Number of active players: ~3000 (106 at ECBU)
Notable beach tournaments: Sunburn, Copa del Soul, C.U.B.E, Frostbite, Quicksands, West Coast Fours, Sandcastle
Past participation in beach championships: WCBU 2004, WCBU 2007, WCBU 2011
Division participation at ECBU 2013: Open, Women, Mixed, Open Masters, Mixed Masters, Womens Masters, Grand Masters
Like in many other European countries, ultimate in the UK developed in the early 1980s at university sports fields across the country. Teams like Warwick Bears, Sussex Mohawks and many more sprung up across the UK, eventually forming clubs through friends, and finally gaining momentum and forming into the clubs existing today.
With the concentration of students and eventual alumni in the capital, London has become a hub for UK ultimate, boasting many top flight teams in all divisions with Clapham and Fire in open, Iceni and SYC in women’s and not forgetting Royal Goaltimate Society and Thundering Herd in the mixed division.
In recent years, through the hard work of many in Brighton Ultimate, the south coast has also seen the beginning of a similar hub, joined with local universities which feed directly into the club scene. Overall, most players in the UK learn and continue to play on grass.
However, what of the beach? The UK’s sandy beaches may not be the best in Europe or at times good for ultimate but the hardy Brits don’t let that stop them from getting their beach fix a couple times a year both on the isle as well as by taking many a team to Paganello. For some years, beach ultimate has been seen as more of a fun version of the serious grass sport. In the past, this is how teams and players who represented GB may have seen it too. GB Open took a huge step last summer on the grass in Japan, namely getting to a Worlds final and gaining a silver medal. Will they see this success on the beach? With the amazing gold for the Mixed Masters at WCBU 2011, the tide may have turned. Regardless of the past, Great Britain will be represented by seven very strong squads in Calafell this summer. Here is what the teams look like:
Beach veteran Jaimie Cross leads a British Open squad who are hoping to improve on their 2011 WCBU showing, where the British open squad placed 11th overall and 8th out of the European teams. Without the draw of the international grass open and mixed squads, this year’s ECBU team is not short of top club talent. David Stobbs, Magnus Wilson and Kai Yokoo Laurence are joining Cross to make up the Clapham contingent, however the bulk of the squad is made up of players from Fire of London, with no less than 8 players forming the core of the squad this year.
Cross, David Ford, Elliott More, Chris Whittle and Richard Roberts further benefit from their experience together in WCBU. However, the team will undoubtedly have its sights set higher than GB beach open’s last outing. This year’s team entered Paganello in preparation coming 7th overall, and by doing so are showing themselves to be a serious outfit with high aims for the tournament. Compared to the sands of perhaps Spain and Italy, Britain has classically lacked a prominent beach scene. This squad will look for on-pitch connections from both club and country as they try to upturn this and take on the thriving European beach scene.
The GB women’s beach squad will be looking to capitalise on the success of their campaign in Italy two years ago that saw them take a bronze medal at WCBU 2011. Despite beating the eventual winners USA during the pool stages, GB lost in sudden death to Canada in the semi and was denied a spot in the final, but convincingly won the 3-4 playoff over Germany to take the last podium spot.
The team heading to Calafell this year sees many returners from the previous squad. Captain Bex Forth, who has won Paganello more times than most people would believe possible, has a core of players that includes World Games squad members (Becci Haigh, Ellie Hand) as well as European championship-winning Iceni (Lily Huang, Ange Wilkinson, Liza Bowen and Rachel Kelly) and Brighton women (Megan Hurst, Alize “Bob” Clough and Chrissy Birtwistle). But there are no passengers on this team, with 17 excellent women boasting a combination of speed, skills and smarts.
Bex’s unrivalled knowledge and experience of the beach game will be apparent from the get-go: expect this squad to be well-drilled, efficient and intelligent, and to return to the UK as champions.
As seen over the past few years at EUC in Slovenia and WUGC in Japan, Mixed Ultimate in the UK is thriving on grass and the same can be said on the beach. At WCBU 2011, the Mixed squad, made up mostly of Warwick Bears and Brighton players, came in 5th, only just behind other European teams Germany and Portugal.
This year’s team is a very different one. With an on-paper cut performed before trials in February, the decisions were already tough for player manager Jon “Kos” Brooks and captains Adriano Scarampi and Lauren Bryant. However, after a snowy beach trial, a squad was selected of 17 players: 9 men and 8 women. The men consisted of a small unit of last years Tooting Tigers in James Jagger, Fred Shone, James Threadgill and David Pryce, whom Scarampi knew he could mold into the systems the team wanted. Alongside these few stand other great players that excel behind the disc (Luke Tobiasiewicz), in downfield cutting (Emmanuel Bennett) and creating Ds like the best (Jonathan Clark). Over on the ladies side, all but one of the 8 are Iceni players and altogether create a formidable force that could be a good womens team, let alone the mixed side they have become. With the height and defensive awareness of Francesca Scarampi, Lauren Bowman and Stephanie Lees, no endzone is easy to get into and handlers akin to Mara Alperin and Catherine Vaughan will strike fear into every team. In the middle of the pitch, the speed of Catherine Gale, Ania Zbirohowska-Koscia all led by Bryant will force many a lady to have no space and no options.
This team have competed together once this year already, taking 9th (came out badly from a three way tie) at Paganello, only losing two pool games to Team Belgium and JetSet in sudden death; their first competitive game. In the process, they beat France, Belgium (placement game) and previous finalists Corocotta. They will also attend the UK beach tournament Sunburn in June to finally hone their team tactics and get those all important plays straight. If this team can keep their heads on straight and play their own game, expect to see them in quarters. From there, who knows what could happen.
The GB Masters team brings together a considerable amount of beach pedigree, with many of the team having played in (and in some occasions won) Paganello finals. After bracing the less than mediterranean conditions at a snowy Poole trial last November, a squad has been picked that offers plenty in relevant experience, as well as a wealth of past club connections. Dave Bixler has come over from the recent open squad to a position of captaincy amongst the masters. Rob McGowan and Simon Weeks will have invaluable competition experience after they took a Worlds gold with the Mixed Masters in 2011. Brothers Sion and Elias Thaysen bring an added dimension of danger to the team in the form of a fraternal connection that has alone frustrated many teams in the past. With the addition of formidable experience as well as past successes at a European club level from players such as captain Dave Grayson, Dave Barnard and Stu Mitchell, (all of whom won gold at xEUCF 2009 with Chevron), the masters must be approaching ECBU with aims of nothing short of Gold. As they did last year in preparation for Japan, the masters will be playing the open squad at their upcoming training weekend – last year age prevailed over beauty as the masters famously came out on top of the grudge match, and with such a strong squad they will surely be looking to repeat this upset on their way to Calafell.
At WCBU 2011 Great Britain came out as champions in the Mixed Masters division, becoming one of the only European teams to ever beat a North American team. The squad going to Calafell this year looks to take this strength even further. They have lost Si Weeks, Rob McGowan (the stars) as well as the experienced Wayne Davey and Jack Goolden to Open and retirement, however, they have filled their spots with youngsters Al Harding and Jon Aaron who have the disc skills and defensive awareness to play an important role. True masters of the game Jason DeCicco, Mike Palmer and Steve Balls will hold the O line together once again. On the women’s side Maria Cahill brings great experience and handling skills to the team, complemented by the likes of Worlds veterans Rougier, Snell, Thomas and Byrne, this team will be a force to be reckoned with.
By the time ECBU starts, they will have had 5/6 try-outs/training sessions, and two preparation tournaments: they played at the Monte Gordo Invitational as two separate teams, coming 3rd and 5th. They will also be at Sunburn playing alongside the Mixed team just before Calafell.
Going in as a number one seed will be a great boost for this team and with minimal player loss from Worlds, one can’t see much going wrong. The rest of Europe will really have to play its sand socks off to beat this lot.
Captained and anchored by ex-Chevron players Steven Kennedy (who captained the squad in 2011) and Simon Barlow, this year’s GB Grand Masters have seen a considerable increase in applicants compared to past years, and with this increase in competitivity at trials, they are confident that they have been able to pick a team of competitors able to help them secure Gold. Building on the foundations of past GB beach teams, with notable additions of Wayne Davey and Jack Goolden (both of whom featured on the successful GB Mixed Masters squad at WCBU 2011), as well as ex-Chevron and GB Open captain Harry Golby, this team boasts that their top five could take on of the other squads’ best lines. 2011 saw a disappointing campaign for the Grand Masters (they placed 5th of 5, winning only 1 of 9 games), but this comes from a division that admittedly has one of the smallest player pools to draw from in the country. However, thanks to a continuing expansion of the UK scene, this year sees a team with much higher ambitions who hope to use ECBU 2013 as a stepping stone to 2015 where they have their eyes on the bigger, and specifically North American, game.
A new division in the beach championships, the women’s masters competition has only four teams – GB, France, Germany and the casual United European Islands. But despite its small size, going ahead with the division will lay the groundwork for a bright future of women’s masters events, much like the small women’s masters division last year in Japan at WUGC 2012.
Eight of the twelve players on the GB women’s masters squad played together in Japan, including captain Felicity Perry and vice captain Linz Wilkinson. They are joined by former GB women’s captain and all-round UK ultimate legend Gemma Taylor. The squad is composed of a core of LLLeeds women that know each other well, as well as additions from the rosters of Bristol and SYC.
Further to this, nine members of the GB women’s masters team will be playing UK women’s tour together this year as R.O.B.O.T: Really Old Birds On Tour, a women’s masters team. The team is targeting the top 8 bracket and with two tour events to play ahead of ECBU, this will afford them plenty of opportunities to gel together. The team will also be playing at UK beach tournament Copa del Sol in preparation.
In such a small and new division, results are difficult to predict. The team played Paganello earlier this year in the women’s division and finished 9/10, but it is not easy to draw conclusions from this. With many members of the team playing at top level, it would not be hard to see this team making the women’s masters final – and having a great time doing it.
Follow the squads on twitter:
Mixed Masters: https://twitter.com/GBMixMastBeach
Grand Masters: https://twitter.com/GBGrdMastBeach
Article by David Pryce, Josh Coxon Kelly and Lauren Bryant from The Show Game: the UK ultimate centre for news, views, results and more.