Blood in the Water: Durham leave Leeds Met drowning in their sorrows

Spectator, William Rawlinson, writes about how Leeds Met their match, thanks to Durham Water Polo’s last minute victory.

It was a match destined to be among the greats in the Durham sporting calendar. Last Friday’s water polo match between Durham University Water Polo Men’s First Team and Leeds Met was a fixture reminiscent of Hungary’s 1956 clash with the USSR, which gained the infamous title of “Blood in the Water”. The previous year’s match between these two teams had been abandoned within the first half having descended into a full-on brawl, and sitting in the stands with popcorn in hand, I was certain that this one would be a cracker.

Durham began shakily. As North-East champions this year they had seen off some tough opposition, but were unused to the overly aggressive tactics employed by this team. Within thirty seconds Leeds Met’s Daniel Pollock, who did not wish to be named, was sent out for the game and asked to leave the poolside having confronted the referee. Refusing to leave, Pollock spent the rest of the match prancing about angrily on poolside, to the ironic laughter of the audience.

Tensions steadily rose. As the score climbed to 5-3 to Leeds Met every challenge for the ball seemed to involve an elbow or kick to the head. Inevitably before the end of the first half punches were thrown. Unable to contain Durham’s star player Santiago Gonzalez from making it 5-4, a member of the Leeds team channelled his inadequacy into a punch, leaving the Spaniard with a cut below the eye. The spectators, some topless at this point having painted ‘DUWP’ in purple lettering on their chests, leapt to their feet in outrage, and were asked to calm down by the increasingly bewildered looking senior referee.

1 minute 30 seconds to go. 10-8 to Leeds Met and Durham in possession. Club President Patrick Bennett hammers in a goal from 5m (to the delighted squeal of his new girlfriend), and Santi shakes off two defenders to level things up with a casual backhand goal. 10-10.

18.9 seconds remain. The table officials are having a nightmare. Normally seasoned experts at the complex art of putting the score up in order, and pressing the right button to start the game clock, the pressure of the event was clearly too much for these ladies. After several minutes of confused buzzing sounds, however, the game continues.

Durham are a man up and heading towards goal, after yet another brutal challenge, the captain is awarded a penalty. I have to say, I’ve never wanted anyone to score more. Sportsmanship is clearly not a well understood concept for the Leeds Met team, who did their best to unsettle the captain as he swam forward to take the shot. Pollock jeered from the poolside. The tension in the audience rose to critical levels – even the Viking painted onto Jack Lowrie’s stomach looked concerned.

Brown scores – bottom right corner. Not since the John Terry’s slip and cry of ’08 have I felt so good about a penalty. The clock winds down to a finish, and what would result in a magnificent Durham victory.

The match ended with even further confusion. Failing to realise that the Spaniard regularly consumes Leed’s Met player-sized meals for breakfast, a member of the opposing team makes another attempt on Santi, and is rewarded with what appeared to be a dismissive kick between the legs for his trouble. The referee desperately blew his whistle, the table officials appeared to restart the clock to the general confusion of the Leeds Met team (bless ‘em), and the crowd applauded yet another successful performance from the Durham 1st team. A shining beacon of sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct, and athletic prowess like there never was before.

The referees were unavailable for comment. Reports that they were later found in the foetal position, sobbing in Market Vaults, are yet to be confirmed.

Click on the video to watch the original Blood in the Water match from 1956.