The Oxford University Polo Club has recently enjoyed something of a revival under the guidance of newly-appointed chairman Andreas Kranke (St Peter’s College) and coach, 4-goal professional David Ashby (The Oxford Polo School). With an unprecedented intake of Freshers this academic year, and a record membership of over 70 players actively training and competing, OUPC is going from strength to strength.
Kranke says, “We have moved to a very open club atmosphere, acknowledging the fact that a broad and solid foundation of members produces excellent players who are well fitted for the rapidly changing world of modern polo.”
The 139-year-old club was founded by undergraduates from Christ Church and Brasenose, just three years after the introduction of polo to Britain from India. This was followed by establishment of the world-famous Varsity match against Cambridge in 1878 (a victory for the Dark Blues, of course!). Notable alumni include Tommy Hitchcock Sr. who became one of the first 10-goal players in history, and Devereux Milburn, dubbed ‘the greatest back there has ever been’ in his time.
Polo is one of just a handful of mixed-team university sports with men and women competing equally on the same team. Though traditionally male-dominated, the Varsity match of 1994 saw both sides captained by women, and Oxford alumna Claire Tomlinson has gone on to become the highest-rated female player in the world. Today’s club membership is fairly evenly split.
OUPC has long been associated with Kirtlington Park Polo Club, and the successful partnership with David Ashby began in spring 2011. Esteemed professional player and owner of The Oxford Polo School, Ashby offers competitively-priced lessons to OUPC several times a week plus instructional chukkas, special polo ‘clinics’, and even theory lessons. All ability levels are catered for, from complete beginners who have never sat on a horse to experienced players.
Last term, OUPC was proud to enter 5 teams in the University Challenge tournament hosted by Rugby Polo Club. Oxford Beginners 1 reached the semi-finals in their division, ultimately placing 3rd behind Harper Adams and Liverpool. The Novice teams tied 5th after being drawn against one another in an exciting quarter-finals.
Expansion of the club permitted the launch of a new intercollegiate or ‘Cuppers’ league in Michaelmas. Current leaders among the 8 participating colleges are St Peter’s (League A) and St Benet’s Hall (League B). Harold D’Arlet (Brasenose College) won the award for Outstanding Performance and Daniel Zajarias-Fainsod (Wadham College) for Best Goal.
In addition to continuing the league this term, OUPC is currently preparing for a return to Rugby in fourth week for the Universities National Championships. This is an impressive event of World Record breaking magnitude, with 160 teams from over 50 universities competing across four days.
There are also teams headed to Dubai for the British Polo Day and New Delhi for an Oxford-Indian Army match at the Jaipur grounds. This will be followed by a busy Trinity with the Summer Nationals and fixtures scheduled against Edinburgh and St Andrews, not to mention Old Blues vs. Current Blues.
The year will be rounded off in traditional style with the annual highlight: the much-anticipated Jack Wills Varsity Match at Guards Polo Club, Windsor in June. Following a disappointing defeat last year, Oxford is hoping to return to their previous form of 6 consecutive wins. OUPC Captain George Allen (St Benet’s Hall) said, “This year we are looking a good deal stronger, and so have every expectation of restoring the proper order of things – that is to say, by putting Cambridge back in their insipid blue, East Anglian box.”
This year the club is extremely fortunate to welcome Lanto Sheridan: the first polo professional to join Oxbridge for an undergraduate degree. As a 4-goal player he will be a fantastic asset to the club, and certainly one to watch out for.
But Kranke is keen to emphasise that it is not only established players that have a place in the club: “Only when you offer possibilities for everyone to participate will you finally find the right talents who can thrive under the right coaching,” he said.
Anna Krause (St Cross) is glad she took up polo this year: “It’s the kind of thing I’d never considered because it just wasn’t ever available; the kind of thing you really should take the opportunity to try while you’re at a place like Oxford.”
The flourishing of the club this season is undoubtedly testament to Kranke’s determined leadership, and has proved that polo does not have to be the exclusive ‘Sport of Kings’ it is widely considered. Anyone can get involved; all you need is some appropriate footwear, a touch of bravery and a healthy dose of determination.