Don't try this at home: The underwater hockey game Octopush requires large lungs and a pair of gardening gloves. Owen Slot takes a deep breath and joins in

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The Independent Culture
Patrick Duffy, in late 1970s Man from Atlantis mode, would have been good at Octopush. His green eyes would have been surplus to requirements, but his turn of pace would have been an asset and he couldn't half hold his breath. First name on the team sheet for any Atlantis Octopush team; no doubt about it.

Octopush never got to command a plotline in Man from Atlantis. No surprises there, though the sport had already been going for about 25 years and had reached most of Europe and Australia. And it all stemmed - so Octopush folklore would have it - from a swimming pool in Southsea where a scuba-diving club was looking for winter entertainment.

The Southsea founders invented underwater hockey. They wore masks and snorkels, and they used spare snorkels for sticks with which they would push a diving weight from end to end in search of goals and glory.

Hence a rather bizarre sport that is terrible for spectators - in a shallow pool you can just see bodies thrashing around randomly, and in a deep pool you can just see, well, bodies. So, to find out quite how much fun was being had at the bottom of the pool, it appeared necessary to sample the action.

Thursday night; Putney Leisure Centre is buzzing. The Putney A's are playing Islington and their second team, the Putney Propellers, are having a six-a-side. For the next hour, I am a Putney Propeller, possibly the slowest ever to pull on a Putney swimming cap, but a proud Propeller nevertheless.

The kit is fins (flippers), mask and snorkel. And a gardening glove. Yes, and woe betide he who enters the pool of play without this essential - fingers bleed from being rapped on the knuckles by poorly timed tackles. And finally, I was given an Octopush stick which, to continue the gardening theme, is the size and shape of a trowel.

Little has changed in the years since the Southsea founders went for their first, historic swim. The diving weight has graduated into a puck, and that's about it. Certainly you still need to be able to hold your breath for long periods underwater and this is where divers come into their own: breath control is their forte. All my fellow Propellers - three women and ten men - had come into the sport through diving, a fact which I knew partly because they told me, partly because they could all stay underwater for such incredibly long periods.

Not so me. It's hard if, even when you're lucky and the puck is in the shallow end, you finally catch up with play only to find you're running on empty and it's time to surface again for breath.

Down on the floor of the pool, though, among the larger-lunged Octopushers - it was a whole new ball game. Blacks sticks played white sticks (I was whites), and the game started with both teams racing towards a puck placed in the centre of the pool. Whites adopted a rough 2- 3-1 formation with myself at right midfield, supposedly in an attacking role, but gradually adopting a rather stationary one.

The game moved much faster than expected with possession and short, two-yard passes clearly the key. I rather fancied myself as Octopush's answer to Glenn Hoddle, but underwater, sadly, you can't pass a match- winning 10-yard beauty to the feet of your striker because the puck simply doesn't travel that far. Route 1 is also ruled out, so in your Fantasy Octopush team you would want the Bryan Robsons of this world, the fearless puck-winners (and it can get quite rough), and the Peter Beardsleys, those of quicker mind and body.

The blacks had rather more of these, and despite a spirited white recovery (a 10-minute clean sheet), the game was lost 11- 4. Pool the best of both teams into one, though, and I have no doubt that the Putney Propellers could take on the world.

Octopush information: Clare Straiton, BOA Development Officer, Culver Farm, Old Compton Lane, Farnham GU9 8EJ

(Photograph omitted)

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