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Tom Beim has been capped by England at both rugby and polo

All Areas > Sport > Polo

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Monday, 26th March 2018, 08:00

Tom Beim has been playing polo professionally for the past decade. Picture, Cirencester Park Polo Club Tom Beim has been playing polo professionally for the past decade. Picture, Cirencester Park Polo Club

As rugby players of yesteryear and polo players of today have discovered, Tom Beim is not always an easy man to catch up with.

When The Local Answer tracked him down, the one-time Gloucester wing was in Argentina tending to polo business, the sport from which he has made his living since hanging up his rugby boots some 10 years or so ago.

And it’s fair to say that the 42-year-old is as good at polo as he was at rugby, having been capped by England in both sports.

In fact, the former Cheltenham College pupil is a pretty talented all-round sportsman, because he also played centre-forward for Wales’ under-18 hockey team back in the day.

Born in Frimley in Surrey, the young Beim moved up to this neck of the woods with his family in the early 1980s, and it was here that he learned about all things rugby and polo.

He’s extremely pleased he did, too, because it made it that much easier to progress and play his rugby at Kingsholm and polo at Cirencester Park – two of Gloucestershire’s iconic sporting venues.

“I went to what was then Whitefriars School and that was where I was first introduced to rugby,” said Beim, who lives in Coates, near Cirencester, with his wife Jo and their 15-year-old son Zac.

“And I was also a member of North Cotswold Pony Club. I used to do a lot of riding in the holidays and that’s where I discovered polo.”

He enjoyed both sports – still does – but it was rugby that played the bigger part in his life once he went to Cheltenham College at the age of 11.

“I’d played a lot of mini rugby at Evesham Rugby Club and a bit at Whitefriars but it was when I went to the junior school that my rugby took off,” he said.

“I played at 10 and played there for nearly all the time that I was growing up – I was a running fly-half – although I played at full-back and in the centre a bit during my later stages at the College.”

And although Beim was obviously good – he was called up to play for England Under-16s on the wing – it was certainly no one-man team at the College.

“I was in the same team as Rob Fidler throughout my school days,” Beim chuckled. “He was a year above me and he’s my best mate.

“We played in the same team for England Under-18s and England Under-21s. There was a group of us – Phil Vickery, Trevor Woodman, Scott Benton – and we all grew up together at Gloucester.”

Beim has great memories of playing rugby at Cheltenham College.

“I loved school rugby,” he enthused. “In some ways it was the best time of my rugby life.

“We were all great mates and there was no real pressure. It was rugby in its purest form.

“Luckily we had a good year group and did well, it was a very enjoyable time.

“We had a great coach in Ian Wright. He has sadly passed away but he was a great motivator.”

And as is so often the case with youngsters playing sport, Beim was happy as long as he was getting a game.

“I didn’t mind where I played,” he said. “I played fly-half, centre and a bit in the back three. Luckily I had a bit of speed.”

And while rugby was his main sport at the College – he still played a lot of hockey and cricket as well – away from school he was still playing a lot of polo.

And as with the rugby, he was good at polo too.

“When I left school I got offered a job to be a professional polo player for an American team,” Beim said.

“It was a lucky break. I spent three months at Palm Beach and then three months in Argentina.”

With the season finished Beim returned to Cirencester to rest before, he thought, heading to Dubai for another polo job.

“That’s when Vicks [Phil Vickery] called me and said, ‘Come training at Gloucester, the game is going professional’,” explained Beim.

“Rob Fidler, Phil Greening and Trevor Woodman were all there and I thought, ‘Why not?’”

He was there for half a season but he admits that it wasn’t the best few months of his sporting life.

Former Bath and England scrum-half Richard Hill was calling the shots at Kingsholm and Beim said: “I played a few games but couldn’t hold down a first-team spot.

“I had a few injuries and then I went off to South Africa for three months to play some club rugby.”

And the time spent in Springbok territory obviously worked wonders, because after he returned to this country in the summer of 96 he was soon running in tries for fun once the rugby season had kicked in.

However, it was not up the road with his hometown club Gloucester that he was racking up the points but some 130-plus miles further north with Sale, a club who were still establishing themselves at rugby’s top table.

Not that that bothered Beim. “It was the best thing I did rugby wise,” he said.

“I’d not been able to establish myself at Gloucester and this was a fresh start.

“They played rugby the way I enjoyed playing. John Mitchell was the coach – I lived with his family for two-and-a-half years – and he went on to coach England and the All Blacks.

“There was a very good hard core of senior players – Jim Mallinder, Jos Baxendall, Simon Mannix, Steve Diamond. There was plenty of pedigree there and they played a style of rugby that suited me.”

They certainly did and a quick look at the club records show that he scored 41 tries in 61 games for the club.

It was the type of form that inevitably attracted the interest of England’s selectors, and he got his big chance on the so-called Tour of Hell in the summer of 1998.

Also in the squad were Gloucester players Benton, Vickery, Fidler, Greening, Dave Sims and Tony Windo, and although England’s makeshift and understrength squad were left battered and bruised after defeats by Australia, New Zealand (twice) and South Africa, Beim for one does not regret for a moment being part of the tour.

“Yes, it was a long tour and the rugby was very, very tough,” he admitted, “but it was an amazing experience and I wouldn’t change it. I became a better player for the experience.

“Some players could hack it and some couldn’t, but I believe that tour stood England in good stead for their future success.”

It’s fair to say that Beim proved he had what it took to play in the southern hemisphere, where the rugby is as brutal as the scenery is breathtaking.

“I think I came out with my head held fairly high,” he said.

Indeed he did. He won two caps on the tour and although he was unable to add to that tally in the years to come he was, nevertheless, included in subsequent England squads on a number of occasions, the most recent of which was the year before England were crowned world champions for the first and so far only time in 2003.

And while he may only have played twice for England’s senior team, they don’t come much tougher than two games against the mighty All Blacks, and in particular the man mountain that was Jonah Lomu.

“I went on as a replacement for Jonny Wilkinson early in the second half in the first game,” recalled Beim. “There was a reshuffle in the backs and I went onto the left wing opposite Jonah Lomu!”

And even though England were getting well beaten – they lost 64-22 – Beim did pretty well because he managed to score a try.

So did he dance round Jonah Lomu before sprinting to the line and touching down in the corner?

“I’d like to say so,” he laughed, “but I came round the blind side of a ruck. There was a massive hole in their defence and I was lucky enough to sneak over.

“I couldn’t celebrate because we were so far behind, but I remember being proud of what I’d done.”

And while Beim was understandably proud, England’s selectors were clearly impressed because they gave the then 22-year-old a starting place the following week against the same opponents.

That game ended in defeat as well – 40-10 – and Beim was forced off just before the end after dislocating a shoulder.

“I did it tackling Jonah,” he said. “I think I got him down although it wasn’t a classical tackle, it was more of a grapple.”

That was not much consolation for the young Beim who was ruled out of the final Test of the tour against South Africa because of the injury.

But although it was Lomu who cut short his tour, Beim has nothing but admiration and respect for the player who, more than any other, changed the face of rugby in the 90s.

“He was an absolute legend,” said Beim. “We’d seen him before when we toured New Zealand with England Under-18s.

“We were told then he was the next big thing. I remember playing against him in one of the warm-up matches and he was at no.8, and he didn’t really do anything.

“Then we played him in a Test and he scored five tries! He was an unbelievable player.”

A year on from that tour, Beim was saying his farewells to his mates at Sale and heading home to join Gloucester for a second time.

“I’d been at Sale for three-and-a-half years and I just thought it was the right time,” he said.

“I’d got a lot of good friends at Gloucester – people like Rob Fidler and Vicks – and I just fancied coming back to my hometown club.”

And while much was as it was at Kingsholm when he left, things were starting to change at the club.

“Not long after I’d returned Philippe Saint-Andre took over as head coach,” recalled Beim, “and being a winger he was amazing for me.

“He was a great man-manager. He knew how to deal with people and got the best out of me.

“He’d put his arm around me and give me confidence. He’d tell me to be selfish and taught me more about running lines.

“He was a guy I wanted to play for.”

And if the Frenchman was someone Beim wanted to play for, Kingsholm was certainly the place he wanted to play.

“It’s an amazing place,” he said. “I went back there earlier this season when Pau played there. They’re coached by Simon Mannix and I went on the pitch with my son Zac before the game.

“It’s just an incredible place to play rugby and I think Gloucester’s fans are by far the best in the country.”

And while the supporters in The Shed helped to create a magical atmosphere, Beim has equally good memories of the players he went shoulder to shoulder with in the heat of battle during his four years at the club.

“Andy Gomarsall, Henry Paul, Terry Fanolua, Robert Todd, Pasty Cornwell, Chris Fortey, Jake Boer,” he said. “We had a good team and there was a good atmosphere, they were good days.”

Like pretty much all good things, they have to end some time – particularly in sport – and Beim was on the move again at the end of the 2002/03 season when Nigel Melville decided not to offer him a new contract.

“He was changing things,” said Beim, “so when the chance came to join Viadana in Italy I thought, ‘I fancy that’.

“I knew I wasn’t going to play for England again so I went out there for two seasons.

“The rugby wasn’t of the same standard as in England but it was still a very enjoyable time and a great life experience.”

So what does he make of Italy as a rugby-playing nation today?

“They’ve got the talent but not the depth,” said Beim. “There are plenty of athletes but they need to push on, and I’m sure Conor O’Shea and Mike Catt are the right people to make that happen.”

After Italy, Beim spent a season playing semi-professional rugby with Pertemps Bees, and the additional spare time gave him the chance to reacquaint himself with the other great sporting passion in his life – polo.

“I was quite lucky because a lot of my friends were still playing polo,” said Beim.

They include his brother James, who just happens to be the current captain of England.

“It wasn’t a smooth progression but James helped me a lot,” said Beim. “At the end of my rugby career I was at a crossroads.

“The attraction of polo was that I’d played it before and I knew that I could potentially make a living out of it.

“I wanted to give it a go before I was too old. I love horses, it’s an outside sport and you are your own boss.”

It’s proved to be a jolly good decision because he got the chance to play for England alongside his brother in Australia.

“Unfortunately, we lost,” he said, but in so many other ways he has been winning over the past 10 years or so, and these days is one of the leading lights at Cirencester Park Polo Club.

When he spoke to The Local Answer, he was working on a stud in Argentina with his brother.

“We train young horses to play in tournaments and we compete on the older horses in tournaments,” he said.

It sounds a pretty good job and when you consider the temperature was around 35C at the time of this interview, it’s certainly a job that sounds a lot more appealing than fielding high balls against Leicester at a wet and windy Welford Road in deep midwinter.

So which sport does he prefer, rugby or polo?

“That’s a difficult one,” he admitted. “I do love both sports. I think rugby is easier, you just turn up to play. Everything is done for you.

“With polo I have to organise everything myself.

“The big days in rugby with big crowds were special, but then I really enjoy playing polo with my brother and my friends.”

And ask him where he likes playing polo most and he’ll say “Cirencester Park” without a moment’s hesitation.

“It’s a beautiful place to play,” he said. “It’s my home club and I love it.”

And he loves the sport too.

“The horses are the main thing,” he said. “If you’re on a good horse you play much better. The horses are the magic factor, they’re amazing.

“But it’s not an easy sport and it can be very dangerous with half a ton of horse running around. And if that horse hits another one it can be nasty.”

And Beim is talking from first-hand experience because he was fortunate to avoid serious injury in Argentina in December.

“A horse landed on me,” he said. “I was very lucky, I bruised my pelvis and hurt my groin.”

At least Beim can pass on his experiences to his son Zac, a pupil at Wycliffe College, and, just like dad a very keen sportsman.

One of those sports, inevitably, is polo, so is he as good as his dad?

“Not yet,” chuckled Beim, “but if he keeps improving he won’t be far away.”

It seems the Beim name will remain a big part of polo for many years to come.

Other Images

Tom Beim loves playing polo. Picture, Cirencester Park Polo Club
Tom Beim first started playing polo through the North Cotswold Pony Club. Picture, Cirencester Park Polo Club
Tom Beim, left, is a well known face at Cirencester Park Polo Club. Picture, Cirencester Park Polo Club
Tom Beim loves the outdoor life. Picture, Cirencester Park Polo Club
Cirencester Park Polo Club is a great setting. Picture, Cirencester Park Polo Club
Two teams, one iconic venue at Cirencester Park Polo Club. Picture, Cirencester Park Polo Club
Tom Beim gets a real buzz from playing polo. Picture, Cirencester Park Polo Club
Tom and Jo Beim. Picture, Cirencester Park Polo Club
Tom Beim in his Gloucester rugby days

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