Only the full backs or goal keepers are entitled to remain within the goal-line; and it is one of the duties of the judges or umpires, who stand each at a goal, to declare a foul against any player who enters the goal enclosure ahead of the ball. It is one of the rules, too, that the ball must be carried, and cannot be passed, over the goal-line.
There are several points of difference between the English and the American game. In the English game, as I understand, the player is permitted to strike or push the ball with his hand. He may interfere with an opponent only when the opponent has the ball in his possession. In this country a player may carry the ball in any direction, and may "tackle" any player who either has the ball or is within three feet of it.
At the moment before the beginning of the game the teams are marshalled on the platforms, at the respective ends of the tank, as determined by the toss. It is a moment of expectancy. The twelve young men in their swimming costumes make two attractive groups. The ball, ready for its lively bath, is the regulation foot-ball. The umpires, timekeeper, referee, are all in place. The audience gives signs of that tension exhibited at the moment in foot-ball when the two teams, drawn up in determined lines, await that first movement of the ball which begins the excitement of the game.
The ball is in the middle of the tank, and with a great splash the players are plunging into the water. The two centre rushes are swimming toward the ball from opposite sides of the tank, the other players scurrying into position behind them. For a few seconds only there is the suspense of not knowing which leader will first get the ball. Almost at the same instant the Red and the Black reach for the dancing globe. But the Red gets it; and quick as thought he snaps it to the half-back, the end rusher continuing to plunge toward the opposite goal. The half-back, clutching the ball, dives out of sight for an instant, but is soon seen on his way toward the left centre of the tank. The centre rush of the Blacks makes a great sweeping stroke for the bail, and the left end rusher of the Blacks is right in the swimmer's path. There is a big fluster of spray, and the left end rusher of the Reds is seen swimming with the ball that was cleverly passed to him. But the half-back of the enemy is alert, and by a swift side-stroke wrenches the ball from the daring rusher, and makes for the other side of the tank. Here two of his team make a lively effort to keep a passage for him. Five swimmers are soon in such a tangle that it is difficult to determine who has the ball. Three or four of the figures disappear beneath the foam; and one man, another of the Blacks, is seen swimming hard for the Red goal.
The Struggle for the Ball.
There is a great cheer from the spectators as the lusty youth cleaves the water with his free left arm. But the swimmer can gain but a few strokes. He is seized by two of the Reds; he writhes, dives, and appears two yards away, rising, unfortunately, under the very nose of the Red left end rusher, who has waited for him. Two other Reds are but a stroke or two away, and all of them disappear and rise again. The head of the Black with the ball cannot be seen by the eager spectators. They are holding him under. Yet he seems determined not to give up the ball. Re-enforcements from both teams are now at hand. Two of the Blacks dive with the purpose of passing the ball. But a man with his head under water and three or four men struggling with him cannot discriminate very readily in such a matter. The plucky fellow, who cannot tell whose hand is friendly, must soon let go the ball, and who shall get it when he does let go?
Then all at once two of the players who have been on the outskirts of the struggle discover that the ball has come to the surface a yard away from the outer line of the scramble. A Red now has the ball. He is making straight for the right of the tank. The crowd of swimmers turn upon him. A signal has told the Reds that the ball is in their possession. Three times the glistening rubber changes hands, the Reds still carrying it nearer and nearer to their opponents' goal. The Black goal keepers gird themselves for the struggle beyond the goal line. Twice the Blacks get the ball. Twice the Reds recover it. The spectators are finding it hard not to shout improperly loud, and not to stand on the seats. The shouts in the water often end in a gurgle, and a seething hum is punctuated with an occasional splash on the surface.
In the scramble at the goal-line it is again impossible to tell who has the ball, but the Reds are holding all the ground (or water) they have taken. The effort is to touch the goal-board. This is no easy thing in the presence of two goal-keepers with arms like a blacksmith's. The water is white with foam, and every swimmer is doing his utmost to turn the crisis to the advantage of his side. When the referee's whistle announces that the Reds have won the goal, a congratulatory shout greets the panting and dripping figures that leave the water for a few minutes' breathing-time.
Enthusiasts in water polo think that before the present summer is over the game will be established in favor as a warm-weather sport. There is, these enthusiasts tell me, no reason in the world why the game should not be played in any water that is without current; and, even in a river with moderately strong current, it would be possible to play it across stream, the goals and limits being once definitely placed. Probably, however, the popularity of the game will result in the arrangement of warm weather arenas for the sport, where everything can be done scientifically and in order. I think it has been suggested that there is a good deal of "science" in water polo. While the game is being studied out, there will be a good deal of roughness. But this roughness will in great measure diminish as skill and precision are acquired.
Whatever may become of water polo, the new sport has certainly given a great "boom" to swimming. All athletics in the water are based on the swimmer's art; and when swimming is surrounded by proper precautions against accident, it is one of the most healthful forms of exercise, encouraging muscular self-confidence, strengthening the frame, and building up the lungs. There will always, I suppose, be differences of opinion as to the best kind of stroke. The "overhand" stroke is fast for a short distance; the English "side stroke" is highly praised, and is practised by many prize winners. But the old-fashioned "breast stroke" is not likely to go out of fashion for a long while.
I suppose that in that interesting future we all like to talk about we shall have some surprising devices for travelling as well as amusing ourselves in water. We already have the water bicycle. Captain Boynton's water-shoes sound better than they look, and I fancy that they look better than they feel. As might be imagined from their appearance, these water-shoes do not permit a seven-league stride; in fact, they do not permit striding at all. You simply have a boat on each foot, and must get yourself along with an oar or some other means of propulsion. If a person were in a hurry, it would pay to get these shoes off and swim. Captain Boynton's floating-suit was better, because it did not give so good an opportunity for getting the head under water and keeping it there. With an umbrella up to keep off the sun, a little floating box of provisions and utensils, and a neat paddle, Captain Boynton was really ready for a long and safe water journey.
The Water Shoes.
But the ability to swim well, and for a long distance if necessary, is worth all the water apparatus that will ever be invented.
BY ALEXANDER BLACK.