(Article by Alan Blake, Southsea No 9 Branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club)
At the close of summer 1954 with evening diving curtailed, the prospect of six months confined to a swimming pool was daunting. As Branch Secretary at the time it seemed essential that a competitive game was needed to soak up the winter interlude.
After a pool session in August the idea was put to two other members, and with our wives [we] finalised the whole game and decided it was worth playing. The "pushers" [were] to be made by F Lilleker, the "squid" by J Willis. In September Octopush was introduced to the Southsea members, and the original BS- AS journal Neptune announced Southsea's Octopush in the November 1954 edition.
It has been suggested that Octopush started as a group of divers batting around a lead diving weight with a snorkel. This just did not occur. In 1954 we could only afford one snorkel each, and some still used the thin double bend type with a ball valve or flap; to risk it would have been out of the question.
Octopush was a completely academic creation at the formation meeting. In 1954 we were very conscious of our new unhacked underwater environment and wanted a phraseology that linked us to the sea, and divorced us from the land. The name and really the game itself revolved around the word "octopus". The number of players had to be eight to suit the "oct". As Southsea could not muster 16 players regularly, six players and two probably weak or non-existent substitutes suit the membership. (Historical note - in September 1954 there were only 15 Branches.) The "pushers" had to be called "pushers" because that was the action I wanted to achieve and was self-explanatory. The addition of the "h" to the end must now appear obvious, in retrospect. In order to tie the game to the sea further, the "squid" was a generical convenience. At no time had Southsea considered the unimaginative and non-descriptive [name] "underwater hockey", ice or grass, as an alternative to the 37 years of establishment of Octopush. Octopush was devised with its own rules and original name as an underwater competitive sport for divers in its own right, not as an adapted land game.
The original rules had two differences that belong to the past era.
The restriction of overarm strokes was a direct adherence to the BS-AC pool rules at that time, similarly jumping in from the edge was forbidden. (Many Bath Superintendents opposed diving clubs using their pools for fear of broken glass.)
The non-use of snorkels was also to pacify the Bath Superintendent regarding broken masks, but also to avoid being used as a second implement that would have allowed "dribbling" the squid, so altering the intent and character of the game. The use of snorkels came in once Octopush was disciplined.
Competitions were held with our two neighbouring branches Bournmouth and Brighton in the 1954/55 winter. In March 1955 the first invited public demonstration was held at the Portsmouth City Baths in the Southsea BS-AC Gala.