Club or Country? Introduction

Josh Coxon Kelly introduces the next edition of Discussion titled: Club or Country?

Next week teams will compete for the right to call themselves the greatest Ultimate club in the world. Now only a number of days away, excited qualifiers from 40 different countries and 161 different teams will be adding the finer touches to their preparation for this momentous opportunity at time of publishing – getting their bodies and minds perfectly ready to take on the rest of the world. At the height of elite non-commercial ultimate the WUCC held this year in Lecco, Italy is only challenged in terms of prestige by international competitions that occur between the World Club years. Players and coaches will still talk with a hushed reverence of Maribor, Southampton, Sakai, Vancouver as they share stories of their brushes with international glory or defeat, and our whole community is undeniably galvanised by the prospect of GB being represented and competing at Ultimate on the highest international stage.

The EUC and WUGC not only carry an extra weight with the privilege and national pride bound up in their medals, but also arguably present a more tantalising prospect for underdog ultimate nationals given the single-team restriction placed on entrants. With only a single entrance from USA, Canada, Japan, or any other of the growing list of world class Ultimate nations (Switzerland, Germany, Australia, Colombia…), the elusive quarter and semi final brackets are notably more viable for the underdog. The most recent example of this comes from close to home with our very own GB open squad making a first ever appearance in a world final in the recent summer of 2012, in Sakai. Whilst the defeat to USA may have been a decisive one, the GB Open performance in Japan provides lasting inspiration for up and coming British players whose dreams of international success were shown to be more viable than perhaps we had all thought a few summers ago.

Whilst not all players at in Lecco will have represented their country, there will be very few international competitors who do not have a club team at WUCC 2014, and depending on the nation, the distribution of national players varies greatly. There are clearly some quite disparate approaches across the international community to balancing the push and pull between club and country.

In the UK Clapham Ultimate have been open National champions for 13 years, and Iceni have held the women’s title for 8 out of the last 10 years. Whilst neither team is completely unscathed, they are widely held as the best teams in the country and there has is a sense building suggesting that we are starting to develop our own domestic ‘gap’, between the best London club and the rest of the country. Accompanying this suggestion, is the discussion of whether or not we should as a country be sending our most successful teams, or a combination of all-star players from across the country’s most competitive squads.

Daniel Furnell (EMO) passes to Si Dathan (Chevron) for GB in Japan. Photo courtesy of Stuart Austin.

It is undeniable that London seems to gravitationally attract a huge portion of young people in the UK whether for career, financial or other reasons. This effect is only going to be further exacerbated for our young sportsmen and women by the high percentage of the Ultimate community who learn and/or mature as players at their universities, and subsequently seek out employment in the larger cities. The country is evidently lopsided population wise, and this as well as the bustling London scene is drawing more and more talent to bolster the already dominant London clubs. Yet, despite this weighting towards the capital, top players from clubs across the country consistently prove at tour and GB selection processes that they can bring their own individual dominance over others from further down the London rosters.

There are clearly many variables and opinions in the balance in this debate, and the pieces in this series will provide an analysis of the British approach and comparison to other world powerhouses, as well as speculation on what steps need to be taken to best progress in the future. Sion Scone will be providing an in-depth analysis of the various options open to us. Supplementing this analysis will be two contrasting opinions from the UK Open club scene [Editor’s note: these supplementary posts are knowingly open-division-centric. We would love to expand the scope of this discussion to other divisions – comment below or get in touch!]: Ollie Benjamin (Clapham ~ 10 years) and Mark Penny (Chevron ~ 7 years). 

The last catch in Lecco will be followed by joy, desolation, celebrations and relaxation for many who move past the pinnacle of their seasons. For some however, it won’t be long after this that the focus turns to EUC’15, WUGC 2016, and the trialling, training and competitive journey of international ultimate that swiftly rises to the height of priority. Should we reassess our current system, and would doing so lead to short term, long term improvement, neither or both? Should we be focusing on top level or grass roots? Should such questions even be imposed on those who make up these teams, and should these people have the responsibility to do both? Let’s start the discussion…

2 thoughts on “Club or Country? Introduction”

  1. In my opinion, No. It is more the principle of it that I do not agree with. As strong as a team it would be that I am sure would compete well and do the country proud, it is making players outside and in London make a decision on playing for this team. This surely would only create a larger “gap” and therefore slow down the development of the club scene in the UK. As a young player who wants to play for GB open next year and most likely speaking on behalf of others, we would be forced to leave our club teams which we love and have made a commitment to play for.

    Is this really what we want…. more great players leaving their club teams to play for one super team? Dumb idea. It would be a selfish idea considering the size of the UK and it is also not like we have been sending weakened teams to tournaments over the last few years doing it this way.

    Finally who ever thinks that they have the right to decide who can and cannot try out for their country because they do not play for this team is also Dumb. But hey what do I know? I'm just a young player who lives in the North that does not play for Clapham.

  2. Absolutely not.

    Clapham are an outstanding team and may well be in a better position to represent the UK on the international stage, but the US scene is so much stronger than ours because of their superior grass roots development and access to local elite level teams/players. Currently, only three teams would probably argue being an “Elite” team (Clapham, Chevron, EMO) and as such if you don't play for those teams your ability to reach those levels is massively hindered… if we narrow down the exposure of UK based players to international competition (taking into consideration James' comments above about the London scene) then we as a national programme will surely deteriorate.

    Speaking personally, Manchester are extremely lucky to have long standing relationships with Chevron players which gives us access to their tactics and insight but not every team has this option. It is a massive part of our recent success, and if others have this removed from them then it can only be a bad thing.

    If we go down that road, we should consider sending a London team and a Rest of the UK team…

Comments are closed.