Answering The Call…

Bad Skid, Flying Angels Bern, London Calling, news, Previews, SYC, YAKA
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!

London Calling – Women’s Preview

#ukut1, Iceni, Leeds, news, Nice Bristols, Previews, ROBOT, SYC, Women's Tour, YAKA
Charlie Blair introduces the teams who will be starting up the Women’s club season this weekend…

Can you believe it? Here beckons the start of June. The summer has arrived! The season is about to begin! And boy, what a difference a year makes!  London Calling 2014 delivers yet again with another great turn out in the women’s Tour with 24 teams signed up and raring to go. Most exciting however, is that this year promises more depth than ever as preparation for World clubs has strengthened the level of competition ready to descend on St Albans this weekend. Whilst some have complained that Tour maintains a sense of predictability ten years in, the battle amongst the top 8 and the top 12 is finally feeling like a more competitive affair.

There really is no telling just how much the seedings will be turned over in any of these brackets. It would be safe to assume that the three teams contending at world clubs will be found at the summit of Tour. However, in terms of who will take the title, it does seem somewhat likely that Iceni will rule the roost once again.

In preparation for Worlds, Iceni have had a marked overhaul under the leadership of Sonia Komenda and Ange Wilkinson, in recognition of the serious demands required in order to challenge top teams in Italy. They go into Tour 1 extremely well prepared, with months of bi-weekly trainings and professional fitness instruction under the guidance of former Clapham player Paul ‘Voodoo’ Waite who has committed his season to them. Nevertheless, in having not attended the inaugural NFL (Not Fog Lane) a couple of weeks ago, Tour will be their first demonstration of their hard work. With the introduction of a new  ‘north American’ style structure and the complete scrap of vertical stack from their offensive repertoire, will it all come together in time or will others be able to take advantage of their somewhat inexperienced tactics?
Joey Holmes getting off her feet for a D at UKU Club Nationals 2013. Photo courtesy of Andrew Moss.

Bristol have shown the same dedication and intensity to their training over the past few months, ( in fact Bristol’s impressive team effort in preparation for Worlds has even seen them wangle some TV and radio appearance along the way!) but they have already signalled that teething problems remain. Whilst Bristol take their loss to SYC in the final of NFL in their stride, it may be that they don’t place as highly as expected whilst they continue to find their momentum. However, their decision to split their worlds squad for Tour in favour of using the tournament as further opportunity to harness close connections and rapport amongst players suggests their aim goes beyond taking domestic victory.

It is without doubt that the welcome international cohort we enjoy at London Calling will also have their eyes on victory. This year two teams will be making the trip over: E6 from Sweden, and YAKA from France. In such an important club year, it is a shame that so few Europeans have managed to be enticed. Little is known of the current state of this Swedish team who did not make an appearance in Bordeaux last year. Needless to say, they have always sported a team of extremely hard working and gritty players, with an experienced core leading the way. They will surely be looking for upsets. YAKA should equally expect to fair well on UK soil, having finished above Bristol, SYC and LLL at xEUCF 2013 . Even though they missed out on qualifying for worlds, they will be carrying confidence from taking the title at the recent ‘Siege of Limerick’. However, the loss of their famous talisman since then, Aline ‘Rasta’ Mondiot, who has hopped across the Channel to train and play with SYC this season could prove to be huge.

Indeed, this reshuffle of players as a result of selection and qualification of World Clubs has both seemingly strengthened established clubs and stimulated new ones, particularly in the south. Iceni’s much stricter selection process released a wealth of talented women to bolster clubs such as SYC and Crown Jewels as well as initiate the formation of Phoenix and Free Agents. All will be pushing for the best result possible in the top half of the Tour. Of the two new clubs, we know that despite their newness, Phoenix (formed of ex- Iceni  / Herd players) are serious about competing having exploited the wisdom of local beardy guru, Jaime Cross. Free Agents on the other hand are a motley crew of ex Iceni/SYC who haven’t committed to any trainings this year. Whilst they will be looking to cause trouble, the ‘name tags’ of this team, which include reigning Paga queen Bex Forth shouldn’t assume victory over those that have been working hard all season.

In the face of this new competition, others expecting a top table finish will surely be the legends of ROBOT, the Scottish contingent, Swift, and the big movers and shakers of last season, Punt, who all rounded off last season comfortably in the top 10. Looking further north LLL will also be keen to cement their strength after a phenomenal success at developing an incredibly talented core of young players. They appear to have become a real beacon for attracting committed players in the north, with some team members even commuting from as far a field as Scotland. They mean business!

Nevertheless, those teams who are looking to kick off the season with a more modest seeding, who train less frequently, are still capable of surprises. Whilst the battle for the mid table already looks rather crowded this year, there is welcome room for new outfits Manchester and Devon to ruffle some feathers. Both these teams have been established and managed under the guidance of former GB players who have invested in their local area. Up in Manchester, Julia ‘Jools’ Murray and Claerwen Snell have been providing lots of structure to trainings with guest coaches and fitness expertise on hand. So whilst they may lack experience, expect a well-drilled, well informed, skilled team who know their fundamentals. 

Despite my prediction that a full powered Iceni – desperate to play all together for the first time – are going to storm London Calling, I no longer see a divide between the top 4 and the rest as in previous years. There is everything to play for in the top bracket whether it’s the 3v4 or the 9v10, and woe betide any team that goes to Tour 1 resigning themselves to formality this weekend. Things are looking truly exciting in Women’s ultimate after the 2013 shake-up, and now it really is a case of if you don’t take it, someone else will!

Excitement is building steadily for the season opener in less than 24 hours. Our final preview of international teams is on the way!