VIDEO: Unicycle hockey in Horsham

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If you happen to visit the Weald School on a Thursday evening, you might see something that will make you look twice.

Walking into the Billingshurst school last week, I was passed by a man carrying an ice hockey stick in one hand, and holding a unicycle in the other.

Unicycle hockey team shot

Unicycle hockey team shot

These may appear to be two completely unrelated items, but to a certain group of people this unlikely combination makes a perfect pairing.

That is because, every Thursday evening, Horsham’s unicycle hockey club meets up to train.

Yes, there is such a thing.

It is natural to be a little confused on first hearing about the sport - I was. They play hockey? On unicycles? How? Why?

Chris Baker is the man with the answers. Chris, 51, runs the club and has been participating in the unusual sport for more than 20 years.

From the moment I meet him outside the Weald’s sports hall - where Horsham Unicycle Hockey Addicts (or HUHA) practice - Chris’ enthusiasm, dedication and commitment to the club and the sport is immediately evident.

He explains that HUHA was born when Chris joined a juggling club, which then began to experiment with unicycling. Naturally, playing hockey on one wheel followed.

“It is a lot harder than you think, when you first get on the unicycle it is very wobbly,” he explains.

“It is a good skill - the youngsters can show off a skill and they can do stuff that no one else can do.”

The rules of the game, for a relatively complicated sport, are fairly straightforward.

Aspects of other sports are borrowed. Players ride the unicycles, using ice hockey sticks to fire tennis balls into small football goals.

There are five players on each team, but more than that often turn up with HUHA on Thursday evenings, between 8pm and 10pm. It isn’t hard to understand why.

Players of all ages, but as young as nine, laugh and joke as fierce shots bounce off the sports hall walls and tackles fly in. The atmosphere is great.

The game is fast, but played with a far greater degree of control than I was expecting.

It is far from a mad rush towards the ball, as clever passing moves and exciting individual bursts characterise the game.

It is a spectator sport, and not nearly as dangerous as you might think - when players fall off, they land on their feet.

Chris says his son Lee, 22, is the best player on the team, having represented an English all-star team in the unicycle hockey homeland of Germany.

“The Germans are so good, it is like watching Man U play Horsham,” Chris says. “And we are Horsham!”

Having watched one training session, I am no expert, but I’m not sure they can be that far off. HUHA beat teams from the likes of London, Cardiff and Cambridge to win the national championship last year.

A lot of the success is surely down to the welcoming nature of the club, the appeal of the quirky sport, and Chris’ patient teaching - which I experience firsthand.

I wonder how many dozens of people Chris has taught to unicycle, as he shows me how to mount the one-wheeled beast and maintain a balance.

I work up a sweat, and by the end of the evening I have mastered mounting the unicycle and moved a few cautious, clumsy inches before losing control.

It’s no surprise there are so many ‘Addicts’ - one mum, whose enthusiasm on the sideline is infectious, explains how she had completed a 350-mile round trip for the team’s tournament in Worcester the previous weekend.

It might be some time until they can compete with the Germans, who boast their own professional league, but under Chris’ tutoring, HUHA are making a name for themselves - and the sport they love.