Flag football descended upon Glasgow for the second installment of the Flagging New Year tournament. Last year’s edition featured teams exclusively from the UK, however an expanded field saw teams from the continent make their debuts. The two-day tournament had a centralised running clock, so the teams in attendance would have to make the most of their possessions and look for quick turnovers on defence.
Among the pre-tournament favourites were the Waldorf Wanderers, Baker Street Buttonhookers, the Dutch Lions and the Swedish national squad. Teams from the BAFA leagues would pit themselves against some exceptional competition from abroad and look to gain sharpness ahead of the season. The tournament started with a group stage, and then progressed into a playoff format, with all final placements up for grabs in games to take place on the Sunday.
We caught up with the tournament organiser, Alan Young, on his aspirations and thoughts on the tournament after the curtains were dawn:
What was your inspiration for starting Flagging New Year?
For me it has always felt like there was a gap in the calendar at that time of year, when I was a part of the Carluke Cobras we set up Superbowl Saturday and it was always an enjoyable affair but it was outside, freezing and we didn’t get a great deal of teams. I’ve always felt that it would be a good time of year for a tourney. We ran the first one for UK only to see what interest we would get and we got 8 teams and had to turn a couple away. Then after attending Big Bowl last May for the first time, I realised that there was no reason we couldn’t match it. I learned a lot about the way it was run and tried to duplicate it (in a much smaller way). I am lucky enough that my role in the sport has grown so we were able to attract come international teams across, increasing it to two days made it more worthwhile to make the trip and having them there gave the event a really special feel. the amount of teams that have already told me they are itching to come back and some teams who weren’t there desperate to be a part of it in the future.
Do you feel the tournament was a success? Can you share any plans for 2018?
I feel it was, I’ve generally had positive feedback, there’s definitely things we can work on and I’m already planning 2018, I need to await confirmation of the dates, I’m also trying to negotiate longer opening hours for the venue on the Saturday which will either allow us to do all the group games on the Saturday or potentially expand to include more teams. Whether those will be another 6 male teams to make the field 30 large or it will allow me to have a small 6 team women’s division is TBD.
As GB head coach, how do you feel the BAFA League squads benefit from these tournaments? Does having international teams’ present benefit the participants?
I think getting the opportunity to face new teams is great for everyone’s development, seeing different styles of offense and defence, allowing compare and contrasts. From a development point of view the more experience players have by the time they get to try out for the GB squad the more chance they have of making it and the less time I’ll need to focus on fundamentals. The league is quite limiting due to the amount of travel that would be involved, so as a result we stick to conferences meaning we don’t see teams very often from around the league. NuOla and FNY are the only times in the UK you see teams travel to play new teams. Tournaments provide the opportunity; you also get a good amount of bang for your buck. As the Hornets we travelled to NuOla and played I believe 8 games in one day, 8 different teams, loads of learning experience and I think game time is key to the development of the players and the league.
The groups were drawn at random in early January, and we were already anticipating some interesting matchups.
In Group 1 there was a number of playoff teams from the BAFA leagues last season, including the team which finished 4th in the UK, the Victoria Park Panthers.
Also in this group were the Sweden 1 squad. Rounding out the group were the Newcastle Blackhawks, Manchester Titans, Edinburgh Outlaws and the newly formed Inverclyde Phoenix. The marquee matchup of this group occurred on the Sunday morning of the tournament, where the Sweden squad took on the Victoria Park Panthers. The Panthers fell to the Swedes, 20-7, but it was the Victoria Park side which would perform better in the playoff stages…
In group 2, the Carluke Cobras reformed and recruited to put together a strong squad, hoping to make an impact. They came second in their group however, as the Dunbeth Dragons came up trumps by virtue of the points they had scored.
The Utrecht Dominators made their debut at a UK tournament and put in a good performance with an under-strength squad. The Carnegie Steelers, Leeds Samurai and NuOla Waves squad were also showcased in this group. The Dragons and Cobras had arguably the most intriguing game of this group stage. The Dragons staved off a late Cobras drive in order to close out a 7-7 tie against the Carluke side.
Group 3 was advertised as the “Group of Death” pre-tournament and it lived up to its billing. The Walldorf Wanders, Dutch Lions, Grangemouth Broncos and Manchester Crows took centre stage and delivered enthralling encounters.
The Carnegie Renegades and Paisley Spartans also contributed to making this group one of most competitive of the day. The Wanderers convincingly defeated the other teams in this group as they flexed their strong roster ahead of the playoff stage; however a tight game between the Broncos and Lions provided the highlight game of this group. The Broncos held the lead and the ball late in this contest; however they turned the ball over on downs and allowed a deep, crushing touchdown pass to the Lions. The final score in this contest was 18-13 to the Dutch Lions.
The last (but certainly not least) group to be contested was Group 4, which featured a strong Baker Street Buttonhookers squad, the Glasgow Hornets, the Aberdeen Oilcats and the Sweden 2 side. Also taking part were the newly formed Clyde Comets, who had GB lions in their midst, and the Cheshire Cavaliers, who frequently participate in similar tournaments, and were looking to gain experience ahead of the 2017 league season.
This looked to be another tightly contested group, however with the Oilcats missing some key players, this turned into a two-horse race between the Buttonhookers and the Hornets. The matchup between these two sides was not a close one, as the Hornets struggled to unlock the Buttonhookers exceptional defence. While the Hornets defence did their best to stifle the Buttonhookers offence, they could not overcome their offense’s deficiencies. The Buttonhookers topped the group with a 20-0 victory.
The playoff portion of this tournament went largely as expected, however a few surprise performances gave teams a deserved high final placing in this tournament. Among these teams were the Victoria Park Panthers, who took the bronze medal home after a close game against the Carluke Cobras, who also performed exceptionally well. The Clyde Comets and Dunbeth Dragons also enjoyed finishing above a number of playoff sides from last season.
The final however came down to two of the early favourites – the Walldorf Wanderers vs the Baker Street Buttonhookers. Walldorf, led by Benjamin Klever, had wowed onlookers with their deep passing game. Benjamin could take his side from one side of the field to the endzone with one flick of his wrist. Meanwhile, the Buttonhookers, captained by Vince Machi, exhibited a more methodical approach to their games so far, and their superb defence had already showed an ability to shut-down a potent offence, including holding the highest scoring offence in Britain (the Hornets) to zero points. Their defence was aided by incredible swiftness from their Blitzer, who gave opposition QBs fits.
A back and forth battle ensued, with both offences knowing that every possession was vital. The play of the game came as time expired in the first half for the Baker Street squad. After a defensive penalty, the Buttonhookers had one last play to try and get in to the endzone to make this valuable series count. QB Vince Machi passed to a crossing receiver short of the endzone; however a combination of speed and a collision between two Walldorf defenders allowed the Buttonhookers to add a priceless score. The Buttonhookers saw the game out, winning 32-22 in a thrilling final.
We asked QB Vince Machi about his experience at Flagging New Year.
You frequently compete in some of Europe’s most prestigious tournaments. What attracted you to this competition?
Any reason to get out of London, find some sun, and drink beers with your closest friends is a great one. Football-wise, it’s tons of fun to play and compete with teams from all over the world that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to otherwise. I’ve discovered over the past year that the niche flag football community in Europe is special and the camaraderie between teams is outstanding. Also it’s fun to see the competitive spirit from other cultures and then to see how they react when we wind them up.
How did the playing level at Flagging New Year compare to other tournaments you participate in?
Overall I found it similar to Big Bowl and Pink Bowl. Waldorf and Dutch Lions are some of the household names in European Flag so it was great to have them out there. You also had three of the top four finishers from last year’s BAFA league as well as Team Sweden and strong Carluke and Broncos squads.
Aside from winning the tournament, do you have any highlights or games that you enjoyed watching/playing in?
Our quarterfinal against the Dutch Lions was a spectacular game that really showed the character of our squad. We lost to them in Pink Bowl in a game where we felt we beat ourselves with untimely drops and mental errors. In the first half at Flagging, I threw two of the worst picks you will ever see which saw us down 20-7 at the half. Our guys were never rattled though and we battled back to win it 28-27. Obviously winning the final against Walldorf was great, even with the Swedish refs awarding them a phantom touchdown. Outside of our own games, I really enjoyed watching the Broncos play and was secretly happy we didn’t have to play them. Their tallest guy might be shorter than our shortest guy but man those guys can play! Their chemistry and system is outstanding and I would find them extremely tough and annoying to play against.
In our opinion, the tournament was a tremendous success. The format worked very well, with teams who had travelled from afar getting ample amount of games. The tournament MVP was Philip Smith from the Sweden 1 side, and the final was a fascinating encounter, as both teams can be proud of putting on such a great display. The final placing were as follows:
1st – Baker Street Buttonhookers
2nd – Walldorf Wanderers
3rd – Victoria Park Panthers
4th – Carluke Cobras
5th – Dutch Lions
6th – Sweden 1
7th – Glasgow Hornets
8th – Dunbeth Dragons
9th – Grangemouth Broncos
10th – Sweden 2
11th – Utrecht Dominators
12th – Newcastle Blackhawks
13th – Clyde Comets
14th – Manchester Crows
15th – Manchester Titans
16th – Carnegie Steelers
17th – Aberdeen Oilcats
18th – Edinburgh Outlaws
19th – Carnegie Renegades
20th – Leeds Samurai
21st – Nuola Waves
22nd – Paisley Spartans
23rd – Cheshire Cavaliers
24th – Inverclyde Phoenix