Polo Festival proves a winning formula

Umbrellas were the accessory of choice for most at the inaugural Norfolk Polo Festival, organised by Chris and Rebecca Townsend.

However, brooding clouds did not keep spectators away, especially as top-level teams had travelled from all over the country to play on the beautiful Norfolk turf at Langley Abbey.

Saturday was exhibition day, with five spectacular matches to keep picnicking polo fans happy. Support for the local team from Norfolk Polo Club was vocal and the team, captained by Langley Abbey's polo manager Mark Holmes, fought hard to draw with Little Bentley Polo Club, with Holmes scoring the final crucial goal to stave off defeat.

The highlight on Saturday was an exhibition match held under blue skies as the evening cleared, with main sponsors Coutts & Co going head to head with an Eastern Daily Press team for the Bentley Norwich Bowl.

The fight was a tough one, with the Coutts team taking an early lead that looked hard to beat.

But the EDP team, consisting of Chris Townsend, Henry Browne, Mark Holmes and Argentine hi-goaler Fabio Lavinia, pulled level before, in an exciting finale, Holmes saved the day by scoring the winning goal in overtime, with only two seconds to go. The final score was EDP six, Coutts five.

Sunday was finals day and even more spectators flocked to pitch side. Kicking off were the Norfolk Black team versus the Norfolk White team, both of whom are novice sides with a number of very junior riders. But the polo on show was impressive.

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However, the main battles of the day were for the Dunn & Co Cup and the Smithfield Sausage.

Rutland Polo Club took the former after a tough fight with home favourites Norfolk Polo Club to win by six points to Norfolk's three and a-half.

The Smithfield Sausage final saw a Suffolk showdown, with Carleton House playing Suffolk Polo Club and the match ended on a draw.

With not enough spare ponies to continue into extra-time, the game was decided with a rundown – a race with the ball from goal to goal. This exciting sprint resulted in Carleton House being crowned as victors.

'It was great that the weather held off because on Friday it was looking worrying,' said Norfolk polo manager Mark Holmes. 'We had some really exciting matches and everyone had a great time. There were some sore heads after Saturday night's party though!'

The Polo Festival attracted plenty of newcomers to this grand sport, which Mark believes is important.

'I think today (Sunday) there were about 600 spectators and the majority are new to polo,' he said. 'Everyone has said they had a brilliant time and we have raised nearly �4,000 for Help for Heroes, which is excellent.'

Spectator Miranda Wynne was impressed with the whole event, saying: 'It was really busy and great to see that no one was put off by the weather.

'The food was great, the atmosphere was good and the polo was very exciting, I will definitely be going back next year.'

The formula is set to be repeated next year with Holmes saying: 'We start planning on Tuesday.' So rest assured that Norfolk will have a Polo Festival at Langley Abbey for years to come.