Have you ever played netrugby? And what about octopush? These sports might not be in the Olympics’ list this summer, but you can practise them in London too. E&M offers you an introductory class. Ready, steady, go!

2012 Olympics are around the corner and London is ready to welcome the sports aficionados. We’ve discovered two brilliantly unique sports that you won’t find in the Olympics list, but that you can also practise in the city. Have you ever heard of netrugby or octopush? Laura Onita leads us on this introductory class. Set up your own Olympics with your friends and have some ‘jolly good’ fun!

“No pulling of shirts, and absolutely no skirts”

The green-red-whites, Battersea team, are passing the rugby ball so quickly that you barely have time to see it. It jumps from one player’s hands to another’s as if it had a life of its own. “Here, I’m free! I’m free!” shouts one of them who’s near the net, which is 11.6 ft off the ground. Concord, the purple-yellow team, recovers the ball and are now decisively advancing in the opposite direction. The defence is on its guard and three of them surround the tall, skinny guy with short brown hair who’s holding the ball. A Battersea player tackles him, trying to get hold of it. The men are now piled up one on top of the other facing the fresh cut grass. The referee blows the whistle – it was a fault. The tall guy has a bloody forehead but doesn’t seem to mind or notice. The game’s on.

Photo: Gareth Thomas. The Battersea team plays every Sunday during the summer.

This is netrugby. A summer sport played in London, made up of a mixture of football players and rugby players “reflecting the fact that is a kind of hybrid of those two sports as well as obviously netball,” explains Gareth Thomas, a Battersea player. It’s a game of ten players on each side and the aim is to score a goal in the nets.

“You can pass the ball forward or backwards, you can run with the ball, you can do virtually anything you want apart from touch it with your feet so you can’t kick it. Despite netball being part of the old sports name – it used to be called rugby netball – obviously it’s a men only sport because it’s full contact. So that’s how it works,” he says.

The game itself started in 1909 as an official league and has been going on ever since

Thomas has been playing netrugby for about 14 years and it’s the fast pace and excitement of the game that hooked him. Also, “it’s got the speed of football but you’ve still got the physicality or the contact you get in rugby. So that to me is a really good combination to play in the sun, you still have to take some tackles and hits, but you can throw the ball much more and you can have a bit more fun,” adds Thomas. Netrugby is a permissive game as it only has about 10 rules, in contrast to rugby which has about 60, and the most important one is literally the “no pulling of shirts.” Apart from that you can grab and tackle the player, shout, run, score. Concord scored 5 goals that day and won.

The game itself started in 1909 as an official league and has been going on ever since, although the sport has shrunk over the years. Nevertheless, it’s one of the oldest continuously played sports in London with a proud history. The league has several teams made up of players who come every year but “anyone who fancies playing, come down, get involved because we would love to see more teams playing,” says Thomas.

“Fast, furious, and fun…”

We all know hockey, a bunch of people with sticks, trying to hit the puck and score a goal. Now, try to imagine this taking place underwater. Think it can’t be possible? Underwater hockey is called ‘octopush’ and was invented in the 50’s by some aqua-divers who got bored. It’s not exclusively played in London, or even the UK, but all over the world. I went down to the West London Octopush Club to see how this quirky sport works.

Everybody was getting ready: some were already swimming at the bottom of the pool, warming up, others were sinking and some were putting on the equipment: mask, snorkel, fins, and water polo hat.

The game started with each team on either wall of the pool. The teams are made up of ten players each but you only have six in the water at one time. “Generally the formation is three forwards and three backs. The other four players are substitutes and it’s a bit like ice-hockey where they can substitute in and out in the middle of play at any time” says Matt Oliver, an octopush player.

To see them playing is mesmerising and it feels like witnessing an unearthly ritual.

Photo: David Underwater (Creative Commons License)Octopush players fighting for the puck.

They hold a small stick, about 30 cm long, in a gloved hand. “Obviously you need a glove, which is pretty thick so that when you’re getting hit, because you’ve got people jabbing sticks and stuff, you don’t get hurt,” adds Oliver. The idea of the game is to use the stick to push the 1.2 kilogram puck into the opposing team’s goal, which consists of a three metre tray at the opposing end of a 25 metre pool. Of course, this all takes place under water.

To see them playing is mesmerising and it feels like witnessing an unearthly ritual. The ease they dive with and the fast pace of the swimming make you think for a second that they are mermaids and mermen.

It’s puzzling how they can focus on the game without being able to breathe down there. Oliver explained: “Often, if you’re tangled up in the middle you can’t really see what’’ going on, you sort of instinctively know which and where somebody should be and just pass the puck. You just trust that they [the players] will be there and hope that they will come down and help you.”

Oliver has been playing since he was 12. That makes it 16 years of octopush and he enjoys every minute of it: “It’s one of those things where you think – it’s ridiculous, it’s a stupid sport, why would anyone play that? But if you get in and play, if you get involved, you start thinking how you could score a better goal, you just carry on and fall in love with it.”

So, if you’re in London and feel like giving it a go, if you want a fun alternative to aerobics, join an octopush club – who knows, it might become an Olympic sport some day! “People just have to come down and try it. I know very few people that come, play and then give up. There’s a guy who plays here and he’s 69 years old and will still get down and play, and he’s been playing since my age probably,” said Oliver.


Cover Photo: Thalia Lane

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