OXFORD UNIVERSITY POLO CLUB

 

In 1874, three years after the introduction of the game of polo to England, the Oxford University Polo Club was founded by undergraduates from Christ Church and Brasenose Colleges, led by Mr. Walter Long (later Viscount Long of Wraxall and First Lord of the Admiralty). The first match was held on the 1st of July 1877, and was contested by its two founder Colleges amid considerable pomp and ceremony. The great success of that day encouraged the players to establish a Varsity match with the Cambridge University Polo Club. This Varsity match is the oldest polo fixture in the western world and was first played at the Bullingdon Cricket Ground in Oxford on the 27th of November 1878. After a convincing 5-0 victory for the home side, the match became an annual fixture and was held thereafter at the Hurlingham Club and other venues from 1879 until 1939, apart from 1894 and 1900 and during the First World War when no games were played.

After the Second World War, the fixture was renewed in 1951. For several years the match was contested at the Guards Polo Club during Royal Ascot Week until, from 1959 onwards, the venue for the match was decided annually. In recent years, the Varsity match has returned to Guards, with the sponsorship of Jack Wills. A milestone was reached in the 1994 match, when the captains of both teams were women. This was the first time ever that the captains of both Oxford and Cambridge mixed sport teams were female.

From the start of the club, Oxford players have been selected for national teams. William Kavanagh, who played in the first Varsity match in 1878, went on to become of the first high-handicapped players and played for England several times against the USA. After helping his side win the 1882 Varsity match, Tommy Hitchcock Sr. soon became one of Americas leading players, becoming one of the first 10 goal players. Near the turn of the century, the Oxford team played host to the three Nickalls brothers, two of whom went on to represent England. Their contribution at university level saw the Dark Blues romp to a 15-0 victory in 1898. Five years later, an American arrived at Oxford who was to become more famous than any of his predecessors, Devereux Milburn. Not content with gaining a rowing Blue, Milburn guided the polo team to victory in successive Varsity matches, winning by a margin of 14 goals on both occasions. He soon graduated to international level, playing number four for his country in every match between 1909 and 1927 in the course of which he was labelled the greatest back there has ever been. Cameron Walton-Masters played at Oxford off a handicap of three-goals and was a member of the Young England team which played Young North America.

During the late sixties and early seventies, polo at Oxford enjoyed a purple patch, winning the annual match eight times in a row. Many of the players from this period are now well-known figures in the polo world. General Sir Redmond Watt played off a two-goal handicap while at university and subsequently became the highest rated Old Blue after the war when he peaked at five-goals. Claire Tomlinson (nee Lucas), who was rated at nought-goals at university also later reached five-goals to become the highest rated woman player in the world.