After an 18 month hiatus, the BWPL was back and with this new season came a new dawn for City of Bristol water polo club. Following the disappointment of relegation at the end of 2020, COB’s young squad were looking to forge their own identity and bounce back to the second division. The summer months gave us a pre-season period to build up to the start of the campaign. Between the still waters of Hengrove Leisure centre, the choppy shores of Saunton Sands and the murky depths of Portishead Lido, the team grew in ﬁtness and familiarity; excited for the challenge ahead.
The soundtrack to our Sunday morning sessions at Hengrove is the synchro swimmers’ Frozen playlist, so it was ﬁtting that our ﬁrst BWPL weekend at Haberdasher’s felt like we were going ‘into the unknown’. Castleford and Durham were both teams whom we knew little about and our game against Castleford was a shock to the system. Scrappy and static, they were the antithesis of our water polo philosophy and we quickly saw our strong start come undone - succumbing to a 2 goal loss. Defeated but not dispirited, we discussed areas for improvement and recovered well ahead of the following morning’s game against Durham. The boys woke up hungry and feasted on the frailties in their defence. Dominant at the back and relentless at the front, we smashed them 19-6.
Phase 1 weekends came thick and fast, and we made sure to work hard in training to get better as a team. By late October, we were able to put this into practice with a convincing 10-7 victory against Worthing. Never keen to make life easy for ourselves, we backed this up with a poor 12-9 loss to Croydon in a vintage Sunday morning slog fest - a result which dragged us into a mid table scrap for the top 5 places in the league. Our focus turned to Winchester and a three-game weekend that would prove pivotal for the remainder of the season.
Our 19-15 victory in the west country derby against Cheltenham was soured by the dislocation of goalkeeper Diego Lara’s shoulder. Ever the team player, Diego attempted to push through the pain and play the second game of the day, only to retire hurt and be replaced by Craig Figes. Despite losing this game, we recovered to win the ﬁnal game of the weekend and book our place in Championship 2 for the second half of the season.
With a short Christmas break before the start of phase 2, we worked hard in training to prepare ourselves for the tougher teams to come. For all our outﬁeld improvement, we now had a vacant goalkeeper position to ﬁll in time for the three remaining weekends. Thankfully, between Craig’s legs, Sam’s little arms and Crawford’s penchant for giving away penalties we were able to recreate Diego’s best assets. We managed to come out of the next two weekends with two wins, two draws and one loss, all whilst conceding the fewest goals in the league.
By the time the ﬁnal weekend of the year came round, we were ﬁnally hitting our stride. Positive showings at a local league tournament in Millﬁeld, a last-gasp victory in a friendly against Bristol uni and a spirited away performance against Welsh Wanderers meant that morale was high for our ﬁnal two ﬁxtures. The early morning journey to Bolton was made worth it with a 13-2 vanquishing of Cheltenham, before a hearty meal in Bolton town centre restored our energies and set us up nicely for the following morning’s show down. A 12-5 victory against Hucknall guaranteed promotion to division 2 next season - a result which reﬂects the vast improvements that we have made throughout the year.
The 2021/22 season had a bit of everything: 8 wins, 13 players getting on the scoresheet, 3 players coming out of retirement and 4 diﬀerent goalkeepers. We will enjoy the oﬀ season and look forward to seeing what new heights this young team can reach next year.
You can find all the result of the second round on the BWPL website here