Motorcycle Polo History

June 4, 2017

Call it motorcycle polo or call it motoball – either way it is madness and it might be contagious. Imagine, if you will, living motorcycle polo history.

Motorcycle Polo Sunday

They are lined up five across, shadowy and menacing in the dust, gunning their engines. It looks far, but it goes by fast. And that ball is sitting there in the middle waiting, just 50 yards away, You can be there scooping up the ball with your leg in three seconds, and those shadows won’t move until you do. The plan is: accelerate to the centre, shift weight and brake to get the tail to slide out, pass just to the left of the ball and scoop it up with your right leg and hold it as you come out of the slide, then flick it sideways to your right forward and abruptly began a new slide to bolt for the opposite side of the field, losing your defender. That is the plan. And when do things go according to plan on Motorcycle Polo Sunday?

motorcycle polo field with bikes

That…thing… across the field looks too big to be human. The motorcycle underneath him looks like a toy in comparison.You are feeling a little apprehensive. Your mates call you “beeg maahn.” You are the natural choice for center, and you’re not used to being the little guy.

Cotton Mouth on the Starting Line

Your mouth is a little dry when the countdown starts, the starter pistol fires, and you drop the clutch and fly towards the ball, eyeballs rattling, drop into the slide, right on the money grab the ball, right yourself, make the flick. Perfect. And now you are changing direction again, ready to break for the corner and receive the next pass. But that thing from across the field is now matching your trajectory, making a symmetrical arch of travel that appears will end in a painful asymptote.

The monster on the impossibly small Harley keeps getting bigger, and as he grows it becomes clear – he is aiming for you. You don’t even have the ball. At some preconscious level you realize you have less than a second left to decide if he is bluffing and playing chicken, or whether he’s planning to drive straight through you.

With steely resolve, you realize the second is already up and it looks like he was not expecting you to call his bluff. A decision you had actually not made yet. No more nights out a the local before race day, you think as you fly over his laid out bike, pushing yourself away from the handlebars and hoping for a soft landing somewhere not in the path of another speeding motorcycle. Whether you are a pro or an amateur, that’s just the way it goes sometimes on Motoball day.

Russian Motoball players in 1979 in field riding motorcycles

Russian Motoball players in 1979

Motoball aka Motorcycle Polo History

Inventive motorcyclists in England held the first motorcycle polo match to entertain supporters at a charity gala. Their simple notion – play football (or as yanks call it, soccer) while riding motorcycles. Motorcycle polo continued in the UK at a  fairly informal level for decades. In the 20s and 30s in the US a few teams toured the nation playing exhibition games. A 1933 article in Popular Science predicted the sport, being more egalitarian than polo, would catch on, but it faded away. In France, it caught fire.

Motorcycle polo emerged as a well organized national support in 1930 in France. Since 1940, the French have held national championships and run a continuous series for 67 years. Russia, the Ukraine, Germany and several Eastern European countries now have active Motoball or Motorcycle Polo leagues. Beginning in 1982 with the Goodwill Games and continuing in 1986 after a brief hiatus, the European National Championship has now been running for 30 years continuously.

Seynois Motorcycle Polo Club, 1937

Seynois Motorcycle Polo Club, 1937

Motorcycle Polo Rules

While the rules have changed a little over the years, they are easy to grasp. It is soccer on motorcycles. Players are only allowed to block or pass the ball with their feet, heads or elbows. They cannot use their hands or their motorcycles. The goalie can use both his hands and his motorcycle while he is inside a 35 yard semi circle around the goal.

The original format of the game called for six player and two 15 minute halves. In 1930 the two halve grew to 25 minutes each and the teams shrunk to five players. Then in 1950, four twenty minute periods became the new standard. In 1960, the goal keepers got to leave their bike behind and goal tend on foot. A mixed blessing, we imagine! The game was originally played on bikes up to 350 cc but modern Motorcycle Polo has been limited to 250 cc and under since 1950.

More Motorcycle Madness

Motorcycle polo, aka motoball, is perhaps not the craziest thing anyone’s ever done on two wheels. Board track motorcycle racing might deserve that status. With 60 degree banked turns and motorcycles flying into crowds of spectators and exploding, that sport was a lot crazier than flat track motorcycle racing. We are in the first stages of forming a flat tank motorcycle racing club for modern vintage motorcycle enthusiasts. Come join in the fun!