It is day one of the Jubilee weekend, the assembled throng are light-hearted, cheery; still happily oblivious to the physical and psychological toll of a five-day attritional slog through a feverish swirl of barbecues, bunting and bubbles. Amongst the sun dresses and chinos in spurious shades of pastel can be snatched the occasional glimpse of a pair of boot-stained white jeans worn by one of the more than sixty players who have turned up to compete at the Royal Artillery Platinum Jubilee Polo Tournament.
In total, thirteen teams have made the sweltering pilgrimage to Tedworth Park in a rather varied fleet including third-hand horseboxes, inherited Volvo 240s, somewhat flashier SOUPs (Single Officer Unwise Purchase – typically something with a V8 bought on finance) and a smattering of classic convertibles being enviously examined by subalterns in twenty-year-old Golfs with broken air conditioning and a four-hour return journey to Catterick.
With players spanning all three Services, Regulars, Reserves, and even a cohort of wizened and grey-headed Veterans and following several years of consistent expansion the Royal Artillery Tournament, like many a comfortable Colonel on the General Staff, was positively bursting at the seams. With four divisions to get through, it was a remarkable feat by both Tedworth Park Polo Club and the pony providers to both mount all the players and get everything done in just a single day.
Army Polo has been undergoing a real renaissance over the last five years, seeing numbers grow to such an extent that the Gunners can consistently field up to four teams, and the reappearance of Royal Signals and Royal Engineers teams for the first time in years – next year we even hope to see a REME team, as there are three spanner-jockeys currently being incubated under the nurturing wing of the RA. The Cavalry had seen their ranks thinned by operational deployments, but fortunately the Gunners were able to lend them a handful of players to raise their numbers (and their game) – can’t live with us, can’t manage without us. Unfortunately, the Infantry were unable to pull a team together for this year’s Tournament, mainly due to the same reason.
All in all, the day was a great success. Besides some excellent polo in the upper divisions (Cdr Steve Spiller RN racking up a chart-topping seven goals, putting him in the Combined Services lead for the season), there was all the usual entertainment to be had – the unruly melee of the crowd knocking back Pimm’s like it was going out of fashion, a feral mob of toddlers and disobedient Spaniels and Labradors (all apparently called Archie) desperately trying to run onto the pitch or devour other people’s picnics, and the spontaneous cheers as people are overcome with the heady joy of seeing a rival eat dirt after attempting a necky, nearside forehand on the turn; all, of course, overlaid with the ever-present soothing liturgy of Colonel Simon Ledger’s commentary.
When it at last came to the prizegiving, the benefits of the Gunners’ recent training camp with Selby Williamson of Jurassic Park Polo in South Africa were clear to see, with Capts Darryn Wilson (HQ 6 Div) and Will Young (29 Cdo RA) being selected for the Army teams in the Sassoon and Rundle Cups respectively. The Army polo season continues with the Captains and Subalterns Cup on 20th-21st August, and the AGC Cup on 29th August – do please come along to support, talent scout, or just to enjoy the fray.