RAF Polo Association Tournament Report! RAF Cranwell Tournament 3–4 May 2014!

A beautiful sunny day opened the annual development tournament of the RAF Polo Association at RAF Cranwell on 3rd May 2014.

With the RAF fielding three teams this year (two from the wider RAF and one from the newly affiliated RAF Cranwell Polo Club) and nine teams in total playing over the two days, competition was set to be fierce at the    home of the Royal Air Force. Along with the three RAF teams, there were also three entries from the Army, who fielded their Development team, a team from the Army Reserves, and a team from the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC). Local civilian clubs Leadenham, Vale of York and Rutland made up the final three teams to battle for the Martyn Bebbington Memorial Trophy and begin the RAF Polo season.

The ponies tacked up, goal judges and umpires ready and mounted, the players cantered out to the field for the first pool of round robin matches to determine the standings for the finals on Sunday. Pool A was a battle of  skill and determination between the RAF Spitfires, Army Development and Leadenham teams, which began with two very closely fought chukkas between RAF Spitfires and Army Development which ended in a draw – the Spitfires managing to come closest to scoring by embedding a ball in the goalposts. Some strong team play from both the RAF and Army teams overcame a good Leadenham side, eventually resulting in the RAF Spitfires winning their group based on goal difference, and the tournament was firmly underway.

Pool B saw the RAF Cranwell side of Wg Cdr Mark Smith, Flt Lt Dave Black, professional 1 goaler Nick Winterton, and new -2, Flt Lt Rob Grocock battling the Army Reserves and the HAC, with the winner having the chance of contesting the trophy on the following day. Having struggled with the journey up from London the HAC were somewhat lacking in firepower, and although they put in a good performance they were not strong enough to keep either the Army Reserves or RAF Cranwell at bay; the final scores of the pool put RAF Cranwell into the final, Army Reserves second and HAC third. Pool C was keenly contested between the RAF Hurricanes team, Vale of York and Rutland Polo Club. The experienced Wg Cdr Piers Hammond and Flt Lt Ellie Hoogewerf provided strength at the back for the Hurricanes, and the Association were pleased to welcome back Sqn Ldr Ed Whitchurch at number two and Plt Off Dan Rose on his debut for the RAF side playing at number one. Competition was ubiquitous in this pool, with Rutland Polo Club keen to retain their title at RAF Cranwell for a third consecutive year, but a very strong side from the Vale of York took an early advantage and pushed them back into second place.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the RAF Cranwell Tournament is the spirit of camaraderie and sportsmanship which is fostered by the weekend and nowhere is it more evident than on the Saturday evening.  Traditionally we have a formal dinner in the iconic setting of College Hall Officers’ Mess, this year returning to the “dining-in night” format, with the College providing a superb three-course meal. Speeches were made, wine consumed, culminating for some at The George pub in Leadenham, where I am told some players took the socialising so seriously that the dawn broke before bedtime – a sterling effort!

Finals day opened with the subsidiary final and a real fight between the Army Reserves and the Army Development team with neither side wanting to concede an inch. Ending in a draw at one goal each (and including a spectacular fall destroying one of the RAF goalposts but thankfully leaving the player intact!) Rutland were in prime position to take the 4th place spot. However in the final four chukkas both the Army teams defeated Rutland, by equal scores, and following a short discussion amongst the officials it was decided to have a dismounted “penalty shoot out” to decide the winners. Although 30-yard penalties against an open goal may look easy, the Army Reserves managed to make it look slightly tricky, resulting in the Army Development taking the victory in the subsidiary final.

The competition for the trophy was next, between RAF Cranwell, Vale of York and the RAF Spitfires, with RAF spirits, (and expectations) high at the prospect of winning the cup for the first time in several years. In true patron style, CO RAF Cranwell, Air Cdre Chris Luck arrived to take over from Rob Grocock in the RAF Cranwell team for the final, in his first match for over a decade – a warm welcome back to RAF polo! The RAF  Cranwell -3 team suffered initially due to a half goal handicap advantage to the other two teams in their respective chukkas, however the strong 1 goaler Nick Winterton proved his worth at the back, with Flt Lt Dave Black consistently turning onto the loose ball and scoring four goals. Vale of York suffered a pony problem in their final chukkas resulting in uncharacteristic defeats, with the final eventually resulting in RAF Cranwell lifting the trophy, the RAF Spitfires in second place and the Vale of York in third.

The day culminated in the wooden spoon contest between the RAF Hurricanes, Leadenham and the HAC. The strong -3 Leadenham side had found their stride after a disappointing first day and ran away with this contest, the two 0 goalers George Vere-Laurie and Ed Foster having strong rides to assure 7th place for Leadenham. A much closer pair of chukkas between the Hurricanes and the HAC came down to the final seconds, and despite a very good performance from Plt Off Dan Rose at such an early stage of his polo career, the HAC edged out the RAF by half a goal.

The tournament committee identified three players for the much sought after Most Valuable Player award, the two S handicaps, Plt Off Dan Rose and 2 Lt Emily Summers, and also -1 Flt Lt Dave Black, for superb performances on the field, but it was eventually decided that Dave Black stood out, having scored four goals on the final day through thinking ahead of the game and turning quickly on defensive backhands. Congratulations to all players for a very hard-fought tournament. Thanks must also go to Lt Col Simon Ledger for his continuing support and world-class commentary, Paul Girdham for use of his scoreboard, Flt Lt Dave  Black for his work setting up the RAF Cranwell Polo Club and work in organising the tournament, Air Cdre Chris Luck for the use of the excellent facilities at RAF Cranwell, and last but by no means least Flt Lt Ellie Hoogewerf for putting the tournament together this year. A great start to what we hope is going to be a great season!

Results

Final
1 RAF Cranwell
2 RAF Spitfires
3 Vale of York Polo Club

Subsidiary Final
4 Army Development
5 Army Reserves
6 Rutland Polo Club

Wooden Spoon
7 Leadenham Polo Club
8 Honourable Artillery Company
9 RAF Hurricanes

Polo Group