Water Polo is one of those aquatic sports that often falls to the wayside. Introduced to the Olympics in 1990 for men and in 2000 for women. But, I won’t lie, I tried to check how successful the British or Scottish teams were and despite the sport’s beginnings being traced back to Scotland, there is very little investment or coverage on the sport.

Luckily though, for both myself and for the greater good of our readers, I sat down with Ali Campbell. He’s been competing since his childhood, and now coaches with the University of Edinburgh Team, the Scottish U18 Boys squad and runs The U14 National Academy. He follows in his father’s footsteps, who was a pioneer of the Scottish team in the modern era.

He filled me in, on everything we need to know about the sport itself and the the success of their recent tournament, The Brian Macdonald Campbell (BMC) Cup.

Ali, along with his brothers began the BMC Cup in 2021, at the time it was a one-day event for boy’s teams across Scotland, held in Dunfermline.

The tournament began to celebrate the memory of their Father, Brian Campbell. Who unfortunately lost his battle with cancer in December of 2019. He was an inspirational figure in the world of Scottish water polo and was heavily involved with Dunfermline Water Polo Club for decades as a player, coach and secretary and remains a life member of the club. He led the Scottish junior coaching setup for over ten years, coaching many of the players who play for the Scottish Senior teams today.

“He was all about providing opportunities for young people and that is what the BMC Cup aims to continue”, explains Ali.

In September the BMC Cup hosted its first girl’s tournament at the Carnegie Leisure Centre, Dunfermline: “It was a massive success when we held it last month – we had 6 x U18 teams take part from all across the UK, along with a further 4 x U14 mixed teams.”

We then discussed the lack of coverage for Water polo in the media. Ali went on to explain it as an ‘exciting, fast-paced, end-to-end game that is always entertaining to watch.’

The sport requires skill, physicality, speed and tactics.

Ali’s disdain for the scarce visibility in comparison to football coverage in the national press culminated when getting passionate about their vision for the BMC Cup: “I struggle to understand why it isn’t more mainstream after seeing some football matches on TV that finishes 0-0 and you’re lucky if there have been two shots on target the whole match.”

“The tournament featured 6 x U18 girls teams from across the UK – Dunfermline, Warrender, Portobello, Kirkintilloch & Kilsyth, Liverpool and the Celtic Dragons from Wales. Alongside this, there was a mixed U14s tournament featuring four Scottish teams – Dunfermline, Warrender, Stingrays and Stirling.
Finally, there was a mini water polo exhibition match between Dunfermline and Stingrays, featuring the very beginners of the sport so it was an action-packed weekend.
There were almost 150 participants and well over 100 of them were girls – a testament to the diversity being encouraged in the sport. 
In the U18s tournament, Liverpool won the final against the Celtic Dragons, and Dunfermline won the U14s tournament against Warrender.
However, the best match was probably the playoff for third place between Dunfermline who were playing on their home turf, so they had a lot of support and Kirkintilloch & Kilsyth. Dunfermline were trailing by two goals with 90 seconds remaining but managed to score twice to draw level at 12-12 with a young Ms Thornton, scoring the equalizing goal with 30 seconds to go.
This sent the match to a penalty shootout, which was the first one we’ve had at the BMC Cup. Both teams missed shots to add to the drama but it was Dunfermline who came through to claim 3rd place – a great comeback considering they looked down and out with 90s to go.”

This was the first tournament of its kind in Scotland, like a lot of sports at grassroots levels, we very seldom see a tournament of this size for a sport that receives very little coverage in the mainstream media: “We were determined to continue my dad’s ethos, to encourage and empower people both inside and outside the pool with the BMC Cup, so including a girls-only tournament was always something we wanted to put together,

“More importantly, from a development point of view, there weren’t any girl’s only tournaments in Scotland. It also gave them tournament experience that they aren’t getting anywhere else in the country. By running the girl’s competition, we were able to include a mixed U14s development tournament, giving around 45 young players this experience. Some of the young players were playing in their first-ever water polo matches too.”

Sports goes far beyond just the physical benefits, for Ali who’s been coaching his whole adult life, the most rewarding aspect of his job is seeing young people improve their social skills and their confidence grow: “The messages I receive from parents is very rarely about how their son or daughter has improved at water polo – I remember one parent, whose son was hospitalized for a few weeks with a chronic illness, said that while their son was in hospital the thing that gave him strength was water polo. He told his parents – ‘I need to stay strong so I can get back to playing water polo and not let the team down’, which just shows you what being part of a water polo team can mean to someone.”

Having started the BMC Cup in 2021 with a one-day event that only included Scottish boys teams. Three years on, there’s a boy’s & girl’s weekend-long tournament, playing host to teams from across the UK. The work done by the Campbell Brothers is truly a testament to their father’s work, with big hopes to make this an international event that can be live-streamed and continue to inspire the next generation of Water Polo players.

There were almost 150 participants and well over 100 of them were girls – a testament to the diversity being encouraged in the sport. 

If you’d like more information on your local team or where you can involved close to you, you can see the Scottish Swimming website here.

If you’d like more information on the BMC Cup you can follow their social media here.

Pictures courtesy of The BMC Cup: Copyright of Darren Campbell & Silvia Corrao.

“However, it is unfortunately not free to run something as big as this, with it currently costing between £2,000 – £3,000 a tournament, in order to continue to run the BMC Cup we will need outside support. This could be anything in the form of donating some raffle prizes, help with running the event on the day, or a small cash donation. We appreciate and rely on all kinds of support.”

If you’d like to get in touch with the team about how you can help you can email them at thebmccup@gmail.com with information on becoming a regular contributor, a one-off donation or volunteering at the tournament.

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