Military Challenge Cup

Published in News on 11 Mar 2017


Three UK Armed Forces polo players converged on Phoenix Airport, Arizona, in January to take part in the 2017 International Military Challenge Cup, an arena polo match played against a US Military polo team.

The event was held at Westworld of Scottsdale, a 386-acre purpose-built site featuring an indoor Equidrome, with a sunken arena and seating for 4,000 people. Slightly different from a typical UK arena polo game in January in the lashing rain; the irony of travelling across the world to a desert to then play indoors was not lost on the Brits!

As an added benefit, the military tournament was aligned with a number of other high profile polo matches. The USA took on England for the 2017 Townsend Cup in a High Goal International match and an English University team played a US Collegiate All Stars Team.

The UK Armed Forces Polo Association (UKAFPA) team was headed up by Maj Mark Cann RL, Director UKAFPA, with Sqn Ldr Ed Whitechurch RAF and Lt Gearoid O’Connnor HAC completing the line-up.

The polo was played over a weekend, running concurrently with the start of the Barrett-Jackson Collector’s Car Auction, a huge event where thousands of cars are sold over the course of the week with prices ranging from a few thousand dollars to several million for the rarest of cars. The amount of chrome on display was certainly an assault on the visual senses but it was a bucket list experience that was a bonus extra for the visiting polo teams. Despite our best efforts to bring home a classic Jaguar or Aston Martin, our incessant hints about what prizes should be on offer should we win unfortunately fell on deaf ears.

Following a relaxed start to the Friday morning to try and shake off any jet lag, we had the chance to try out our horses at the Azteca Polo Club, the local club that hosted us and arranged ponies.

Once we had established that the grooms advice to ‘ride them like a cowboy’ didn’t require us to whoop and holler throughout the chukka while wearing a Stetson, but actually referred to riding with long reins and a deep seat, we took the chance to scope out our opposition in a couple of short chukkas.

The US Military Team was made up of a mix of currently serving and retired players from both the Regulars and Reservists; the US Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force were all represented, coached by a retired US Army Officer.
The military match was scheduled as the first polo event on Saturday. Following the tournament opening ceremony, with an Honour Guard from Luke Air Force Base and live versions of both National Anthems, the game commenced with the UKAFPA team having a 1-0 score on the board due to the one goal difference in team handicaps in the Brits favour.

The UKAFPA team took an early lead in the first chukka through a combination of field goals and penalties; apart from a tense few moments during the game when the score was even, the UK team remained ahead of the US team on the scoreboard for the opening two chukkas.

By half-time all three Brits had scored goals, with Mark Cann the leading scorer and ultimately the Official’s pick as Most Valuable Player. The UKAFPA team built on their strong start as they came back into the Arena after half-time. Although the US team stayed strong in attack for the remaining two chukkas, they gave away a lot of penalties which, thanks to Cann’s consistent shooting, kept the UK in control of the game.

The UKAFPA team entered the final chukka with a two goal advantage and although the US team closed to within a goal, they never managed to nudge into the lead.  After a highly enjoyable match, the final score was UKAFPA 11 – USA 8. As an extra bonus for military polo, the UKAFPA team were the only British team to win over the weekend, with both the England International team and the University team losing their matches by the closest of margins.

Our thanks must go to Maj (US Army Retd) Mark Gillespie for pulling the whole weekend together and to all the local players who kindly donated their ponies to mount us.

We were looked after fantastically from the moment we arrived and were all struck by the welcoming hospitality on offer from everyone we came into contact with. It was a privilege to participate in a great showcase of Arena Polo in such fantastic surroundings.


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