The club season is upon us! James Burbidge takes a look at the competition heading to the open division this weekend.
Returning to St Albans, Tour 1, this year’s London Calling sees over 70 teams entered into the open division with 10 coming from overseas.
At the top of the pack, four teams will hope to prove themselves the best of the best in Europe: Clapham, Chevron Action Flash, Bad Skid and Flying Angels Bern. London Calling will doubtless provide top competition for these teams as they prepare for the big one: the World Club Championships in August.
Reigning National and European champions Clapham have split their team into two like last year (an O-line and a D-line), and are using the competition as the final part of a long and heated selection process. Captain Marc ‘Britney’ Guilbert returns to lead a club firmly focused on a peak in Lecco and will be hoping that his teams can meet in the final this year, rather than the semi. With no major player movement out, and more top recruits coming in – notably Ollie Gordon from Chevron, Matt Parslow and James Baron from Fire – they may find that the toughest competition is also the most familiar.
|Photo courtesy of Graham Bailey.
|Bad Skid beat Clapham’s D-line last year at London Calling but lost to the O-line in the final. They met a full Clapham team in the semi-final of Euros and lost again. Since then the team has added a few younger players to the squad, as well as NexGen player Philip Haas, who won’t make it to London. Captain Holger Beuttenmüller admits that the team needs to be at their best on both sides of the disc to be in with a chance of beating Clapham, but places faith in the trust between his teammates who have largely been playing and competing together since they were as young as 14.
In the battle for bronze at Europeans 2013, Bad Skid beat out Flying Angels Bern; the Swiss powerhouse is also making the trip to London. Whilst FAB finished fourth in 2013 and 2012, in 2011 and 2010 they took home the gold. Captain Silvano admits that the team coming is far from a finished product, and with only 13 of a 25-man squad able to make it over they may struggle to compete on Sunday afternoon. That said, with their eyes on a finish high up the table at Worlds, the team will be competing hard in every game and with their reliable combination of huge throws and rapid athletes are more than capable of causing an upset.
Also coming over from Europe in preparation for Lecco are the Swedish Viksjöfors and Ragnarok from Denmark. Both teams have a long-standing history of high level ultimate and will be looking forward to challenging games early in the season. Looking further ahead, Austria and France are sending national teams to London in preparation for the 2015 European Championships. Whilst neither country has a club at the elite level, it will be interesting to see how high their national sides can push in this competition.
Chevron has had to reshuffle their club hierarchy this season after the loss of coach/captain Josh Coxon Kelly. They have also lost some experience to the Master’s division in Dave Sealy and Stu Mitchell, and the aforementioned blow of Ollie Gordon suiting up for their London rivals. As usual they have restocked with youth from the junior division, as well as tapping up Steve Dixon from Devon, a returning stalwart in Si Dathan and Jose-Luis Mendoza (call him ‘Pepe’) from the Mexican national squad. Chevron won their home tournament at the Fog Lane Cup, but not without stiff competition in a sudden death semifinal against Fire. With top teams from Europe in London, they’ll find it far tougher than usual to make the final, but will push hard regardless and should stake a firm place in the top 8.
Emo will be hoping to force themselves into elite contention this year, and would love nothing more than to giant-kill their way to semis and even beyond. Drawing players from across the country with their well-earned Worlds qualification, competition for a place on the first team has been fierce. Returning players include Dan ‘Colonel’ Furnell, Rich Gale, Sion ‘Brummie’ Scone (all 3 of whom have at some point represented for GB at Open World Championships and World Games tournaments), Andy Tate, and offensive wildcard Ed ‘Freddie’ Walters. Chris ‘Aussie’ White (formerly Leeds, Chevron and Fire) has also been added to the roster. The team continues to put trust in youth, with Joe Wynder returning as playing coach and Rob Coddington as captain. Emo finished 2nd at Fog Lane after beating Jen in a friendly earlier this season, and are looking better than they ever have before. Whether this potential can be converted into the breakthrough year that they want so much will be one of the stories of the season.
Fire of London will be hoping to push back towards the top of UK Ultimate after some disappointing results during Tour last year. New captain James Dunn’s squad is bolstered by members of the folded Tooting Tiger and Burro Electrico teams, as well as a contingent of Bear Cavalry (mixed) players – including World Games star Dave Tyler. Ka-Pow also have a new captain and a refreshed squad – Richard ‘Pringle’ Taylor has invested in the future by inviting plenty of trialists to be part of a massive training squad comprising over 30 players. When they met in the final game at the Fog Lane Cup, Fire handily defeated Ka-Pow to take 3rd spot. Both teams will be aiming to make semis at some point this season but will have a fight on their hands for a top 10 spot at Tour 1.
|Photo courtesy of Graham Bailey
Building on their recent trip to Europeans, Devon have promoted some strong second team players and reportedly picked up a “wonder-Columbian” to replace the players they are losing to GB Juniors for the Tour season. They’ll be as athletic and determined as ever – they came 6th at Fog Lane with just 9 players – but indicate that the Tour will be simply preparation for Nationals and (hopefully) another trip to Europe.
Ranelagh return to the club circuit once again, and, buoyed by their success last year (5th over the Tour season), are bringing a second team. We’ll see if familiarity with the UK teams (and vice-versa) after the committed attendance of tour over the last few season will affect their results. Brighton City are coming off the back of one of their most successful seasons (4th overall at Tour), and Tour 1 will be a good indicator as to whether they can replicate that level of performance. The loss of deep cutter Dan ‘Dyno’ Friedeberg (reportedly to Devon) will be something of a blow but they will almost certainly have reloaded with talent from the dominant Sussex University program.
Zimmer – who are preparing for Worlds in the Masters division – are also a bit of an unknown. A surprising 83% percent of this commitment-averse squad will be attending London Calling. If they bring their A-game they’ll be a force to be reckoned with; they only narrowly lost to Chevron in a friendly earlier in the season and are brimming with international experience and pedigree.
Further down, but looking to push up the table, Manchester and LeedsLeedsLeeds will be fighting for the title of ‘second best team in the north.’ Manchester took that plaudit last year, and return all but two of their squad. They’ve been training regularly with Chevron players but despite a successful run of winter leagues, had a disappointing weekend at Fog Lane, finishing 8th. Leeds played Fog Lane with only 9 players and finished 11th. Ben Bruin has left for Emo, and Rich Hims will be focusing on his run to Worlds with Cambridge (mixed) leaving behind a young squad with a significant battle on their hands to stay in A-tour.
North of the north, the battle to be Scotland’s best team has taken an interesting turn with the complete dissolution of Fusion. Glasgow Ultimate top the pile at the moment, and will be looking to solidify the A-tour spot they earned last year. Sneekys have added a large number of Fusion’s Edinburgh contingent to their roster, and yet only beat in sudden death new team NEO, who have recruited heavily from Aberdeen and Dundee universities. DED meanwhile, are refocusing on Open this year, and are one of the few club teams in the UK with a dedicated coach – Jonathan Saunders. The squad, captained by Sam Vile, has seen quite a large turnover and brought in plenty of young players, but promise has already been shown in preparation for the season with a trip to Rising POT, a tournament in Poland where DED finished 4th and won spirit.
There’s a lot of top quality competition coming to London – and Si Hill is to be congratulated for once again attracting overseas teams. Tour’s opening weekend is reliably one of the toughest tournaments in the calendar, and this year is no different. With a large but fairly static domestic scene, mainland-European competitors make for exciting matches, unfamiliar styles and the inevitable occasional shock result. With the battle for A-tour distorted by the influx of single-appearance teams, teams in the 12-24 area are going to scrapping for every single win.
What are your thoughts? Have we missed a sleeper? Will we see an all mainland-Europe final? Let us know in the comments. And remember to use #ukut1 for social media and smack talk. Finally, best of luck to all teams attending from tSG!