When I was somewhat younger and living in Windsor, the summer Sundays would always find me wandering up to the Guards Polo Club for a spot of Polo in the afternoon. I picked up the passion for the sport from doing First Aid duty as a member of the St Johns Ambulance and I carried on going to the Club long after I had ceased carrying out first aid duties.
I would go up each and every Sunday during the season, pick up a day pass and fixture list from the ticket booth and chat to the chap there for a bit – sometimes buy him a pint if his glass was empty and then spend a deliciously relaxing afternoon watching polo. I never actually became a fully paid up member, as you needed to be proposed and seconded by existing members, although that probably wouldn’t have been a problem as I after a few years, I was becoming a bit of a regular fixture up there – but being a mere retail sales person, the cost of membership was way outside my reach. I just brought a day pass each Sunday and had a good time.
Anyhow, moved away from Windsor and haven’t actually been back for about a decade for various reasons and after commenting about Polo the other week on my visit to the H.A.C., I decided it was about time I went back.
So, having checked that the weather was definitely Polo friendly, I decided to pop up there today for a match.
Not being a fool, I phoned the ticket office andÂ double checked that day passes were still available, and the lady happily informed me that I could drive up, get a day pass and park my car for a mere Â£20. I didn’t actually mention that I wouldn’t be driving, as I had the key bit of information – day passes are available. This was to prove to be a fateful error on my part.
Took the train to Windsor and had a quick wander round seeing what has changed, and what hasn’t. Some old independent shops are still there, although my hat supplier seems to have long gone and I was rather sad to see the fishmongers (Hodgkiss) had gone. Not only was that an amazing fishmongers, but at Christmas they supplied all the birds we would eat as a family over the holiday period. None of those plastic wrapped things, but proper hung birds on hooks with everything still intact. A lot has changed in Windsor and what was a small town which had a big tourist attraction in the centre is now very much a tourist trap of a place. I aimed to return one day and take photos and do a bit of an essay about what has changed – but that was for another day. Today was a Polo day.
It takes about an hour and half to wander from Windsor town centre up to Smiths Lawn, but as it is through Windsor Great Park it is a lovely walk – and works up a good thirst ready for a lager or Pimms when I get to the club.
As I got to Smiths Lawn, there was an overwhelming sense of memories and I could see the main pitches in the distance. I knew they were having building work done, but from a distance so much seemed the same. The VIP “shed” was still there and the lawns were as immaculate as ever. I wandered up to the club and everything came flooding back.
I got to the club and thought it would be best to check with a Steward as to where the ticket box might have been moved to during the building works.
“I am sorry, but we don’t do day membership passes anymore” he told me. “Oh, that’s a bit of a nuisance” I replied somewhat more politely than I was feeling. After a bit of a chat, he suggested that I should wander round to the other side where the cars would park and take a spot there, but I couldn’t go into the members area unless I took out an annual membership.
This was a bit of a shock to put it mildly.
Anyhow, wandered round to the other side and sat on the grass by the main pitch – but was shortly moved along by more cars arriving and being told that the space was for members. I hadn’t paid, so I couldn’t really argue the point and wandered back to the end of the pitch which is a public area and settled down for the match there. There is fence, and once the game got started I had to stand (well, lean on the fence) to be able to see what was going on.
Alas, while my feet will generally tolerate my love of long walks, they howl in protest if I just stand around – and coupled with being a long way from the action, and unable to see the scoreboard or importantly, the clock – this was proving to be a disappointing experience.
I then suddenly realised that as an “outsider”, I wouldn’t be able to tread the divots during half time either. No cold beer on a hot day, no seat to rest weary feet, and now no social divot treading.
I went home.
It seems oddly ironic that Polistas in central London has recently been running a petition to try and reintroduce Polo into the Olympics – and my favourite club has actually become less accessible and more elitist. Making Polo only available to people who either have cars to get a car-pass, or to annual members is not how you keep fresh blood coming into the sport. I’m sure they have a solid reason for the changes, but I can’t think what they could be.
On the other hand though, I notice that the annual membership fee is quite considerably lower than it used to be when membership was very restricted, so for a regular visitor it probably works out cheaper than buying day passes, but it isn’t really welcoming to people who can’t attend every weekend throughout the season.
My very short dose of Polo reminded me why I was such a huge fan of the sport – and maybe next year I will consider taking out an annual pass, if my business doesn’t get any more hammered by the credit crunch (or I may have to go out and get a normal job!).
It was still quite a let down that the social side of the sport was denied to me.