THE ORIGIN, DEVELOPMENT AND SPREAD OF 'OCTOPUSH' 1954 to 1974

by E John Towse

The considerable contribution of the early Southsea BSAC members, shown below, plus John Towse, John Bevan and the British Sub Aqua Club(BSAC) should never be underestimated.

In 1954 Jack Willis, Frank Lillicker and Alan Blake, after a pool training session, returned to Jack and Ena Willis's flat at No. 75 Victoria Road South, Southsea Portsmouth Hants England. Here, including Ena, they discussed and invented the breath-holding underwater game they called 'OCTOPUSH'.

Alan Blake took on the task of writing up the rules and informing the BSAC's national magazine 'NEPTUNE' of this exciting development.

Unfortunately, no original copy of the rules exist and much of the information of the early game comes from memories and recollection of those involved in the first year. It was certainly demonstrated at an early gala in the old Portsmouth City Baths (Just behind the Library and long since demolished.) in 1955.

Bournemouth BSAC were quick to adopt the game and introduce it to their members. Johnny Hoy of Bournemouth took part in some of the early Southsea games.

Johnny Graves, another founder member of Southsea BSAC, came up with bizarre descriptions of the first 'prodders' as being like small T shaped pieces that continually became caught up with each other.

This was incorrect as Frank Lillicker made the first set and Jack Willis made the first 'Squid' (Puck).

However, Johnny Graves did attempt to make a Squid with its own internal light! Swimming Pool visibility could sometimes resemble the open water Solent conditions. Nevertheless, Octopush continued to be played by Southsea in the old pool and later at the Royal Marine Baths(RMB), Eastney. It was played sporadically and with basic equipment and organisation. The early originators had now all departed to various parts of the world, Alan Blake to the Far East, Jack Willis to a variety of destinations around the America's and Frank Lillicker pursuing a professional diving career in Scapa Flow.

In1963, during a pool session when equipment and compressed air were unavailable, John Towse and John Powell re-introduced it to the Southsea BSAC training evenings. The following week John Towse made two sets of the then modern PUSHERS together with a solid lead SQUID with no more information to base these on than the information shown above. Obviously avoiding the snagging potential of the T shape suggestions.

In October 1964 a young and very enthusiastic John Bevan had joined Southsea BSAC from his home club in Llanelli, Wales. He rapidly became adept at OCTOPUSH and a consistent, skilful player in the pool sessions.

The game became increasingly popular with club members and was, in 1965, being played regularly on the first Tuesday of each month at the RMB. By 1967 OCTOPUSH alternated with conventional Aqualung training every other Tuesday at the RMB.

Details of the game were spreading rapidly and an increasing number of other clubs were playing in England and beyond.
On Saturday 20 May 1967 Southsea BSAC won a knock-out competition, in an open-water pool, organised by Aldershot Dolphins as part of a Gala Day. This first trophy tankard was kept in the C1ubhouse with the proviso that only the team members could use it to drink from during Club nights.

In 1968, following a vote by all Southsea members OCTOPUSH was played every Tuesday in the pool. This decision was not surprising as Southsea continued to have enthusiastic and successful Spearfishing teams who needed to improve or train their breath-holding abilities. Spearfishing, like OCTOPUSH, required only the most basic equipment of Fins, Mask and Snorkel (FMS). Also, the club had now obtained another training session every week in the new Anglesey Road swimming pool which was even better equipped for Aqualung training.

Holland could now produce a team from Europe and in 1969 England beat Holland in Amsterdam.

"The Time Of My Life" by Jack Willis, page 36 & 37
Published by the Daily Mail

NEPTUNE Vol. 1 No. 3 Page 10 November 1954

 

Note: The people involved with Octopush and Scuba Diving split from each other many years ago. Southsea Octopush can now be found here. The British Octopush Association can be found here.

Wikipedia Article on Octopush / Underwater Hockey