Water polo: Underwater rugby ticks all the boxes

Winstanley-Smith leads the line as Team GB returns to water polo after more than half a century, writes Alan Hubbard

Missed out on the 100m final in the lottery for 2012 Olympic tickets? Are you among the million who haven't got anything at all, hoping you might get lucky in one of the less popular sports in the next phase of allocations? Like water polo? Now there's something few will be rushing to watch, you'd think.

Wrong. It's already a sell-out. Apparently what was thought to be the best-kept secret of the Games is out. Water polo is guaranteed to make a splash, not least because those fortunate enough to get tickets might witness better punch-ups than in the boxing finals. And that's only the women.

Fisticuffs are virtually guaranteed in a sport packed with high-octane excitement. Britain will compete for the first time in over half a century and seats at the 5,000-capacity venue alongside the Aquatic Centre have been snapped up.

Britain won gold medals in four of the first five Olympics between 1896 and 1920 but have not participated since 1956, the Games which featured the most violent encounter in Olympic history. The infamous match between Hungary and the USSR in Melbourne, which came four weeks after 20,000 Soviet troops had crushed the Hungarian uprising, saw the pool literally turn into a blood bath. The water ran red as fists flew between the two teams, the Hungarians urged on by hundreds of emigres in the crowd.

Any aquatic aggro in London is unlikely to scale those heights but you can be certain there will be a plethora of fisticuffs and some sly grip and grapple, much of it beneath the surface, the sin-binning and red-carding adding substantially to the scheduled 32 minutes of every game.

Angela Winstanley-Smith sounds as if she should be whacking the ball on an actual polo field but she is a key member of the British women's water polo squad who make their Olympic debut in London. She says: "The sin-bin is frequently in use. What goes on under water has to be seen to be believed – although, of course, you can't see it most of the time. In this respect I think women's water polo can be rougher than the men's."

"We describe it as rugby in water with a bit of wrestling thrown in. It has the physicality of rugby with the technique of handball. The ball can be at one end and two people are having a brawl at the other so the referees have to keep their eyes open. I have never known anyone who has come to watch and not enjoyed it."

She reached international level at swimming aged 15. "I got into water polo really by accident. I was at a swimming club in County Durham when the coach started a water polo team and pestered me until I joined."

Her uncle is former professional footballer Jim Mullen. "I played a bit of football myself and somehow the water polo coach put two and two together and thought I would be good at the sport. What appealed to me at the time was the interaction – being in a team. With swimming it's much more of a routine, you look at the clock and you've been doing the same thing for two hours. With water polo it's different, you win together, you lose together. It's a lot less lonely than swimming up and down every day."

A free-scoring centre-forward, the 25-year-old has been a senior international since she was 18, spending five years playing professionally in France. "Hopefully we can make some history. We are about ninth in the world at the moment in a game dominated by the Russians, Hungarians, the US and Australians. We have overtaken France and Germany, who were ahead of us, and now we are knocking on the door of Spain."

Water polo suffered a 75 per cent cut in its original £3.14m funding but some of this has been restored with London in mind and there is support from British Gas. "Most of the girls in the team have a swimming background. It's a very family-orientated sport, youngsters following their mums and dads who have played it, and of course there are a lot who have become bored with swimming.

"If we have a good run at the Olympics it could really take off. I don't see why we can't pull off a shock or two. I don't think any team will want to play us in a knock-out game."

Winstanley-Smith, who gave up studying criminology to play full-time, is now back at Manchester University doing a French degree. Several other members of the team have played abroad including the captain, Fran Leighton, but all have been recalled. Says Leighton: "All our hard work and dedication has paid off and we're now focused on being the best we can. The Olympics will be a fantastic opportunity to show the nation how amazing a sport water polo is and inspire youngsters to give it a try." Just the ticket in fact.

The British Olympic Association are the National Olympic Committee for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They prepare the "Best of British" athletes for, and lead them at, the summer, winter and youth Olympics, and deliver extensive support services to Britain's Olympic athletes and their national governing bodies to enhance Olympic success. Go to olympics.org.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£22000 - £36000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary English Teacher...

Content Manager - Central London

£35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Central...

General Cover Teacher - Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Qualified Teachers needed for Supply in t...

English Teacher Urgently Required - Secure Unit - Nottingham

£100 - £161 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Are you a fully qualified ...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on