As Co-Sports Editor of The Glasgow Guardian I have a duty to report on the different University sports clubs, and watch different matches. I have a problem, though. Many of the sports I know little about or hadn’t even heard of before taking up this role (I hope there’s not many of these). Therefore, I need to get out there and test myself, watch sports that I am unfamiliar with and write about them. I am excited to learn a lot and enjoy some top-quality sporting action.
For my first of these reports, I decided to go to the Stevenson Building on Halloween to watch the women’s water polo team (The Tigers) in action. My only experience of water polo came from playing short-sided games at the end of my swimming lessons when I was younger. It had been fun to play, but we were not taking it seriously; the real game is physically demanding. The two sides have seven players in the pool at a time (including the goalkeeper) and can use ‘rolling subs’. The match is divided into four quarters and the teams must score goals into the opposition’s football-style net at the end of the pool. When a team attacks they only have 30 seconds to score, otherwise the ball gets given to their opponents. The depth of the pool is different at either end of the Stevenson Building, meaning it is important for the side shooting towards the shallower end to make use of their advantage.
The Tigers were up against Aberdeen and had been in good form, having beaten Robert Gordon University 28-0 last time out and drawing 6-6 with Edinburgh in the game before. The intensity of the match was easy to see from the start, as both teams battled hard. Early on the visitors thought they had opened the scoring, only to discover that the referee had ruled it out for a foul. There was a lack of goalmouth action for the first few minutes but Glasgow broke the deadlock through Evie Burton whose swift shot and turn was impressive. They used the momentum created by the first goal to race to a 5-0 lead at halftime. Much of their success in this quarter was down to the ill-discipline of the Granite Girls (Aberdeen – I made up the nickname myself). They gave away too many fouls and ended up with players in the sin bin leaving gaps which GU exploited. The referee had to speak to the Dons players during the first interval about giving away free throws. Credit to the hosts, though. They drew in their opposition well and this tactic helped them to their early lead.
The second quarter was a goal fest. Glasgow’s Nikki Sutcliffe set up early goals for captain Heather Keith and Charlotte Leakey, whose finish was an exquisite backhand flick. Aberdeen broke their duck early in the quarter too, through Sol Olivera who had hit the post only seconds before. The visitors went through a decent spell in this quarter and looked dominant going forward. They struggled to compete with the strength of Sutcliffe and Keith, however, who both had an eye for a pass. Despite a vastly improved performance from the away side in this period, they trailed 11-3 at the halfway stage.
Aberdeen made a crucial tactical change going into the second quarter, swapping goalkeeper Robyn Ponder with outfield player Katherine Tolmie. This was an inspired move, and their fortunes improved from this point onwards. Ponder scored minutes after coming outfield and Tolmie was a rock in goals. She made seven saves in the third quarter alone and was unfortunate to concede after a smart double save. Again, unfortunately for the Dons, the combination of Keith and Sutcliffe was too strong, as Keith scored a screamer following another precise pass from her teammate. This was the lowest scoring period of the game, and we entered the final period with the Tigers leading 13-4.
By this point, the home side had almost secured victory, but they did not ease up. Every time a Glasgow player went into a 50/50, a teammate had anticipated that they would win the ball and moved into an attacking position. They had confidence in each other, which meant that they could take more risks. The Granite Girls scored a couple of decent goals and Tolmie made some good saves, but GU’s strength in depth was too much for them. The Glasgals had six substitutes, whilst their opponents only had two. They had quality throughout the squad, and demonstrated this with a sweeping move towards the end of the game, which was finished by Leah Smyth. It started from the back and involved every player. Their sublime movement off the ball created spaces which they took advantage of. It was a joy to behold. The match finished 17-6 to the Glaswegians.
There are some key reasons for Glasgow’s solid performance and a convincing win against Aberdeen. Their coach, Tom Gebbie, was enthusiastic and didn’t stop encouraging, even when his side was winning by several goals. He reminded me of a young Alex Ferguson, though he was more constructive and swore less. The travelling side didn’t seem to have any coaching staff at all. Also, the Dons made fewer substitutes, which is a key difference in a sport as physically demanding as this. This does not take away from how well the Glaswegian side played. They worked hard as a unit and are physically strong as well as technically able. They thoroughly deserved their victory, and made my first ever game of water polo extremely enjoyable.