The people have now replaced their individual human heads for either blue or white clones that all resemble an alien breed honed with boggled eyes, domed ears and elongated proboscis which run from where their mouth should be and up the side of their head, seemingly to replicate a side-mounted equivalent of a whales' blowhole.
All wearing fins, water is most certainly the element that this breed is adapted for, so I'm in the right place.
I'm here at the local pool to watch the very non-spectator sport of Underwater Hockey……. ...... as a spectator.
In the spectators gallery are four people, one being myself. The others are waiting, as they do each week, to fulfill their driving duties for some of the clubs players and all have something to occupy their time.. a laptop, a book and the third has a sleepy gaze fixed on a mysterious something that seems to be up on the high ceiling.
"Teams ready… Go!" The 6 water dwelling entities at each end of the pool, push away and shatter the clear mill pond surface as they accelerate towards the center. At full speed they dive below to compete for the puck and drive it, from where it was placed in the center of the pool floor, into the opponents gully further along at the opposite end.
As the teams blast across the surface, it quickly becomes apparent that it is a players' game. All the splashing around denies anything of interest from being seen of the actual game below the surface, and consequently no appreciation of any dynamics of 12 individuals, as two teams of sports men and women, competing to score the most gullys.
After 5 or 6 minutes, I found myself sneaking a look at the high ceiling just to check if the mysterious something could be seen yet. Although I'm now bored, I do know the players of the game love it.
The players say they know the game because they've seen it close up and personal. They've seen it in full underwater flight, with team dynamics of fast attack and counterattack strategies, individual skills (or blunders) and the unique fact that when you are engaged in the rapid action, you are not allowed to breath…. Not allowed being according to the rules of human biology rather than any game rules, as the puck is weighted and can only be pushed or flicked with your own little hand held pusher-stick, underwater around the floor of the pool.
Visits back to the surface, in a fast, competitive game are only usually via self adjustment of your own positioning within your team shape whilst somehow grabbing the opportunity to heave in a splash-n-dash of oxygen for the next, almost immediate, well timed duck-diving intervention back into the game that is still at full momentum, being played out across the pool floor below.
To play the game, is driven by finding a love for it, but unless something is done to bring the underwater game into view, to observe it as a spectator, you may wish to bring a laptop, a book, or if it's a high ceiling, a little pair of binoculars.
This feature has been selected to highlight a point:...... The opportunity of enjoyment that a spectator and a player have of this sport, is not equal (at this moment in UK history).... and will remain, at least, until the sport of Underwater Hockey is delivered, with media standard, above the water for spectators (Media will catch on soon, we are sure! We'll even help them).
One solid flick to the right-forward and we are clear for a breakaway, but my flick is a duffer and is punished by the agility of the opponent midfields' interception who collects the flying puck out of mid flight, controls it and sweeps it back through our team line.
I have to retreat at full speed to arrive and support our back-man, now just about to engage this skilled adversary. The distance back is only meters but I have to go via the surface, 2m above, to flush my lungs of CO2 and splash n dash some oxygen. The return move becomes a fast roll-over maneuver, breaking the surface and sweeping over backwards twisting as I go, to end back into play, right way up, and carrying momentum once again in our attack direction.
Worth his salt, our back-man has engaged and thwarted their offense and with extra vision, has followed my aerobatics in the 'sky' above him. He flicks to where he assesses I'll end up. We've done this before and when still upside down, half way through my maneuver, I see his arm raise and twist before he flicks the puck. As I'm rolling over and down, I see the space he is aiming for and sweep in.
Perfect pass! I collect the puck at speed with ease and we are straight through their forwards and back into midfield.
Above I see the stream of bubbles surge down as their team dives to counter our counter, but they are a fraction too late. I accelerate to make it ahead of their desperate vertical descents. Our left forward streams down from the surface ahead and left of me and I power off a flick to where she'll be, sending the puck straight under a vertical incoming midfield missile, who crumples into the pool floor in front of me. Our forward collects on the move and breaks for it, and the whole field now powers after her down the pool.
Returning to the surface I follow and watch her continue to cover ground. Their back-man is above her on the surface frantically chasing back and trying to creep just ahead of her position fractionally, so when he descends to challenge it will at least be a vertical intercept to stand any chance of blocking her drive for goal.
I follow at pace, heaving air into my lungs through a snorkel tube that seems to get narrower proportional to the need. When the back-man dives, his block move will send the puck spinning back behind our forward… I've seen it before… That's where I'll be, on the floor to collect it and I've already decided a clear option is to immediately send the puck ahead and to the right… it is clear and we have a right-forward somewhere in this frenzy of arrows all heading the same way.
The back-man lunges his vertical decent, I dive at 45 degrees, desperate to be there if the option occurs. It does. I collect as our forward is crumpled and spun right over with the force in which the puck she was pushing has been checked and thrust in the reverse direction, underneath her.
I know our back-man is available behind me, but the space is still there ahead and to the right. A low level flick sends the puck hurtling under the sprawling fins of our forward and as it hits the floor, another friendly pusher, our right-forward, controls it and carries it towards the open last few meters. He could flick it in from there. I can't wait underwater any longer to see the outcome and bolt for the surface, already decided that I'm spent of energy and am heading back as fast as possible to our end of the pool, the 30 meters or so, to be subbed by a fresh player.
As I hit the surface and start to haul what feels like a dead weight body back at what ever speed I can muster, I hear the sound behind me. The sound of 'puck on aluminum'. It is not a great sound in itself, merely a dullened clank, but when confirmed by the refs gong sound indicating a successful goal, it represents a moment……
……. A moment that is teamwork rewarded.