The Irish are credited with inventing bicycle polo in 1891. J McCready, editor of the Irish Cyclist is given the honour of being the man who dreamt up the idea. In 1899 the American publication THE CYCLE AGE AND TRADE REVIEW published a full report on the worldwide state of the sport. The report gives a first hand account of the sport and how it had progressed in the eight years since it's inception. By 1899 bicycle polo had taken off in Australia, thanks to promotion by the Dunlop tire company. A fascinating snapshot into the birth of a new sport, it's inception just two years after Dunlop introduced the pneumatic tire to the world, no doubt the new tire adding significantly to the manoeuvreability of the low geared polo machines. Below are the rules of bicycle polo as described to the American audience reading The Cycle Age and Trade Review in 1899. BICYCLE POLO RULES OF THE GAME 1899
Fascinating Irish Game is Becoming popular - Governed by Simple Rules - Requires Skill and Nerve
About eight years ago Editor McCready of the Irish Cyclist was fond of playing hockey with the Ohne Hast Cycle Club, of which he is captain. He found the exertion of running rather more than the game was worth, however, and tried hockey on the bicycle. After some experimenting the game on two wheels was found feasible, and as time went on and cycles became lighter and easier running, the game grew speedier and more like pony polo.
First Games Well Received
It was not till last autumn, however, that a public display was given, and most people who had never seen it played were quite certain that it must be a dangerous and uninteresting pastime. Contrary to expectation the first exhibition was received most enthusiastically and a tournament was arranged soon after in which several teams competed, showing very good play. The Ohne Hast team for a long time swept all before it, but late in the autumn a team of four brothers came out who had mastered a new style of clever combination and most adroit passing. After some close contests this Oswald team, as it is called, won the first championship of Ireland.
English Have Begun To Play
Later on picked teams of Irishmen visited London and gave some exhibition matches with the result that several English teams have been formed, and the national Cyclist's Union has taken up the game. It has caught on but slowly there, as the English are conservative and not easily induced to try a novelty.
This season opened very well. Late in April a great tournament took place in Dublin at which several thousand fashionable people attended and some excellent displays of cycle polo were given. Since then the game has been introduced at race meets with considerable success, though in many places the ground was unsuitable to good displays.
Combines Many Fascinating Elements
If the would be convert has seen a good game of pony polo he must have been fascinated by the dash of this whirlwind game in which the pace is faster than in any other pastime under a battle. He must have realised too that there is constant call for speed, skill and coolness, and that the spice of danger is never absent. Football and hockey at their best have the same characteristics. The Irish game of cycle polo offers a field sport such as appeals strongly to the athletic and vigorous, and possesses at the same time enough call for science and judgement to recommend it to the trainers of the faculties. Brute strength or mere speed avail little against skilled players, and on the other hand it does not require a college degree nor a comfortable fortune to enable one to do well.
How The Game Is Played
Bicycle polo is played on a ground 100 yards long by about 50 yards wide, and there should be a clear run of at least 20 yards behind each goal. Play opens with the men being stationed unmounted at each goal line, while the ball is placed in the centre of the ground. At the referee's whistle there is a terrific sprint by the "out" man of each side for possession : and over a smooth ground they quickly get into racing speed. It often happens that both almost reach the ball at the same instant and there is a thrilling moment of suspense as the spectators fancy they must collide. But there is a strict law obviating any such catastrophe, and experienced players are not inclined to collide at height speed.
Meantime, tow other men from each side have left the goal at a slower speed and spreading out somewhat watch keenly as to where the ball will jump. The side whose man gets possession sprints up, leaving it's fourth man in goal. Backed by his two mates, the attacker dribbles down the ground, dodging his opponents by clever wheeling, or passing the ball to his comrades when hard pressed. He often gets through the three defenders and then sprints to get close to goal before they turn and catch him. This they proceed to do without delay, as with the aid of powerful rim brakes they check speed rapidly and turn in a very small space. A magnificent pursuit takes place. The dribbler or ball-holder cannot go at top speed, as he has the ball to coax along with his stick, but if a good player ha can tool it forward at about eighteen miles an hour, up to where the goal man stands in the narrow portal, supported by his mallet, and looking like a large spider.
Fast Work at the Goal.
At the critical moment he darts out, one of his men at the same time circling into goal. If the teams are well maneuvered there is always a busy congestion about the goal when a score is attempted, and it takes some smart play to "notch up." A good goal-keeper can stop almost any kind of shot with his stick or front wheel unless he is surprised by some clever variation in the attack. Sometimes a strong stroke sends the ball whizzing through the goal, or the keeper saves with a long shot down the field. Often the ball is worked in by inches.
Supposing the situation is relieved, there is another scamper for the ball in mid field and possibly a reversion of the previous situation. Up and down the game moves, and the more evenly opposed and clever the teams are the more central is the play. The only breaks in the continuity are when the ball is knocked over the side line or the referee stops the play to impose a penalty as the result of a competitor infringing the "off side" rule.
Importance of the "Off Side" Rule.
On this rule the game is based and it is most essential for safety and pleasure that it be strictly enforced. It is the only protection against collision and accident. When two men meet at speed on cycles the results are more serious than in any other game where the speed and momentum are not so great. Nevertheless, unless there were a rule to prevent such mishaps, the players would in the heat of play, forget to take precautions for their safety. Hence it is most important that the game have a vigilant referee who will punish all breaches of the rules by awarding scores to the other side.
To be "on-side" - that is, eligible to play - the competitor must, when he rides towards his opponents' goal, have the ball on his right hand side. Every player must, in action, keep in this relation to the ball. An imaginary line is supposed to run through the ball parallel with the side lines; and as well as keeping the ball to his right the player must keep as nearly as possible parallel with these lines. This is to make the play go up and down the field and not across. Otherwise with broadside play men would be continually ramming the others and the game would be much obstructed.
Governed by Pony Polo Rules.
Out of play a man need not keep on side unless he interferes with the other players. There are other rules against crossing the path of opponents, and regulating penalties, etc., but on the whole they are very few and simple, being with a few modifications similar to those governing pony polo. In the course of play, however, many little peculiar cases crop up, and unless the rules and explanatory diagrams are studied there will be some difficulty. The Irish Bicycle Polo Association issues a complete code of rules for the game.
Machines Especially Equipped for Play
It is important to have a good, strong, machine for the game. The gear should be low, say 60 or 65, and a powerful left hand brake should be fitted. Rim brakes for the back wheels are best. To minimize the number of broken spokes it is usual to run concentric rings of wire through them. Disks are no good, as they catch the wind too much.
It is best for one learning the game to play alone until he has become adept at tipping the ball about and keeping on side all the time. Then two men might practice passing, or sending the ball to each other, and dribbling in combination. The most effective pass is the bracket pass. This is done by tipping the ball under the crank hanger to a companion on the left. With skill it can be done at high speed and with great accuracy.
When several men have mastered the first difficulties of accurate hitting and passing they might try a friendly contest with two or three on a side, with a vigilant referee coaching. No count of the scores should be kept and no wild attempts made at displaying individual prowess. It is dangerous to the other players, and the man who insists in scorching about and breaking the rules should be put off the team, for when it comes to playing against good men his antics will be of no use to his side.
Can Be Played on Tennis Grounds
As for the ground, it should be as smooth as possible and rolled like a cricket pitch. The cycles do the sod no harm; and in Ireland matches are allowed to be played on cricket and lawn tennis grounds, no harmful effects resulting. The better the ground generally the better is the game.
Cycle polo is a good field sport, possible to any cyclist able to keep his head and balance, and it has all the charms of dash and excitement which the English speaking races like in their outdoor amusements. The game has even been taken up by ladies and among them are already many plucky and skillful players. At a recent cyclists' tournament and gymkhana, held in Dublin, the most interesting event was a polo match for ladies, the rival teams being the Ohne Hast and the Belmont College. "it is the very thing needed," remarks one English writer, "as a happy medium between the seriousness of racing and the silliness of the average gymkhana."
Might Become Popular in Australia
The Dunlop Tire Company introduced cycle polo into Australia where it has caught on to such an extent that a cycle polo association has been formed in Victoria by those interested, and the popular game will now be fostered by the association. Altogether about thirty-three clubs were asked for their support, and in most cases it was willingly extended, so that this exciting pass time is beginning to boom there this season.
There is good reason to believe that if the game were taken up in the United States it would soon become popular and form an interesting addition to our rather limited list of outdoor athletic sports. Canada has already tried bicycle polo and in Toronto a club has been formed and meets two or three times a week to indulge in the exciting recreation.
More Info at These links http://www.polo-velo.net/english/history/history.htm
Irish Bicycle Polo Association http://bicyclepoloireland.com/history/the-first-game/
THE CYCLE AGE AND TRADE REVIEW in the public domain, scanned and sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution http://archive.org/details/cycleagetradere231899nati All Images Below Velo Polo – Tri Polo Paris 1898 Photo Jules Beau from gallica.bnf.fr