Answering The Call…

James Burbidge introduces the international competition making the trip over the channel this weekend.

Tour 1 became ‘London Calling’ in 2010 when 7 international teams were first invited over to compete in the British event. This year 11 teams are crossing water to play against Europe’s champions, the top-level British teams, and each other in preparation for 3 years of fierce competition. We got in touch with TD (and CEO of UKU) Si Hill and some of the visiting teams to find out what goes into putting on this unique tournament, and what attracts Europe’s top teams to it.

With a massive 96 teams attending this year, Si’s chief worry isn’t the schedule, or seeding the new teams, no – “it’s the carpark. With the recent rain we’re worried about the car park field getting muddy, and we need people to get in and parked efficiently.  We don’t want any delays at the entrance because we’re only a few hundred metres from the M25.

Tour 1 always brings a frisson of excitement to a familiar British tour scene as unfamiliar teams are inserted into the top 16. For Si, this disruption is kind of the point: “For A-tour teams, and our top women’s teams, having strong European squads over brings everyone’s level up. The stronger we make the competition, and the more we play unfamiliar teams, the better everyone gets. That’s the goal.”

 Phil Johnson wraps around for the bid. Photo Courtesy of Graham Bailey.

That was the hope of every international team we spoke to too, with Clapham and Iceni consistently mentioned as clubs they were hoping to pitch themselves against. That’s no surprise; a clean sweep for British teams at xEUCF last year is a clear indicator that British ultimate is doing something right. Viksjöfors captain Stefan Johansson put it most simply: “We want a good preparation tournament before Worlds and London Calling has been on our radar for a couple of years, so we decided it was time to go. Also we know that at the tournament we will play the best European teams, so it was not that hard to justify London Calling instead of, for example, Windmill.”

For Frédéric Risse, the French Open coach, it’s athletic opponents in particular he is trying to find. “We cross the Channel to play athletic and experienced teams. English teams are known for being among the best and we want our player to face athletic and even rough opposition.”

Looking furthest ahead, both France and Austria have entered national teams in preparation for the European and World Championships in 2014 and 2015. With the club season just finishing in France they found the timing perfectly suited their preparation for national teams. They have brought two into the Open division, split equally to give high-pressure experience to the younger members of the squad. Having entered previously in 2012 many of the team have played London Calling before, and some played the British season with Fire last year.

For countries with stronger club scenes, the focus is a lot closer – Lecco, the World Ultimate Club Championships, this summer. A brief glance at the top teams at xEUCF last autumn and a look at the top 16 of London Calling reveals an awfully similar set of teams. Competition is going to be fierce and these teams are going to be familiar with each other. London Calling should give a chance to see how new squads are looking, and what effects winter trainings have had on performance. Unfortunately, though, most travelling teams are unable to bring a full squad; injuries, travel costs, exams and work commitments have prohibited several players from making the trip. FAB look to be worst hit, bringing only 13 of a possible 25 players to London; Bad Skid, meanwhile, may be limited by reported travel times of up to 14 hours.

European powerhouse FAB are making the trip to London for the first time “despite talking about going every year.” At the other end of the spectrum, French women’s team Yaka will be making their fourth trip in 5 years. Their captain Aline ‘Rasta’ Mondiot says the team is looking to make the quarter finals in an increasingly strong women’s division, but admits that will be difficult when 4 players (including herself) will be playing for SYC.

The other international women’s team attending is E6, from Sweden, who usually attend Wonderful Copenhagen (unfortunately cancelled this year). Whilst they have a World’s spot they haven’t been at xEUCF for the last two years. Harriet Andersson, team captain, says the tournament is about “getting as much ultimate as possible before Worlds in Lecco. The team members are spread all over the country due to studies and work, so we don’t get much time playing with each other.”

Holger climbs the ladder at last year’s tournament. Photo courtesy of Andrew Moss

That’s definitely not the case for Bad Skid, some of whom have been playing together since they were 14. With some tough losses to Clapham over the last year, we asked if they had any plans for the European Champions. Captain Holger Beuttenmüller said that playing perfectly on both sides of the disc would be key, as well as not getting sucked into playing Clapham’s game. He also admitted that “sure, we have some specific plans against them, but we try to keep them a secret” It will be interesting to see if any special tactics are revealed in the showgame on Saturday or if they are saved for bracket play on Sunday.

Looking beyond 2014, Si Hill is keen to grow the tournament – but only by 4 teams to a maximum of 100. Instead, he’d rather focus on getting more European women’s teams over consistently, and developing the provision of the tournament to make it feel premium. Streaming of games is an option he and the team are looking at, and feelers are out to get some North American competition over. He is also happy to announce that UKU has submitted a bid to WFDF to host the World u23 Championships in 2015 at this venue.

Everything’s set for a seriously good tournament. Again, remember to use the #ukut1 tag for all related social media, and best of luck for all competitors heading to St. Albans this weekend!