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The British group sailed on the Cunard steamship Servia on Aug. 7 and had an extremely rough crossing. Their 15 ponies had been placed upon the National Line's Erin, sailing at an earlier date, and that vessel encountered relatively good weather. On their arrival at Newport, the players took lodging at the Ocean House Hotel, the town's best, of course, and "were at once the cynosure of neighboring eyes," in the view of Field, a London magazine.
The first polo match was scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 24, at 4 p.m. By 3 o'clock the three main roads to Izzard's Field were jammed with all manner of conveyance: at least a dozen four-in-hand coaches, many park phaetons, barouches, buggies, curricles, carryalls, jumpers of every style, men and women on horseback and even mobs on foot. Most of the last named were the townspeople, off for the appropriately named Dead Head Hill, which overlooked Izzard's Field.
Below them, a Providence Journal reporter wrote, "was a sight never before witnessed, even in gay Newport.... The attendance composed the entire assemblage of wealth, beauty, culture and fashion which Newport's summer population can boast, and that is not small." The Union Jack and the American flag were displayed on poles near the clubhouse, along with the club flags of the participants—yellow for Westchester, blue for Hurlingham. Mullaly's Orchestra was present and playing, the clubhouse porch was filled and the fleet of spectator vehicles was drawn up two and three rows deep at the east side and south end of the field. The moment was at hand in precisely the proper setting.
But then a small unpleasantness arose. The British captain, John Watson, protested what he considered a variance in the method of officiating. As customary, each side had named an umpire to work the match, and above them, functioning as sort of the court of last appeal, was the referee, in this case an American, S. Howland Robbins Jr.
Watson's complaint was that Robbins should take his post in a stand at the field's edge and not, as he was for this day, on horseback. It seemed a thoroughly minor point to the Americans, hardly more than a technicality, but not to Watson. He notified the committee that his team "positively would refuse to play" if the change was not made. This put the committee in something of a bind, for here they were, with the clan gathered, their club and selves caught with transportation expenses of several thousand dollars, not to mention the cost of partying the visitors—and now a walkout threatened.
The only course was to rig a makeshift stand and place Robbins therein, which they did. The match began with a charge; that is, a race by one member of each team, starting from opposite ends of the field, to reach and gain control of the ball placed at the center of the field. Foxhall Keene was the choice to go it for the Americans, against Captain Little. Keene won the dash and, furthermore,' with three beautifully deft strokes scored a goal in the stunning time of 24 seconds.
Applause, which costs nothing, arose from Dead Head Hill. An excited buzz came from the spectators around the field and, on the piazza, Mullaly's Orchestra struck up Yankee Doodle. The charge was omitted when play was resumed, and within 45 seconds Captain Little tied the score for the British. Again Dead Head Hill applauded in a nonpartisan spirit, and this time the band played God Save the Queen.
In the next period the British began to get organized as a team and Watson, as an individual, played superbly. In one skirmish he broke his mallet, but, as a reporter put it, "electrified the spectators by making a brilliant stroke with the broken stick." For all that, the next goal went to the Americans, made by Thomas Hitchcock. And one minute after that Keene scored and made it 3-1, Americans. The audience was thrilled at this completely unexpected development. It lasted only a moment, however.
Two goals down, the Englishmen simply got cracking. "They began to show some of their magnificent team play," one account noted. "In this they far surpassed the Americans, who played well individually but with little passing or teamwork." The same reporter mentioned, almost parenthetically, that the British began to get in "some sly work in heading off and obstructing their opponents." By early in the second of the three periods of 20 minutes each, the British tied the score on a goal by John Watson, and then Watson made it 4-3. The final score was 10-4 in favor of the British.
Saturday's crowd at Izzard's Field far surpassed that of Wednesday's, with carriages four deep and twice as numerous this time. Dead Head Hill was more crowded and more responsive than previously. At game time a light fog hung on the field and, as play progressed, became more dense, until at the end it interfered with both view and comfort and caused many to leave before the finish.