Irish thoroughbred Guess was chosen as the winner of the How To Spend It Best Playing Pony rug and Tommy Wilson, for his role in shoring up the Commonwealth team from the number four position, collected the Baha Mar painting for Most Valuable Player.  Ross Elder – Berenberg Bank’s Managing Director and Co-Head Private Banking UK – presented the trophy for The Berenberg International to Tristan Phillimore who, having clearly established a strong second wind, light heartedly hoisted the trophy above his head.  The three professionals in the Hurlingham GB team either found the humour in their 1-goaler claiming the spoils of victory or they were all imagining themselves and their wives or girlfriends in various sensational locations around Europe.  The Backes & Strauss Diamond Jubilee Cup was presented to Princess Anna by Vartkess Knadjian and a photo opportunity with all the teams brought a happy and dry day to a fitting conclusion.

By raising in excess of £40,000, the Inaugural Polo For The Brave has not only ensured that this military charity fundraiser will return with the same relaxed atmosphere next year but also with the ambition to be in a good position to reach that symbolic six figure result for the charities involved.  Our immense gratitude both to the myriad of partners who ensured that this day was a success even before a single person had arrived, as well as to our VIP Lunch & Picnic Space guests for the generosity and enthusiasm that was so evident from beginning to end.


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