February 16, 2017, by Kate Rothery

Guest blog: UoN Polo take gold at Winter Nationals

Guest blogger: Lucy Cox, Publicity Officer for UoN Polo Club


Every year, UoN Polo heads over to Rugby Polo Club to compete at the SUPA (Schools and Universities Polo Association) Winter Arena National Championships. As there is no BUCS polo, we compete under SUPA tournaments against every other university polo club in the country, rather than regionally. So, on the 9th February, UoN Polo Club took 8 teams ranging from beginner to intermediate to compete for 4 days in the world’s biggest arena polo tournament.

In university polo, there are two main tournaments; Winter and Summer Nationals. Winter Nationals are held in an arena, and Summer Nationals are held on grass. We train week in, week out, with the aim of competing in and winning as many categories as possible in these two tournaments. In the first year of university polo, you play at beginner level if you have never previously played. After a year of tournaments you are then required to move up to Novice and if a player progresses at an impressive pace, you may then move up to the top intermediate categories. For reference, a ‘game’ in polo is called a ‘chukka’.

We were already off to a confident start after two of our members, Minnie Kerr-Dineen and Sam Boreham had been selected to play for England in Arizona, USA last month. We had been training hard at Offchurch Bury Polo Club and squeezed in some friendly games against Warwick University Polo Club. Early on the Thursday morning, we left Nottingham to head for Rugby Polo Club for the first day of the tournament. We took two beginner teams to compete in the Beginner 3 and Beginner 4 divisions and both teams started the tournament with wins on the first day. In his first ever chukka at a tournament, captain of the Beginner 4 team Matt Godfrey broke a mallet and showed pure commitment to the sport when he attempted to continue hitting the ball, minus the mallet head.

There was much excitement for the novice teams who were taking on this division for the first time after playing as beginners the year before. Fall of the day went out to Khalid Wada who was galloping toward goal and proceeded to then throw himself off his horse and into it – which unfortunately didn’t count as a goal. Wins were brought in by the Novice 2A team (Francis Douglas-Lamb (C), Gwen Davies and Khalid Wada) against Brighton University and Bath Spa University. This ensured them a place in the top half of a large division of 15 other teams. The Novice 2B team (Betty Edwards (C), Lucy Cox and Megan Grandi) then had a win against the University of London. UoN Polo Club ended the day winning 5 out of 9 chukkas. We headed back to the hotel after a promising first day for curry, team bonding, and rest.

Day two came around with another early morning start. With only 5 chukkas for UoN Polo Club today, we could enjoy watching other teams play. The Beginner 3 team (Bridget Ratliff (C), Jess Macphail and Joanna McDonagh) proved they were a force to be reckoned with after a 3-1 win over Harper Adams University. Bridget stunned everyone after she won the line up every single time and terrified the other teams with her aggressive play and unexpected ball skill after playing polo for only a few months. Temperatures continued to drop and the snow started to fall, but play continued outside anyway. Despite the prospect of their chukka becoming a snow polo chukka (a different form of polo), the Novice 2A team still took on the University of Manchester and smashed out a 3-1 win. After getting off to a rocky first day, the Novice 3 team (Niamh Brown (C), Betty Edwards and Ellie Duncan) played their hearts out to win 5-0 over Stirling University in an incredible chukka to end the day. The club headed out for dinner that evening to build up our strength for the remaining two days of Nationals.

Day 3 saw the big teams finally come out to play. The Upper Intermediate team (Sam Boreham (C), Rob Brough and Al-tahir Murtala Aliyu) have been playing together for the last year and a half and during that time, they have taken 2nd place at both the Winter Nationals and Summer Nationals of 2016. The boys came back after summer more determined than ever to bring home the first place prize that they wanted so badly. The University Polo Challenge in November served as a warm up where they achieved first place, leaving them even hungrier to win Nationals. They cruised through their first chukka of the tournament to win 5-1 over the Royal Agricultural University. The pressure was on for the next chukka against our friends and training partners at Warwick University. However, it was meant to be for UoN Polo Club, and the boys finished their chukka with another 5-1 win. This meant that on day 4, they would play a two-chukka final against the University of Oxford in the battle for first place. Matt Godfrey of the Beginner 4 team struck once again in his chukka, this time with a truly spectacular fall – despite his best efforts to hang on underneath the pony’s neck. The Novice 3 team won 1-0 against the University of Leeds and despite playing in the near pitch-black; the Novice 2B team won 3-1 against Newcastle University in a hard and fast chukka. UoN Polo Club headed to the player’s party that evening with the theme of ‘under the sea’ which saw some top efforts featuring Gwen the starfish, Verity the lobster, Rob the UoN Polo Club submarine and Meg the jellyfish.

Day 4 was finally upon us, the day of the final chukkas. With temperatures continuing to drop and the snow continuing to fall, the entire club was thankful they had over-enthusiastically bought all of the new Player Layer kit; because we were definitely the warmest club with our many, many (player) layers. Tensions were high with the Upper Intermediate team and the Novice 2A team going into the finals to take 1st or 2nd place in their divisions. The Novice 4 team (Suzy Harrison/Gee Misson (C), Agonita Qerimi and Alice de Herder) had played a tough tournament until their last chukka on day 4, where they finally got the win they deserved with a 4-0 win over Newcastle University. The Novice 2A final against Warwick University was next which saw a hard chukka for two evenly matched teams which saw UoN Polo Club Novice 2A team into 2nd place. They did incredibly well and placed higher than any UoN Polo Club novice team has placed at Nationals for a very long time. Next up were the Upper Intermediates in the first chukka of the 2-chukka final against Oxford University where UoN Polo Club won 5-2. It wasn’t over yet though as there was still another chukka to go before victory was secured. Atta had managed to retain both of his stirrups today and there was a quiet feeling of confidence amongst the club. The time came for the second chukka and the whole club was on edge. This was it – the boys could finally be taking home victory after taking second place the year before. It was a hard chukka and Oxford University gave their all – but it was VICTORY FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM to win 3-2 resulting in an overall 8-4 win. The upper intermediate team had done it; they had won to become the NATIONAL CHAMPIONS OF 2017!!!!

President Rob Brough, Upper Intermediate team and National Champion – “Having only played for two and a half years, I could never have imagined playing polo at this level when I started, let alone to have won one of the highest divisions in a tournament of 166 teams from 35 universities. I want to thank all of committee for the work they put into the club and organising the tournament; and to all the players who have done extremely well this weekend despite several early mornings, freezing weather and very tough competition”.

General Secretary Gwen Davies, Novice 2A team – “This is my first year playing Novice and I’m extremely happy with 2nd place in a strong Novice 2 division, which made Winter Nationals extra special. We wouldn’t have had the result or anywhere near as much as fun without my amazing teammates Khalid and Francis, and our incredible new club and coach, Grant Collett”.

Sam Boreham, Captain of the Upper Intermediate team and National Champion – “I had no expectation of getting anywhere near the top in this division, we entered as real underdogs after we decided to move up a division. We really pulled it out of the bag and I think that was down to a massive step up in our training. A huge thank you goes to our new coach, Grant Collett of Offchurch Bury Polo Club, who has transformed this team into winners after success at these Nationals at the University Polo Challenge back in November. We will continue to work hard as we look to make it 3 wins out of 3 tournaments at Summer Nationals in June.”

We would like to say a massive thank you to our coach, Grant Collett, of Offchurch Bury Polo Club. The improvement in the riding and polo ability of this club has increased dramatically and we’re seeing the results from so many wins at Nationals. Your support, incredible horses and care for our players has meant that UoN Polo Club has been more successful than ever before. To the Offchurch groom’s; Kelly, Niamh and Fiona – we truly appreciate the early starts on cold and wet mornings to get all of the horses ready and the extra help that you give us. You go above and beyond to not just help with the horses, but to help the players too and we are so thankful for you and all that you do. The biggest thank you goes out to the ponies, however, who know the game of polo better than we do and give their all in chukkas.

To anyone reading this who wants to give polo a try, we are a sports team that you can join at any point in the year with no pressure to commit to weekly training. You can play as much or as little as you want to, and we can organise a taster session for you to come along to if you’d like to give it a go! We cater to all levels from complete non-riders to those who have been playing polo for years.

Overall results:

  • Upper Intermediates (Sam Boreham (C), Rob Brough, Al-tahir Murtala Aliyu) – FIRST PLACE AND NATIONAL CHAMPIONS out of 6 teams
  • Lower Intermediates (Minnie Kerr-Dineen (C), James Thorn, Ollie Thornton) – 8th out of 10 teams
  • Novice 2A (Francis Douglas-Lamb (C), Gwen Davies, Khalid Wada) – 2nd out of 16 teams
  • Novice 2B (Betty Edwards (C), Lucy Cox, Megan Grandi) – 11th out of 16 teams
  • Novice 3 (Niamh Brown (C), Betty Edwards, Ellie Duncan) – 13th out of 16 teams
  • Novice 4 (Gee Misson/Suzy Harrison (C), Agonita Qerimi, Alice de Herder) – 15th out of 16 teams
  • Beginner 3 (Bridget Ratliff (C), Jess Macphail, Joanna McDonagh) – 4th out of 16 teams
  • Beginner 4 (Matt Godfrey (C), David Gee/Beth Granville, Amy Sansby) – 5th out of 12 teams
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