Sand Polo 2019 – TJB HAC vs the Household Cavalry Sandbanks
This year saw the 12th annual beach polo take place at Sandbanks in Dorset. Not only did the sun come out, but some fantastic high and low goal teams turned out to play. Beach polo is arena-based, and unlike outdoor polo, which is played on a 10-acre field, arena polo, on the other hand, takes place on a 300 feet by 150 feet field, enclosed by walls to keep the ball in play. The number of players per team drops from 4 to 3 to make for a faster, more exciting game, especially for the spectators. A standard match consists of four chukkas, or periods, of seven and a half minutes each. A polo ball is similar to a mini soccer ball, larger than the hard plastic ball you usually associated with the outdoor version of the game. Typically, the arena game is played on a dirt pitch with the ball bouncing on the uneven surface and off the arena walls, but sand polo as the name implies is played on the beach with the ponies having to work extra hard on the loose, unpredictable surface of the sand. It does not take much imagination to see you have an exhilarating game in appealing surroudings not only to play but to watch.
The venue, together with the weather, ensured the crowds turned out in numbers to watch the teams compete, and the TJB HAC Veterans were invited to play against the Household Cavalry who this year was supporting the Household Cavalry Foundation which is dedicated to providing charitable and pastoral support to all the members of Household Cavalry family the serving soldiers and veterans. Also, rather fittingly, it includes the welfare of the regiments retired horses.
The HAC team was made up of Capt. Guy Hennings-Haahr playing off No.1 CSgt. Tim Johnson (1 Sqn) in No.2 and LCpl. Julian Bickerton (1 Sqn) playing No.3, together they fielded a team with a handicap of 0 goals. The Household Cavalry, on the other hand, made up of LCpl Cannon, LCoH Anthony Kitchen and Tpr Grieg with a combined handicap of -3. This gave the Household Cavalry a starting score of 2-0 as the first whistle blew.
The HAC made a strong opening play with Tim Johnson passing up to Guy who took the ball up the field quickly taking the first shot at goal. The ball went wide but Tim following behind and placing a powerful, and more importantly, accurate shot scored the first goal for the HAC. The counter-attack was quickly stopped and saw HAC take the ball. Proper marking and team play allowed the HAC to keep the pressure on the Household Cavalry. Tims powerful long-shots often sent the inflatable ball spinning and wobbling through the air as it was passed from player to player. The excellent start and first goal were not going to be taken easily by the Household Cavalry. They fought back often resulting in small scuffles as each team tussled for possession of the ball. One of the rougher meles saw the first casualty with one of the normally rather robust mallets snapping in two. The HAC, taking advantage of the distraction, took off up the field but missed an open goal opportunity. Following up, Tim snatched the ball from the Cavalry defensive players and completed the goal. The Household Cavalry mounted a stirling counter-attack only to be met with solid defensive play from Julian playing back at the No.3 position. The whistle blew at the end of the first chukka, the score of 6 - 2 to the HAC.
The second chukka saw the pace slow down a little as the teams started getting used to the sand and ponies, the Househouse Cavalry making a quick attack only to be again stopped by Julian. Their redoubled efforts eventually managed to break through the HAC defences and they scored their first goal. Guy immediately countered by taking the ball up the field and scored a great goal while the other team were still trying to rally. The HAC made their first mistake by giving a penalty away, which amazingly was saved by Tim in the goalmouth. The pace picked back up, and in one significant skirmish, Tim clashed against one of the Household team and broke another mallet. Two mallets broken in one game is rarely seen. The look of disdain at losing a new mallet follows Tim off the field as the chukka ends.
Tim opened the 3rd chukka with a strong shot from 25 yards out, catching the Cavalry unaware and scoring a snatched goal. Julian intercepted the follow-up and mounted a great counter-attack. Again the HAC made an error, and the Cavalry were given a penalty only for Guy to block it. Passing to Julian, he took the ball back up the field to score the next goal for the HAC. The play became scrappy again, but Guy managed to take the ball out of a mele, gallop up the field, only to be intercepted at the last moment. The Household Cavalry have now found their pace and mount several strong counter-attacks. The earlier confusion replaced by tighter marking and more precise passing, giving them stronger attacking play. The crowds started to see the change in attitude from both teams, and they began to drift away from the bars to watch the battle heat up on the beach.
The HAC managed to keep the now more aggressive Household Cavalry at bay with good defence, again it is Tim Johnson whose long passes up to Julian created a fresh opportunity. Julian's normal defensive position changed as he joined in the attack. His powerful hit put the ball out of play with the ball bouncing off down the beach with the younger spectators eagerly chasing it as it bounced towards the waters edge. The play stopped for a few minutes and the clock was frozen with less than a minute left to play before the end of the 3rd chukka. The game re-commenced but the whistle blew before either team can organise themselves — end of the chukka.
The final chukka and again the HAC came out as the stronger team with the Household Cavalry starting to slow down in the afternoon sun. Again Julian hit the ball out of play as the HAC make their next mistake giving away a free hit. This time there is no mistake by the Cavalry, and they score a goal. Tim takes off up the field and with one of the biggest shots of the match shoots through the goalmouth and through the protective netting and into the marquee. No champagne was spilt, or if there were any casualties, they where quickly forgotten as the Household Cavalry followed up with a goal of their own. Guy decided that he was not going to be left out of the big-hitting names and promptly sent the ball out of play. This allowed the Cavalry to score their next goal. Again Julians powerful shot hit the ball out of play and this was followed by Tim causing a foul. The Household Caverly used this to score, but the HAC put in a final effort as the last seconds ticked down at the end of the fourth chukka and the final goal was scored by the HAC. With the final score, 9-7 to the HAC the only thing left to do was to join the spectators and enjoy the champagne waiting for them.
The HAC remain grateful for their annual invite to the Beach Polo at sand banks. If you have yet to enjoy it, we strongly encourage you to keep an eye out for it and book your tickets early next year.
To see all of the action visit https://www.sandpolo.com/gallery-2019/