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Longdole Polo Club is part of the community, says owner William Lucas

Gloucestershire South > Sport > Polo

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Saturday, 8th July 2017, 09:00

William Lucas. Picture, Laure Philippine William Lucas. Picture, Laure Philippine

William Lucas has been playing polo for the best part of 50 years. It’s a sport he likes so much that he bought his own club.

The club in question is Longdole Polo Club, which nestles in the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside just a short gallop from the village of Birdlip.

He runs it with his wife of four years Zahra, a member of the Hanbury family who used to own the club back in the day.

Gloucestershire is, of course, one of the heartlands of polo in this country with the renowned Cirencester Park and Beaufort clubs – both just up the road from Longdole – regular stomping grounds for the rich and famous.

Princes Charles, William and Harry have all been keen players over the years and while Lucas admits that “there is a perception that polo is an elite sport”, in partnership with Zahra he is working hard to make the sport and the club he loves more inclusive.

“We’ve got an open-door policy at Longdole,” he says proudly. “We want people in the community to be able to come in and use the facilities.

“Obviously we are a business and we work very hard but we pride ourselves on our polo school and the fact that we are very much not a private club.

“We do a lot of work with the Pony Club and have 80 to 100 kids in every weekend who use the facilities for nothing.”

Lucas gets huge enjoyment from seeing the smiles on the faces of today’s youngsters as they learn to walk and run with their new best friends.

Horses have been part of the 52-year-old’s life almost from the time he was being pushed around in a pram.

“I was always being taken down to the polo fields,” he laughed. “My father and my grandfather were both big polo players and it has always been something I’ve wanted to do.”

He was riding horses almost before he could walk and was soon learning the tricks of the trade in the sport of polo at the famous Cowdray club in West Sussex.

Lucas was a good pupil, so good in fact that for many years he was a professional polo player. He has played for England more than 50 times and came out of ‘retirement’ earlier this year when he played in France and helped his country qualify for the World Cup.

He’s played in World Cups before, reaching the final in the late 1980s in Berlin.

“It was in the days before the Wall came down,” he recalled, “and Checkpoint Charlie was still there.

“I remember we lost in the final to America after we’d done all the hard work by beating Argentina. Sport does provide you with scars which you have to carry round with you for the rest of your life.”

Perhaps Lucas shouldn’t be too hard on himself – at least he reached a World Cup final which is something celebrated footballers Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne failed to do in 1990, also in Germany!

Lucas was a regular in the international set-up between 1987 and 2005 and some of the countries he has played in would have been top of Judith Chalmers’ wishlist when she presented ITV show Wish You Were Here...? back in the day.

“Argentina, Jamaica, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, India, Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela,” he said, rattling off the countries a bit like an auctioneer.

And which is his favourite country?

“New Zealand,” he said without a moment’s hesitation. “The horses there are second to none. It’s a volcanic island and the amount of calcium in the grass gives their horses stronger bones. Their horses are tougher and stronger than anywhere else.”

Lucas’s love of horses is as clear as the view you get from Birdlip Hill on a warm summer’s day.

“Polo’s appeal for me is the horses,” he said. “When I stop and analyse why I have done it it’s because of the life with horses.

“I’ve always been around horses and the days when I’m not playing polo and am out just riding are the ones I enjoy most. They are the real gems.”

He describes polo as “a combination of horseracing, motor racing and yacht racing”. Summing up the sport in one sentence is nigh on impossible but essentially it is made up of teams of four and matches – which are divided into periods call chukkas – last for around two hours.

“The top players need a string of six horses to compete effectively,” said Surrey-born Lucas, who has been a member at Cirencester Park for 25 years.

For the past couple of years he has played for Coxwell, one of the established teams at Cirencester, and he still loves the thrills and spills that come with playing the one-time Olympic sport.

Although he has a close affinity with Cirencester, Longdole, which has 20 horses in its school, is his second home these days.

“A lot of players have come up through Longdole and the challenge is to try to keep that going,” he said.

If he’s successful – and there’s no reason to think he won’t be – Zahra will play an important part.

“Playing polo is something we do together,” he said. “We enjoy it and put a lot of energy into it.

“There has been an increase in the number of polo players in this country over the last 15 to 20 years and the demographics are changing too. Something like 47 per cent of those playing polo now are women.”

The extremely personable Lucas moved to Gloucestershire some 13 years ago and hasn’t regretted it for a second.

“I love it around here,” he said. “I love the countryside, I love the houses, the Cotswold stone. We live in Brimpsfield and it’s idyllic.”

While Gloucestershire has given him plenty, he has also given plenty to Gloucestershire.

“We had an electric bicycle sponsorship day in the arena and that raised £4,000 for Watershed RDA at Coates,” he said proudly.

“And we had a big charity lunch at the club last year that raised £24,000 – £12,000 went to the air ambulance and £12,000 went to Winston’s Wish.”

Polo is a sport that is not short of money, of course, but Lucas is doing his bit to make sure that some of it is being shared around the community.

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