The European Ultimate Championship Finals begin on Friday in Frankfurt. Once again the best 12 Mixed and Women’s teams and the best 24 Open teams in Europe will gather to crown a champion. The ShowGame will be running a series previewing the tournament from a UK perspective, with some additional pieces about how our Irish friends may fare and what to expect from European teams coming as well. Continuing the series, Sean Colfer looks at Fire of London.
Fire have had an odd season. They finished 11th at Tour 1, finishing last in a pool with Reading, Glasgow and Sneeekys. They reworked their team ahead of Tour 2, adding a few experienced players who had been moved to Fire 2 at London Calling for low attendance during the offseason. It made something of a difference as they went all the way back up to seventh, losing only one game all weekend. Then they beat Clapham at Tour 3, reached the semi-finals and were unlucky to run into Chevron, to whom they lost in a very tight, very contentious game. Their postseason performance was a little less volatile, finishing second at London Regionals and third at Nationals, both right on track with expectations.
Pete Gore gets a block against Sneeeky’s. Photo by Christine Rushworth.
The team this year saw a fair amount of movement between squads – several of the players who will be in red in Frankfurt spent some time playing for Fire 2 this year, showing again that Fire are committed to bringing players through their system. The Euros squad is largely similar to the Nationals squad, though there are a few changes. James Baron, a former Fire captain and one of their most experienced handlers, won’t be in Germany, and neither will Nick ‘Junior’ Haworth, another key offensive handler. Will Rowledge, the former GB under-23 cutter, is also missing, though he has been limited by injuries this season so Fire are used to playing without his presence downfield. Alexey Sokolov and Chris Pope round out the losses. In response they’ve added Matt Thomas and Sahil Patel, two of the players who spent time with Fire 2, and they will see Nick Moss return from injury. Moss is a key component in their offence, playing a huge part in their shock win over Clapham in Cardiff, so his return is a welcome one given their losses elsewhere.
Moss returns to an offence that looks similar to previous years. Ian Popplestone and Pete Gore have very different styles as handlers but will both see a lot of the disc, while captains James Dunn and Alex Cragg will be involved all over the field. On defence they’ll be anchored by Adam Lothian, who led the team in assists at Nationals, along with ShowGame contributors Tom Cliff and David Pryce. The defence is athletic and swarming and should make it difficult for opposing teams – the key for them will be how many turns they can make count.
Nick Moss goes up for a high grab against Glasgow. Photo by Andy Moss.
The pool is a tough one, potentially the toughest of the Challenger draw. They face French power Iznogood, as well as Irish champions PELT and Russian team Sokol. Izno are always a strong test, having finished a creditable third in qualifying behind a resurgent Flying Angels Bern and last year’s EUCF runners up CUSB. The Parisians feature 11 players from the French Men’s national team and will have aspirations of their own on the top eight. PELT finished fourth at the same qualifying tournament, losing to Izno in the third-place match, and stormed to a long-awaited title in Limerick a few weeks ago. PELT finished ahead of Fire at Tour 2, and that was when the Irish had a much smaller squad at their disposal. Sokol are likely the odd team out here but won’t be a rollover.
Fire will be aiming to win the pool to get a shot at the top eight, where they’d likely play Austrians FWD>>, who feature a number of the Austrian national team. In order to get there, though, they’ll have to run quite a gauntlet. If Fire play at the level they did when topping Clapham they have the ability to reach the quarter-finals. If they play like they did at Tour 1, they might not finish in the top two of their pool. They’re usually slow starters who finish strong, though, so I’d back them to have a good showing in Frankfurt.