by Cliff Underwood
Any story of Octopush has to start with Alan Blake, who in 1954, along with some friends at Southsea B.S-A.C., came up with a fun game which U.K. divers could play in the wintertime when diving round the coast of Britain was not the most fun thing to do. (See Alan Blake's own article for details)
It took a while for this new game to take off, as in these early days, word of mouth was the only publicity available, but slowly interest in the game grew, mostly among diving clubs along the south coast. It soon reached a point where clubs started play each other and it quickly became obvious that if the game was going to become competitive, then much tighter rules and control of the game were required. To this end a meeting of interested parties was called in 1967, chaired by John Bevan, a Southsea member, and from this meeting the basic rules as we know them today were formed. At this point the B.S.A.C. became involved, publishing the new rules in a leaflet and entering them into the B.S.A.C. yearbook.
As you can imagine, from here the game really began to take off. With the B.S.A.C.'s backing, word of the game began to spread throughout the country, with many matches taking place between teams locally. This led to the next obvious step. In 1968, the first U.K. National Octopush Championships were held, taking place in the Marine pool at Southsea. Not un-naturally, also won by Southsea.
For the next 4 years Southsea dominated the National Championships, and during this time keeping a completely clean sheet, although closely pressed by the London based team from the Aquatic Club. Then came a breakthrough, when, although loosing 3 -1, one of the Aquatic Club players, Cliff Underwood, managed to slip a goal through the Southsea defence for the first time. The cracks were beginning to appear.
At the end of the National Event in 1971, a new competition was formed, the National Ladder, run initally by John Towse of Southsea, closely followed by Adrian Whorly also of Southsea. The idea being that teams could play each other all the year round, with the ladder recording their progress, either up or down, depending on how well they were playing.
The following year 1972 the National Event was moved to the Bullmersh pool in Reading, where the unthinkable happened. Southsea finally lost the National Championship to the Aquatic Club on goal difference, after the teams finished 1:1 during the tournament. Unfortunately, the glory was short lived for the Aquatic Club, as they disbanded that year, forming 7 new branches of the B.S.A.C.
After the 1972 Event Adrian Whorly asked Cliff Underwood to take over the running of the National championship and the National Ladder, as Cliff was already organising various local leagues thoughout the country, the biggest being in London with 15 teams.
This centralising of the Sport, as it was now, on London, gave the opportunity to gain much more publicity, consequently the sport grew in leaps and bounds. So big did it become in such a short time, that in 1973, for the first time, qualifying rounds had to be held for the National Championships, but quality will out, and Southsea bounced back to the top with a fine performance at the Beckenham pool in South London.
The expansion of the sport throughout the U.K. after the 1973 event was amazing, and although Cliff was able to cope with the growth, it increasingly became obvious that the Sport was getting much too big for it to be run by a one man band. Consequently Cliff petitioned all the teams currently playing the sport in the U.K. with the idea of forming a National body to run and control the sport of Octopush. Thus at a meeting in 1976, at the Cheshunt Football club hall, the British Octopush Association was formed, membership to which, would be open to anyone who played the Sport of Octopush. A committee was elected, with Cliff Underwood being asked to continue running the competitive side of the sport, and given the title of Director.
With the Sport of Octopush being formalised, with the forming of the British Octopush Association, the British Sub-Aqua Club, in 1977, were happy to recognise the BOA as the controlling body for the sport of Octopush in the U.K.
From here things began to move forward with great speed. Other counties were beginning to take notice of the Sport, notably the Netherlands and South Africa. This, in 1978, led to a meeting being held at Fort Bovisand, chaired by Alan Bax, where the CMAS Underwater Hockey Sub-committee of the Underwater Games Commission was inaugurated. Those co-signing the petition to set up the organisation were Cees Van Raaj of the Netherlands, Des Dandridge of South Africa. Gintonio Sacomani of Italy and Cliff Underwood of the UK.
In 1979 it was hoped to stage the first World Championship in the U.K. to celebrate the first 25 years of the sport invented by Alan Blake, but unfortunately with South Africa prominent in the sport, apatite politics got in the way and the event had to be cancelled at the last minute, as no pool in the U.K. could be used if South Africa was taking part in the event. This left the honour of staging the first World Championships, in 1980, to Vancouver Canada. The Event was contested by 5 men's teams only, and was won by the Netherlands.
Since that time the World Event has been staged every two years up to the present time, 2006, with the sport finally coming home 52 years later, when the Championships were held in the U.K. for the first time, in Ponds Forge, Sheffield.
On a personal note, Cliff Underwood has served the BOA in many different roles, from Director, National Competitions Organiser, National Rules Director, National Referee, Octopush News Founder and editor on three separate occasions. For CMAS he has been World Rules Director, World Chief Referee, and has actually Chief Refereed 6 World Finals in his time.
In 1999, Cliff Underwood retired from the sport he loved, mainly due to ill health, although he continued to takes an active interest in the sport, following events throughout the U.K. and the World via the internet. In later years Cliff's main contribution to the sport was as an archivist, keeping a record of all events in the U.K. and, where possible, throughout the world.
Cliff passed away on the 10th or June 2103