The earliest form of water polo was played in lakes and rivers. The idea was linked heavily to the concept of rugby as players looked to earn points for their team by carrying a ball with two hands over their opponents’ side and placing it on the deck.
Water polo was a fierce sport and games were often won by sheer strength as passing and punting were rarely carried out. Original water polo balls were made from a pig’s stomach and were replaced with Indian rubber balls by 1869.
The first official water polo match was played in the Crystal Palace Plunge in London. When the Trudgeon stroke was established, by 1880 in Scotland, water polo became a faster sport and the way of scoring a goal changed to throwing the ball into a cage that was 10ft wide and 3ft deep. The ball changed to a leather football and players could now only handle the ball using one hand and only be tackled once in possession of the ball.
The second nation after Britain to actively participate in water polo games was America. Their games were often more violent as water wrestling and fights captured the attention of crowds more than in-play action. The growth of water polo increased rapidly at the end of the 19th century. The first American polo championships were held in Providence in 1890 and the sport expanded into Belgium in 1890, Germany in 1894 and France in 1895.
Water polo first entered the Olympic Games as an exhibition sport in 1900 and was dominated by Britain at the start of the 20th century. It began to pick up further interest in 1911 when FINA made the English-Scottish rules of the game compulsory rather than the more aggressive American style. 12 countries competed in water polo in the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games and from 1928 until the 1980s, Hungary were widely recognised as the world’s best water polo nation. The ball changed form over the 20th century as it went from being made of leather to made with a cotton bladder with rubber fabric. It later changed form again to be made out of nylon to improve performance with a yellow colour to improve visibility.