Friday, 14 August 2020
Englishman in Dubrovnik Englishman in Dubrovnik

If there is a tougher sport in the world I haven't seen it

By  Sep 07, 2019

“But how hard can that be, I mean you’re are basically floating and throwing a ball around, anyone could play that.” Experience counts for a lot in life. We all know somebody who knows everything in theory but nothing in reality. Every family has its philosopher. Of course the truth of actually putting yourself in the real world and actually trying to do something gives you a rather different perspective on things.

There were one or two sports that I had never really seen before coming to live here, handball was one, and the other was water polo. I say never seen but I do remember catching a very brief highlights once as it was played at the Olympics. But there are so many strange and exotic sports at the Olympics that I never gave it a second thought.

So I basically started from a city that generally hasn’t heard of water polo to one that has one of the best teams in the world.

Yes, that first sentence was my first reaction on seeing water polo for the first time. It looked like children fighting in the bath. Water flying everywhere, splashing and aggressive shouting and somewhere a ball bouncing around. Of course not knowing the rules didn’t exactly help. I later found out that the English actually invented the game, an ex-Jug player told me, although it didn’t really look anything like what it does today.



And we have had a celebration of the game recently. The explosion of colour and emotion that is the wild league. And the passing of the 95th birthday of the most successful club ever and the pride of the city Jug. The wild league is truly a tradition that needs to be cherished and nurtured. Hats off to all involved, the players, the organisers and the supporters for yet another amazing event. In fact, one of my nephews was actually playing in the final, the same nephew that kind of taught me to play.

Now, when I saw play I really mean try and fail. Along with his brother they both played the sport from an early age. And years and years ago they attempted to show me some of the basics. This was when theory met reality. Of course my first reaction was to catch the ball with two hands, which was difficult enough anyway, whilst at the same time treading water. Catching it with one hand seemed overly difficult. Try as I might the ball, nine times out of ten, just bounced off my hand or went sailing over me and I sunk down in the water. I had been trying this for a few minutes and was already gasping for air. I need to add at this point that I hadn’t actually swum anywhere!

“OK, now we’ll try some attack versus defence,” one nephew shouted. I had already pretty much concluded that this wasn’t a sport for me, but never the less I had a go. Defence in water polo is pretty much attempted murder! The defender is trying his best to pull someone underwater and drown them, or at least that was my understanding. And of course this time we were actually swimming up and down. There is a LOT of swimming in water polo. At least in football you can kind of have a break and stand a little. I ever volunteered to go in goal thinking I’d have a break, bad idea. In water polo my body was in constant motion. I had all the elegance of Bambi on an icy lake. I am really not sure whether I lasted five minutes. But in that time I actually managed to pass to one of my players once. And the only shot I had (I use the word “shot” in the loosest of terms) didn’t even make it to the goal. The ball was plopped in front of the goal keeper and bobbed up and down like a fisherman’s buoy.

Before drowning, or having a heart attack, I threw in the towel and floated off, out of the game. I had a new respect for water polo players. You need to be seriously fit to play this sport. At least in normal polo the horse does all the running for you. So once again a huge congratulation to everyone involved in the wild league, you are absolutely a credit to your sport. And long may this brilliant festival of water polo continue.

Someone once wrote that "a perfect water polo athlete can be best described as having the over-arm accuracy of a baseball pitcher, the vertical of a volleyball player, the toughness of a rugby and ice hockey player, the endurance of a cross-country skier and the strategy of a chess player." Clearly I have none of these skills.             

The Voice of Dubrovnik


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