Jolly hockey tricks: Unicycle hockey is neither about playing the fool nor about getting covered in bruises. Dolly Dhingra sees Britain's top team cross sticks

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The Independent Culture
Every Wednesday evening a dozen male professionals from all round London converge on a shabby church hall in Poplar. For two hours they play hockey with a red plastic ball, using a couple of tables as goals. Hardly remarkable, except that they also play the game while riding unicycles. They call themselves the London Unicyclists, or London Lunis for short.

Unicycle hockey is a young sport which came to Britain sometime in 1987. Nobody knows who invented it and nobody is owning up. Unicycling, however, is around 200 years old and is still popular in Germany and America. It's even on university syllabuses in Japan. Although there is no official unicycle governing body there are around 20 registered teams competing in the Unicycle Hockey Tournament in Britain, five per cent of whose players are women. Tournaments are held every month and the Lunis are top of the league, having only ever lost one game. 'When we tell people that we are the national champions they think it must be easy since nobody else plays the game,' explains veteran Luni Peter Philip.

Lee Jellyhead, who runs the group and organised the first British Unicycling Convention in Birmingham last year, believes that people still regard unicycling as something only clowns can do. 'People have a psychological block about unicycling. They seem to think that they can't balance on one wheel. Ideally it is a sport best learned in childhood because kids aren't as afraid as adults of hurting themselves. The worst accident I've heard of was a fractured ankle.'

Chief unicycling instructor John Dash has been unicycling for the past 10 years and began at college. 'I learnt to juggle, and I guess unicycling is part of the same scene. A few of us set up a society in circus skills and it became the largest society at Surrey University. I guess college days are probably the classic time to pick up the sport. You don't find many middle-aged people taking it up as a gentle hobby.' It took him two weeks to become a confident practitioner of the art. 'It's easier to learn than riding a normal bike because you fall on your feet, not to the side, and the bike rarely lands on you.'

The Lunis have managed to combine unicycling with a variety of games, including basketball, cricket, football and tug-of-war. They maintain that unicyling requires much less effort than walking and is twice as fast.

The first hour of a class is devoted to cycling and the second to hockey, and all for pounds 2.50. 'It was cheaper,' says Jellyhead, 'but we broke a window recently so we've had to put the price up to pay for it.'

Unicycle Hockey: Trinity Centre, 119 East India Dock Rd, Poplar, London E14 (071-700 6529); Cut, East Moors Community Centre, Sanquahar St, Splot, Cardiff, ; Barry Leisure Centre (0446 740520)

Unicycling: Freaks Unlimited, Bristol (0272 250368); Hull Splat Circus (0482 445586)

Full countrywide listings in 'The Catch' magazine (0275 332655)

(Photograph omitted)