George Fox of Edgeworth Polo Club
PUBLISHED: 16:33 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:55 20 February 2013
In the first of our three polo profiles we talk to George Fox of Edgeworth Polo Club
George Fox, 24, from Edgeworth, has just returned home from a season playing polo in New Zealand. Far from conforming to stereotype, George funds his game by driving trucks, and buying horses at bargain prices to train up himself.
"I'm always broke - I never have any money because we're paid more or less nothing - but it's a wonderful life. I was thinking the other day about all my mates back home, sitting in offices in the cold of England while I was out playing polo in the baking heat of New Zealand! I've got a mate from university days who decided he was going to take a job with a bank in London. I tried to persuade him to come out to New Zealand with me, but he refused: 'You won't be laughing when you've got no money and I've got a decent job,' is what he said. But when I rang him halfway through this polo season, it was, 'Oh mate, I made the wrong choice!'
I wouldn't call myself a professional, as such. Last year, I managed to pay for most things, though I did end up with a couple of outstanding bills. Some of the top professionals get paid maybe 2,000 a game, but they've got to keep 12 horses in full livery and have two grooms, a truck and cars - it all mounts up. I'm not commanding anywhere near that sort of money, but last season I got my lorry-driving licence: I drive people's horses to polo when I'm not playing, and that's how I make money. There are more players like me, who have had to work at it, than there are people who can afford to buy a 30,000 horse.
It all started when I was about 13 or 14 and wanted a job like my friends, who all seemed to have paper rounds. My mum suggested I went to see John P [John P Smail, chairman of Edgeworth Polo Club] so I did. Straight away, he said, 'I'll see you here tomorrow. I'm not going to pay you - I'll teach you to play polo instead'. In fact, I think I only got two real lessons off him that year. He showed me how to hit a ball and left me to it; but when I went into the tack room, he'd written my name on the chukka list of who was playing. So I was straight into it with the pros. My mum was more than happy: it kept me out of her hair, and I'd come home too exhausted every night to be a typical nightmare teenager!
While I was at university, I decided I wanted to get a string of horses together. My mum wouldn't help me out - though she's been quite good at helping me with shoeing and stuff like that - but one day, I happened to be with a family friend who's a vet. He got a phone call from a guy who had a three-year-old race horse that wasn't going to be any good at racing, so he wanted to sell it. It turned out to be an awesome little pony. I gave the guy 500 cash for it (from my student loan!) and now it's in my playing string. Since then, I've bought two other horses from here, there and everywhere for not very much money. It's hard work training them up, but a great sense of achievement.
Polo can be expensive. For me, membership is around 500-600. I have to buy a new set of shoes every four or five weeks at 60-70 a set per horse, and the food bill is probably 20 per week. As for vets' bills, the sky's the limit. But I do it all as cheaply as possible. You could pay 130 a horse per week for livery, but mine have rugs on and live in a field. I'm also lucky to live where I do. I can ride to polo, which means I don't need a lorry. Even so, longer term, I think real life is going to have to kick in at some point, and I'll have to get a 'proper' job. But I at least wanted to get to the stage where I was good enough to be able to go away for a few years and come back and still play a reasonable game.
I've been so lucky with the people who've helped me. The HPA, the governing body of polo in England, are very good at supporting young players. They gave me a bursary, which enabled me go to New Zealand on my first visit. I'm also hugely grateful to John P. There are a lot of people who've helped me, but without him, I'd never have been able to play.
This season, I'll be back playing at Cirencester, though I'm still negotiating with a patron - I have to balance the economics. A lot of the kids who played when I was growing up have given up because of the cost; but, on the whole, I'd say that if you've got the determination, you can succeed."
The Polo Office, Cirencester Park, Cirencester GL7 1UR; 01285 653225; www.cirencesterpolo.co.uk
Key fixtures this season, all beginning at 3pm:
Sunday, June 28, Cirencester Park 18 goal final in aid of Action Medical Research
Sunday, July 5, Queen Mother Trophy final
Sunday, August 9, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire Cup finals
Sunday, August 23, County Cup final
Sunday, September 6, Cheltenham Cup final
Price: 15 per car, plus an optional 5 per head to use members' facilities including bar, restaurant and grandstand
Dress code: none
Restaurant facilities: informal buffet-style hot dishes, prepared using local fresh ingredients
Beaufort Polo Club, Down Farm, Westonbirt, Tetbury GL8 8QW; 01666 880510; www.beaufortpoloclub.co.uk
Key fixtures this season:
Saturday, June 6, Willow Foundation and Bath Racecourse Members
Saturday, June 13, Hope for Tomorrow
Saturday, June 20, Country Fair and International Test Match: England v Australia
Sunday, June 21, Country Fair and Countryside Foundation for Education Day
Saturday, July 4, Brooke polo day
Friday, July 10, Polo Ball
Saturday, July 18, Chakravarty Cup
Saturday, July 25, St James' Place
Price: day membership 20 for above matches; but polo is played most days throughout the season - May to September - entrance 10 per car, irrespective of number of occupants. See website for times
Restaurant facilities: luncheon package 85-110 available on all charity days
Edgeworth Polo Club, Fieldbarn, Edgeworth, Stroud GL6 7JF; 01285 821695;
Key fixtures this season:
June 13/14 The 6 goal championship
June 27/28, The Isa Trophy, 8 goal
July 18/19 The Mid Summer Plate, 2 goal
August 15/16 The Last days of the Raj, 4 goal
Times of matches vary, depending on what is happening at other clubs in the area, and number of teams per tournament; please see website
Price: spectators free
Glossary of polo terms:
HPA: Hurlingham Polo Association, the governing body of polo, similar to the Jockey Club
Team: generally consists of four players
The Patron: alongside the captain, the Patron organises the team, ensuring all their expenses are met and entry fees paid. Patrons play as full team members, but often have full-time jobs as well, so play as a hobby rather than a profession. The Patrons employ players based on their handicap, ensuring that, whatever their personal handicap, they can play at the level they choose (see team handicaps below)
Professional polo player: Paid to play as part of a patron's team, they also make money from buying and selling horses, and some from coaching
Chukka: A period of play, approximately seven minutes. In a low goal game, there are four chukkas in a match; medium goal, five; and high goal (top skill game) is made up of six.
Stick: The instrument players use to hit the ball; these can vary in length according to a player's preference and the height of their pony. Traditionally, the shafts are made of bamboo but increasingly players are favouring man-made alternatives, such as graphite.
Polo pony: Horses trained in the art of polo: the term 'pony' can be misleading as they vary in height. Traditionally, they are bred all over the world and imported; however, polo players are increasingly retraining racehorses, which have the right build and attitude for the sport
Team and individual handicaps: Each individual is handicapped from minus two up to ten (ten being the best in the world), according to their ability. The team handicap is the total added together of all four players' handicaps. Teams can only enter a tournament within their handicap range; for example, the Cirencester Park County Cup is a 12-15 goal tournament, thus only teams with a total handicap of between 12 and 15 goals may enter