If you have ever wandered past the old tennis courts in Musgrave Park on a Sunday afternoon, and wondered ‘what on earth are that lot up to?’, here’s your answer – bike polo. It’s fun, it’s free and it’s apparently very addictive.
Although bike polo may seem like a new craze the game’s origins actually go back as far as the 1920s. Bike polo enthusiast Domenico Natoli explains: “After the first world war, it was used as a practice sport because horses were very expensive … and it went out to the Dutch India colonies where horses were very scarce. Then it dropped off into oblivion and no one played it until I think the late 90s when people like bicycle couriers in London and Seattle started picking it up and playing it again.”
This unusual urban sport has flourished in recent years with clubs springing up all over the world. Brisbane has one of the biggest clubs in Australia with around 30 players turning up to play in Musgrave Park every Sunday. The game involves two teams of three players. The team that gets to five goals first wins. Dave Bell has been playing since it started in Brisbane and says despite the name, it’s more closely resembled to other sports than to horse polo. “I think on a horse it’s more hitting whereas with hard court polo it’s more dribbling and shuffling the ball around, so it’s more akin to street hockey or even field hockey. The only similarity is the polo mallet I guess.”
While bike polo is mainly about fun and socialising, there is a competitive side too. The Brisbane club runs a successful league and has dedicated teams who compete nationally and overseas. Domenico travelled to Seattle in September for the World Bike Polo Championships. Six Australian teams competed, including two from Brisbane. His team placed 52nd out of 62 teams — an impressive result considering they were up against teams with a decade of experience. Bike polo is a strongly co-ed sport and the boys have high praise for their female co-players. “They’ve got natural skills,” says Dave, “You know the men tend to be a little bit more aggressive and body on body whereas the ladies know how to pass really well.”
New players are always welcome. You don’t even need to have a bike. “They don’t need anything,” says Dave, “We’ll let them on we’ll teach them how to play. We’ve got spare mallets and spare bikes. Just be friendly and open and we’ll get you on and get you playing. Although sometimes it looks really tough, we do quieten down the game when we put new players on.”
Domenico remembers the first day he came along, about a year ago. One of the other players, whom he barely knew, handed him a bike and a mallet. “I came down and said hello to some people and one of the guys just handed his bike to me and his mallet and said ‘go play’ and that was it … once I played one game, I loved it.”
Words by Leah Carri | Images by Darlia Argyris