Tuesday 24 June 2008

Derby Open Water Tournament 21 June 2008
A Report from our motoring correspondent Jeremy Clarksman

When my editor phoned and said, “Jerry, how do you fancy covering a polo tournament in Derby this week-end? The South London Correspondent is out of the country on some ‘southern hemisphere election business’, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more, and we need a safe pair of hands.”. I thought, could be worse! Plenty of posh totty in top of the range 4x4s and a little too much Champagne. “Bamber, mate”, I told him, “fire over the details and I’ll see what I can do.”. That was on Friday afternoon. I printed off the details, stuck the post code in my Sat Nav and didn’t bother reading them until I was filling up the Ferrari at the services on the M1.

I don’t know which was more of a shock, the contents of the email or the daft bugger at the services trying to charge me nearly 30 billion pounds for a tank of petrol. I had no idea that people played polo in the water, can’t be too deep I thought, the poor old nags would drown. And one minor detail, the tournament is in Nottingham, not Derby.

Now there are some funny people about, I should know I work with a few of them, but this lot take the biscuit, in fact, the annual UK production of McVitie’s Digestives to be precise. When I’d got over the fact that the myopic idiot that calls himself my editor (Only kidding Bamber, old boy) had sent me to a Water Polo tournament and the fact that I was stood in the drizzle in Nottingham on a day that was seven thousand degrees colder than the average for the time of year, I managed to see the bright side. I didn’t have to take my clothes off and jump in the rowing lake, but dozens of idiots seemed to be doing it voluntarily.

You know the noise you get when you run over a fox and don’t quite finish it off, that high pitched squealing accompanied by an un-coordinated thrashing of limbs. Well this bunch of lunatics were doing it all over the place, hurling them selves into the brown sludge and flailing and squealing like they were being electrocuted. I assume that the water was rather cold. I looked around and there were practically naked bodies dotted around on floating blocks of concrete watching their mates in the water throwing brightly coloured balls around and fighting. There were other people blowing whistles for no discernable reason, but whenever the whistles went the drowning people stopped fighting and had a quick breather before setting about each other again. I looked about me for a sign that said “Nottingham Mad Peoples Day Out”, but couldn’t see one.

Under normal circumstances I would have hopped in the car and driven back to civilisation, but, always on the look our for another group of mad English eccentrics I thought I’d better find out what was going on. I managed to find one of the organisers, a nice, outwardly normal bloke called Jim, and he seemed happy enough to fill me in on what it was all about.

Having finally ascertained that there was no real point to the whole event. No major prizes would be awarded, no money would be changing hands, no-one would be any more famous after the tournament than before it, I gave up trying to understand why anyone in their right mind would subject themselves to this ludicrous folly and decided to watch a game or two. I asked Jim to point out the better teams and he advised me to watch the men’s top division and last year’s winners Avondale. I’d missed their first game (there’s a limit to how early even the most diligent reporter can rise from beneath his goose down duvet to cover sporting events) but already the invincible winners from the previous year were doomed to under-achievement having lost by a couple of goals to local London Rivals Beckenham.

I braved the drizzle and walked the few yards to the pitch where Avondale were about to take on Cardiff Old Boys. Well, I think I could have beaten the Cardiff ‘boys’. Several of the Cardiff players were untroubled by the cold having layers of blubber thicker than a luxury mattress. I had no idea what was going on, but could see that the Avondale players were definitely better at getting the ball into the goal than the old boys. How hard could this be? I thought I’d interview one or two of the Avondale team to get the player perspective (editors like that sort of thing) but they scarpered like a bunch of frightened sheep at the end of the game towards the changing rooms. I followed, like the intrepid reporter that I am, (and because I had been told that there was a Café there) and found the team immobile under the hot showers looking like a group of nine year old boys at your local sports centre. I decided to delay the interviews until later.

I must have nodded off over my coffee, because I woke to find myself alone in the café dribbling gently onto my cardigan with the time approaching 1:00pm. A quick consultation with my programme informed me that I would catch the next Avondale game against a team called Polytechnic in just a few minutes time. This was altogether better. The drizzle had slackened to a gentle wetting and we had a much more even match to watch. I got quite carried away at one point, even shouting something encouraging at someone. The Poly boys kept hitting the Avondale keeper on various parts of his head, body and arms and the poor old boy just didn’t seem able to get out of the way in time. A couple of goals from the big ginger bloke from Avondale kept them in front and they somehow managed to hold on for a 2 – 1 victory. The excitement was too much for me and I retired to the Motor for a quick snooze.

I woke a little while later and thought that the tide must have come in and that I was under water. Everything was grey and the windscreen was obscured with water. I remembered where I was as the sound of the chirpy announcer encouraged the players to forget the blatantly inhospitable conditions and to throw themselves into the freezing mud again. I was almost exhausted, but somehow managed to drag myself the few yards onto the floating pontoons to see another Avondale game. I had consulted the results sheets in the commentary box and saw that they were playing a team that were so far unbeaten. Penguin. I marvelled at the fabulously original name for a water polo club and scanned the list for any other teams who had thought of this exciting and original naming ploy. I found the Leeds Sharks, but sadly there were no Dolphins, no Tuna, no Cod and not a mollusc in sight. Disappointing

Meanwhile our victors from last year were getting a bit of a thrashing from the perky Penguins. Some ginger bloke seemed to be able to score even when his entire body was under water, the ball popping out from nowhere and arcing over the flailing arms of the old boy in the Avondale goal. I couldn’t be bothered to count the goals but the Penguins had a bait ball full compared with Avondale. Everyone shuffled off at the end to stand in the warm showers and I fell asleep again in the car.

Just one more supreme effort saw me back on the pool side for the final game in the men’s division. The Rotherham team hadn’t bothered with hats, which was a pity, because they were all identical as far as I could see, without a working follicle amongst them. Clearly I’d missed something in the tactics department and couldn’t quite see why the Avondale boys were allowing their keeper to get so much practice. Anyway he made good use of his face and arms to collect a nice set of bruises.

By now I’d had enough. My momentary enthusiasm for this weird sport was being washed away under the depressing Nottingham clouds that were almost touching my head. I snapped a picture of the scene and the Avondale keeper after the bombardment of the last game (here for your delectation). I left the Avondale boys sampling some home cooking from their captain’s girlfriend and declined a generous offer to muck in and taste Angle’s muffin. My last glimpse of the scene, through my rear view mirror was the cheery bunch, having been rained on all day, half frozen and having lost their trophy, happily joking and posing for photographs against the dead pan drab of the rowing lake. You couldn’t make it up!

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