In 1874, three years after the introduction of the game of polo to England, the Oxford University Polo Club was founded by undergraduates from Christ Church and Brasenose Colleges, led by Mr. Walter Long (later Viscount Long of Wraxall and First Lord of the Admiralty). The first match was held on the 1st of July 1877, and was contested by its two founder Colleges amid considerable pomp and ceremony. The great success of that day encouraged the players to establish a Varsity match with the Cambridge University Polo Club. This Varsity match is the oldest polo fixture in the western world and was first played at the Bullingdon Cricket Ground in Oxford on the 27th of November 1878. After a convincing 5-0 victory for the home side, the match became an annual fixture and was held thereafter at the Hurlingham Club and other venues from 1879 until 1939, apart from 1894 and 1900 and during the First World War when no games were played.
After the Second World War, the fixture was renewed in 1951. For several years the match was contested at the Guards Polo Club during Royal Ascot Week until, from 1959 onwards, the venue for the match was decided annually. In recent years, the Varsity match has returned to Guards, with the sponsorship of La Martina. A milestone was reached in the 1994 match, when the Captains of both teams were women. This was the first time ever that the Captains of both Oxford and Cambridge mixed sport teams were female.
Amongst previous club coaches are Captain James Pearce, Lord Cowdray, and Winston Churchill, who was a keen polo player himself and who came over to Port Meadow frequently from Blenheim to play polo and to help the Oxford Varsity team “by giving them a good gallop and a pipe-opener before the inter-Varsity”.
From the creation of the club, Oxford players have been selected for national teams. William Kavanagh, who played in the first Varsity match in 1878, went on to become one of the first high-handicapped players and played for England several times against the USA. After helping his side win the 1882 Varsity match, Tommy Hitchcock Sr. soon became one of America’s leading players, becoming one of the
first 10 goal players. Near the turn of the century, the Oxford team played host to the three Nickalls brothers, two of whom went on to represent England. Their contribution at university level saw the Dark Blues romp to a 15-0 victory in 1898. Five years later, an American arrived at Oxford who was to become more famous than any of his predecessors, Devereux Milburn. Not content with gaining a rowing Blue, Milburn guided the polo team to victory in successive Varsity matches, winning by a margin of 14 goals on both occasions. He soon graduated to international level, playing number four for his country in every match between 1909 and 1927 during which he was labelled “the greatest back there has ever been”. Cameron Walton-Masters played at Oxford off a handicap of three-goals and was a member of the Young England team which played Young North America. Most recently, two members of the 2019 Varsity team, Charlie Hitchman and Tamara Gibbons, made up half of a Young Wales team in the Home Nations Cup, held at Cheshire Polo Club.
During the late sixties and early seventies, polo at Oxford enjoyed a purple patch, winning the annual match eight times in a row. Many of the players from this period are now well-known figures in the polo world. General Sir Redmond Watt played off a two-goal handicap while at University and subsequently became the highest rated Old Blue after the war when he peaked at five-goals. Claire Tomlinson (nee Lucas), who was rated at nought-goals at university, also later reached five-goals to become the highest rated woman player in the world.
In the last decade Oxford had another victorious streak with five successive wins in 2007–11, and are currently fighting to maintain their streak of five further years, from 2015-19.
An excerpt from a The Times, 1968
History was made in 2016 when not only the match record was broken by Oxford winning the Varsity Match 19-0 against Cambridge, but the club also gained Discretionary Full Blue Status amongst the Oxford Blues sports. 2016 also saw the installment of a Winter Varsity Match for arena polo, and a renewal of the Atlantic Cup, which brings together university teams from Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford, and Yale , with Oxford coming out the winner, and for the first time winning the University Challenge Cup at the Goldin Metropolitan Club in Tianjin, China.
Cameron Walton Masters (Oxford) and Emma Tomlinson (Cambridge) in the 1995 Varsity Match - both captains of their teams
Francois Perrodo receives the Varsity Trophy from Ravi Tikkoo, president of Cambridge University Polo Club
2017 saw the beginning of a new Varsity tradition with the inaugural Claire Lucas Ladies Cup at Kirtlington with teams from Cambridge, Oxford, and St Andrew's, which Oxford won undefeated. In the same academic year, the University Challenge Cup was won at the Goldin Metropolitan Club in Tianjin for the second time in a row.
A new year meant new victories for OUPC. In 2018, we dominated Cambridge in the 120th Varsity Match, winning 13–0. In America, we played against Cambridge, Harvard, and Yale, emerging as the victors once again.
This year, Oxford were the winners of the 121st Varsity Match, ending the match with a beautiful score of 15-1 and bringing the tally to 64:57 (in Oxford's favour). As well as this, OUPC retained the title of Atlantic Cup champions, beating Harvard in the final on a score of 6-2. We look forward to many more successful fixtures to come, and hope the club can continue to grow and build on its history to create a fantastic future.