St Andrews Charity Polo Tournament triumphs in the summer sun

George Wilder and Bri Paterson share the reins as they review this year's St Andrews University Charity Polo Tournament

Photo: Henry Memmott

Bri Paterson: Deputy events editor

Picture this: the sun is out and shining, the air is cool and crisp,  you’ve got a glass of champagne in your hand and you’re surrounded by what appears to be half the university all gathered to stand around and watch some polo. In short, you’ve basically achieved a state of bliss. This is what the St Andrews Polo Society had to offer us at this years’ Polo Tournament, held over in Errol Park in Perth last Saturday.

Okay, so the one problem I have with day events like this is that they make us get out of bed at unholy hours and start drinking when our livers just can’t handle it. That was how I felt when I was up for 8:30 to pre-drink at 9, all in order to get on a bus at 11.  However all of the preing seemed to be a waste of time for Polo this year as the hour-long bus to Errol Park (firmly in the middle of nowhere) meant that everybody sobered up on the way there. This meant Polo initially had a tough crowd to please as hundreds of half-tipsy, half-hungover students flocked off the buses and headed directly to the bar.

Just because we were in the middle of nowhere didn’t mean there was nothing to do. Fun could be had at all corners of the Classic ticket section, although this was mostly through the process of gorging yourself on the variety of food that was on offer. While they managed to stay true to St Andrews and have the traditional Blackhorn van that seems to be at every St Andrews society event, there were plenty of new places to choose from including a doughnut truck and a toastie bar that seems a tad more professional than the Christian Union one. Special mention has to go out to the Barnacles stand that did the most amazing crab fries, as well as the pork spit roast for making it feel like a bonafide British holiday. One thing was missing on such a hot day and that has to be Janettas – somehow the ice-cream truck that only had two flavours was a bit of a let down when we’re used to such a high calibre of frozen dairy deliciousness.

Sure there were certain things that were slightly annoying but truly couldn’t be helped. For one the huge amounts of people meant that queues for loos and the bar could get a bit excessive at times, but this was incredibly well managed as the bar had two sides and there were multiple toilet areas for VIP as well as the Classic section. Basically, no one was left stuck in a queue for more than 5 minutes, which is basically the dream at a St Andrews event. The only mild problem the overcrowding really caused was a shortage of seats and a crowd of people around the viewing sections of the polo. This meant that as the day went on it got harder and harder to get a good vantage point to watch the ponies, particularly since the commentator kept on calling people out to stamp out the field (a very weird practice but actually kind of cool). Perhaps a way of fixing this would have been to extend the sections to be wider, ergo more room for people to stand and watch the game, but honestly, it was such a small complaint and again waiting for a spot only lasted for around 5-10 minutes.

As I mentioned before the bus journey was a bit of a dud and meant that the majority of people had sobered up by the time they arrived. However this really couldn’t be helped as Errol Park was one of the few suitable pitches for the sport, and in the scheme of things everyone not being totally trashed by lunchtime isn’t the worst thing in the world.

In short, I have to say just how impressed I am by this year’s Polo committee. For one, they managed to pull a stellar day out of the bag and I’m fairly sure everyone who attended felt that the money they’d spent on the ticket was worthwhile. Furthermore, Polo managed to raise awareness and interest in their charity Help for Heroes. Yes, they were luckily blessed with good weather, but it was easy to see just how much effort and time had gone into organising such an event. Pretty much everyone involved must be pretty proud of what they achieved.

George Wilder: Events editor

Judging from how my only other horse related experience in the last three years involved a fiery colt called Mona Lisa, a Colombian self-proclaimed tomb raider called Carlos, and the declined offer of a stop off at a suspiciously well hidden ‘factory’, I was ready to have my faith in the animals restored when I arrived at the St Andrews Charity Polo Tournament. And, having only needed a couple of glasses of champagne to overcome the flashbacks, I’m glad to say what lay around me was an impressive sight.

Smirking at the mere thought of a single day shift on set up, the members of Polo committee had been away for days, both setting up the venue and making sure that the visiting teams were well cared for. As I nibbled on a smoked salmon sandwich and wandered through the grassy fields of the estate I have to say, this effort most certainly paid dividends. The event ceased to take on the feel of a student-run enterprise, in fact, it was positively professional. Baked by a summer sun that threatened to set any fair skinned congregation member aflame were a selection of meticulously run bars and a wide array of food options.

Having been to Polo last year and a few similar events up and down the country I was keen to check in on two factors first of all, namely value for money in each section and the polo itself. In regards to the polo the teams outdid themselves, bringing a variety of skill to matches that kept luring spectators away from their bottles for intervals on the pitch, where they would press down divots that had been created during the game. During this time the sober shyly approached some of the horses, and were allowed on occasion to pet the magnificent animals. Attempts by the drunken members of the congregation to get near them was less welcomed, as life-long ambitions to be involved in a joust or Roman horse charge translated in garbled cries of ‘Come on Bullseye!’.

In terms of value spectators could also expect good news, a controversial statement at this university, but one that is true all the same. I can honestly say that twenty-five pounds for a polo tournament is as good a value for an event of that calibre that you’ll get in the realm of society events. The inclusion of a free drink only served to sweeten the deal while access to garden games and largely clear pitchside views provided a great value day.

Moreover, with the long-awaited (and probably very short) spring sun upon us, the social media savvy of the St Andrews world were on the prowl for the great Millennial bounty that is the Instagram. Technophobes scattered in fear as if before a lava flow, clutching their Nokia N95 Bricks as the brilliant blue sky was brightened and toned by a horde of Iphones. The Polo Committee need not have worried about any crimes at the venue, such was the coverage posted online in the hours following the event. It most likely equates to a level of documentation that makes Cambridge Analytica look like a seven year old’s ‘what I did on my summer holiday’ piece. The Committee, needless to say, were happy to oblige, providing natural and man-made spectacles sufficient for any drooling gram-queen. They even managed to draw on the photo hunger of the crowds to attract attention to their chosen charity Help For Heroes, using an armoured personnel carrier. This was something that showed a level of commitment to association with their charity that is occasionally lost in the drunken revelry of some St Andrean events.

The fifty pound VIP section had more surprises in store, as guests were afforded more seating, a photo booth, and access to a candy buffet. The fact that VIP also had four glasses of champagne included in the price makes only serves to make it an even more attractive option. At this point it was important to note the effort that had gone into the planning of the space, which had enough room to roam without feeling lonely while also not cramming people together.

In fairness to the much-mocked VVIP section it is difficult to offer value for money when you’re paying seventy-five pounds. However, as I looked around at the well-furnished lounge area, tasteful buffet, and copious amounts of alcohol it became clear that Polo truly has offered value for money relative to the rest of St Andrews event culture.

The day went on, bottles emptied, and more than one guest was left wanting in terms of tolerance, leaving a number of suit and summer dress clad patrons leaning like very overdressed scarecrows into the white fences of the pitch perimeter. As I watched the last of the games it became obvious that it was time to leave the idyllic scene behind, and stumble my way home. Little did I know that I would be trading idyll for something entirely different as the spectators traded civilisation for scuffle in what quickly became an every man for himself scenario. While some took shuttles down to the buses, others walked, resulting in a clash at the bottom worthy of Tolkien as people battled to get home.

Yet, as I settled down and watched the rolling fields of the Errol estate fade away for another year, I couldn’t help but feel like something special had happened here, an event that despite a moment of disorganisation had executed easily one of the best days out in St Andrews. I leave Polo with my thirst quenched, my smile blazing, and any irreputable view of the equine species totally vanquished.


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