An original name invented on the same night as Octopush an original sport was invented
|THE EVOLUTION OF OCTOPUSH
by Alan Blake
I started diving in 1949 from scratch.
In England, there was NO equipment what so ever on the market and no books
on amateur diving or any divers I had seen or heard about. So, why go
underwater? Crazy as it may seem, I found a 1930's book in the Public
Library by Dr William Beebe- 'One-Mile Down', in his Bathysphere. There
was no inspiration to emulate the Doctor's exploit. Sitting inside an
iron ball dangling in the sea on a mile of wire filled me with as much
enthusiasm as travelling to the sun in an igloo. However, there was a
tinted photograph of the good Doctor walking on the seabed off Bermuda
surrounded by brightly coloured fish. He was wearing a hardtop divers
helmet strapped on; Greek sponge diver style, air hose and lead boots.
I was hooked for life.
Summer 1954. Southsea now numbered about 60 - 40 paid up - 20 pay laters. We were extremely active diving, expeditions by coach [Durdle Door etc.], ferry and train to Isle of Wight sites and chartered fishing boats plus 2 swimming pool nights 3 lungs by now. However by July/August I was getting concerned, a great First Summer, but what of the First Winter?
Five years getting a diving club off the ground, the only finances being the surplus from the swimming pool hire; [the BSAC collared the subscriptions]. The whole Club could disintegrate if the members were only able to plod up and down a swimming pool for six months. I had no experience to draw on as to the continued enthusiasm of my fellow members, not withstanding the successful summer. There were no suits then, we just shivered. I had to put something together to keep the branch up to strength for next Summer. I came up with several ideas, but eliminated them as fast as I thought of them. Too rough or violent, too much equipment, uncontrollable, impractical, expensive, damage to the player or the swimming pool, too heavy or awkward to cart around on a bus or a cycle [ordinary folkz like us didn't have cars]. On top of all this, I had to be able to assure the Bath Superintendent that we were not going to break his damned tiles or make him responsible for 'drowning' ourselves. Believe me, when I first tried out wearing a thick pullover in the pool the Bath Attendant told me to take it off as it would drag me down. Ha ha, but it was a long-standing assumption. Eventually with all contingencies sorted out, I had resolved the parameters of what was necessary to create a competitive sport for our Winter. Problem, I could not go further without help. Ideas were one thing, transforming it to reality another.
It was one evening after a pool session, about 9.30; six of us got off the bus. Jack and Ena Willis, Frank and Hazel Lilleker plus my wife Sylvia and I, [the wives were active members in the Club]. I put it to them that I had an idea for a winter sport that we could develop. They appreciated the thought and we all trouped round to Jack and Ena's place, as they had to relieve their babysitter. There we sat at the kitchen table with cups of tea as I set out my parameters. Eight players a team, a circular lead weight propelled to the opposite end of the pool with a bat curved to suit the lead disc. The name Octopus [for the eight players] Squid [as in slid or slide] for the lead disc and Cuttle [rhyming with scuttle] for the goal. All the same fishy family. As we chewed the fat and drank innumerable cups of tea, the sport was finalised. During the discussion, the propelling of the SQUID, which we had agreed, kept being referred to as being pushed, so it became logical to refer to the 'bat'as a PUSHER. Bingo: I already had the PUS, so bung an H on the end of the Octopus and I had OCT-O-PUSH. Eight pushing. The Cuttle fell by the wayside in favour of Gully as the goal. There was still the equipment needed. The Pushers and the Squid. This task was a liaison between Jack Willis and Frank Lilliker. Jack had to make the Squid before the Pushers could be finalised by Frank We knew that we needed the Pusher to encompass the Squid by about a third in order for the Squid to be passed and not be stuck in the horns of the Pusher. Jack had to find a suitable mould in which to cast the lead. I believe an old sweet tin was eventually used. Second problem was the acquisition of the lead. We appealed to our members for their old lead toothpaste tubes,-- yes toothpaste [1954 Note: it was then normal to rub mercury powder into the gums of teething babies]. My landlord lost a few inches of unnecessary waste pipe, but Jack found enough eventually. The Pushers were then completed to fit Jacks dimensions. Questions remained. Was it a possible game? . Would the squid move on the bottom easily? Would the Pusher release the Squid for passing? So far, everything had been hypothetical. There was only one way to find out. In the pool.
The first game of the Sport of OCTOPUSH
Armed with the Squid, Pushers, and the rules on our Notice Board, which we always towed around then [we did not have a clubhouse] we descended on the pool [the old Portsmouth Guildhall Baths]. Roping in John Ventham, Jack, Frank and me formed into two against two to test out the action of the Pusher v Squid v player. It worked and no adjustments were apparent to prevent it being considered as a viable game. Fortunately, we did have sufficient time to come to that decision, because as soon as the others at the pool realised that the gear was there they were in the water all having a push. It was only when I took their 'ball' away [at great personal risk] did we get to playing approximately to the Rules.
That night OCTOPUSH was delivered
Octopush was now played regularly, but we transferred it to the Royal Marine Baths at Eastney, the commando training pool [canoes. rafts and frogmen]. We had almost unlimited free access with the occasional expert training by the R.M.s. The longest session I can remember was 7 to 1 o'clock. This pool was slightly heated until 6 o'clock and we could use the residue!! It was the ideal size for Octopush and approximates to the present day dimensions. Most of the playing was between our own members but also matches against visitors, particularly Bournemouth and Brighton. To promote club membership we held Exhibitions and Galas when Jack explained and we demonstrated Octopush and entertained with a variety of U/W games, such as shooting at balloons with spear guns etc. Seated in the balcony at a Gala was a young fellow called John Towse who eventually became a member and helped arrange the National Octopush Ladder in the 70's. In my monthly contribution to Peter Small the Editor of Neptune, the original BSAC Journal on the Branch Activities I informed him of Southsea's new game Octopush. This he announced in the November 1954 issue.
In 1954/55 as Branches were starting or in embryonic stage many faced failure with training impossible. The Bath Superintendents were not permitting the use of our basic needs i.e. mask, fins or snorkels in their pools. It so happened that it fell to me to persuade these all-powerful officials otherwise. It became my brief when on the National General Committee. Just a sample of quite a large number -Gravesend - Stoke Newington - Woolwich - East Greenwich- West Ham - Birmingham - Halifax - Bradford -etc. etc., the list goes on of the baths banning this very basic equipment. This undertaking on my part was primarily for the advancement of the whole diving sport, but influenced my Abbreviated Rules for Octopush.
Two items in my Rules, which are directly attributable to that current situation, are:
It has been suggested that knocking a diving weight around the pool bottom with our snorkels was the origin of Octopush in a form of hockey. At no time did this happen.
Although it may appear to be the natural evolution, it is fantasy on the part of the later day perpetrators of this myth. Logic dictates the impracticability.
To backtrack a little. Did I succeed in my initial objective, which was to keep the Southsea branch together? I cannot tell whether Octopush played any part in why Southsea held together, but it became one of the most successful clubs in Britain. It won the envied Heinke Trophy 3 times, had two Divers of the Year Awards, one by Alex McKee for the discovery and initiating the raising of the Mary Rose. The other, John Bevan who achieved the deepest simulated dive. Southsea is still producing high calibre Octopush players several for the British team and 2nd generation ones now.
In 1958 I worked in Malaya and became a founder member and Diving Officer of the Malayan Sub -Aqua Club. Octopush was introduced to the 40 mainly Ex-pat members in the Kuala Lumpur baths. I often wonder whether any took it back to their own countries.
Well there is the tale of my part in Octopush or underwater hockey, longwinded as it may be. At this stage, I regret the constant use of the first person singular for which I apologise. So, let me provide the original basic Rules of Octopush.
It appears to me that in constructing this Web page that I have rambled on about unrelated matters, but to most of you your knowledge of the early 50's is vague and what your fathers or grandparents prattle about. They were strange times indeed. Much of it though has a point. In 1954, I thought up the 'game'. How? If I hadn't would someone else have done it and would it have got as wide a spread. You can't reinvent the wheel. I believe I found the answer.
It's part of the Theory of Chaos. Long, long ago in Outer Mongolia, a butterfly flapped his wing. setting off the chain of events which ultimately led me to pick up that dusty, old book of Dr Beebe, to founding a club containing two erstwhile colleagues,-- et cetera, et cetera.
AND SO MY TALE IS TOLD
It only remains
To wish all Octopush /Underwater
Hockey Folkz Past and Present
Postscript --- Should you get a broken rib or lose your front teeth when playing,
DON'T BLAME ME
BLAME THE BLUDY BUTTERFLY