Thanks yeh it's very pleasing, it's been a great season, makes a nice change from a disappointing year in 2011 which included two losses in both European finals and a 5th in Paganello.
How did you find balancing playing and training with GB and doing the same with Clapham this season?
I think it's fair to say that Clapham training was put on the back burner until after Japan. We really stepped it up before nationals and then I think we had 3 training weekends in the month leading up to Euros and we were also training on Tuesdays and Thursday in the evening. We just had too many players playing and training with GB that attendance to Clapham training weekends during the domestic season were so low.
Do you think the inclusion of the GB teams in Tour lead to a less competitive Tour overall?
No, I think it actually had the opposite effect. The idea to enter GB teams into Tour was a great idea as it meant Clapham/Chevron/Fire/Emo would lose their top players. This meant that the non GB players for these clubs really had a chance to step up, take on more responsibility in big games and develop individually. I think Clapham lost about 10 players to GB during Tour and Chevron lost 4 or 5 so it levelled out the playing field somewhat between the Top 4 teams and the 4-8 teams.
What was it like playing against Clapham?
Frustrating. We had a full GB squad when we played them in the quarters at Tour 1. The chants of 'MOOOOORE' when they scored a break on us was painful and not a pleasant experience to be on the receiving end of. We ended up losing in Sudden Death and all I remember was Colin Shaw running up to me and celebrating in my face. And to think I bought him an Ironing board as a wedding gift one week earlier...
How long have you been playing for the Clapham team? What is your current role in the squad?
I've just finished my 5th season with Clapham. We have 3 captains, JJ Howell, Marc 'Britney' Guilbert and myself. I'm still a very young and rather inexperienced captain so I still have a lot to learn and give back to Clapham. I focus more on the tactical side of things and leave the motivational stuff to JJH and Britney.
Can you give us an insight into a standard week for a Clapham player? And, how is the club run in terms of captains and coaches?
A standard week consists of an evening training session either on Monday or Tuesday, a track session on Wednesday or Thursday and then in the lead up to the season and big tournaments, weekend training sessions usually consist of 4 hours on Saturday and 3 hours on Sunday morning followed by a team Nandos. In addition, it's expected that players do their own fitness sessions (strength/core/CV/plyos) 2-3 times a week.
The training sessions are run by the captains but heavily assisted by 3-4 others players. Players who have been with the club for a substantial time or have good experience in coaching. In total, there's probably about 7-8people responsible for the running of the team/club.
At the start of the season, was Clapham's goal to win Tour, Nationals and EUCF? Was there any point where you thought that might not happen?
Every year Clapham has 3 goals. To win Tour, Nationals and EUCF. We haven't won won all three since 2007 when we lost 60% of the squad to retirement so we've been going through a long process of learning and re-developing the club back to the same level it was in 2007.
Yes there certainly were stages when we didn't think that would happen. The Saturday morning of Tour3 I think we started with 8 players (a large portion the GB contingent were still arriving back from Japan) and most of these players were our newer additions to Clapham I seemed to remember struggling getting out of our own endzone. We overcame a few difficulties to make the final and then I think we were 11-10 down to Chevron on D with only 13 players. We were also given a scare by Fire in the Nationals final. We really struggled on the Friday at Euros with three very tight games and of course you get the thoughts of whether or not you have the capacity to improve and win the tournament. Fortunately it all started to click on the Saturday and Sunday and all of a sudden we were playing the best ultimate Clapham have played probably for 5 years.
Which teams surprised you at Europeans?
I think Ragnorak were the surprise of the tournament starting in the challenger pool and coming up to the Elite pool to take bronze over Flying Angels in the 3/4.
I wasn't surprised to see Chevron make the final as they have a hugely talented squad but a big surprise for me was to see how much they improved as a team from UK Nationals. Overall I think it was just great to see the strength of UK ultimate at the moment with Clapham, Chevron, Fire, Brighton and EMO finishing in the Top 13.
Looking further back to July, GB Open winning silver at WUGC came as a big surprise to many. Describe the week in Sakai to us.
The first 2/3 days unfolded as expected. We won the games we expected to win and lost a close game to Canada. I believe a win against Columbia in Power Pools confirmed our spot against Australia in the Quarter finals. We knew we had the toughest quarter of the lot as Australia had taken USA to sudden death in pool play having been on O. The D line especially had a great game and we kept seeing Sweden score and extend their lead against Japan on adjacent pitch. Suddenly we found ourselves in the semis of Worlds facing a very beatable depleted Sweden squad. I remember sitting on the bus on the way back to the hotel after the semis discussing how we would have settled for a place in the 3/4 at the beginning of the week. The whole week overall is something I'll never forget. It's one thing being on the other side of the world in a place as culturally different as Japan with 25 mates and it's another thing performing so well and everyone going through the same emotions together. Our performance in the final was extremely disappointing, it would have been nice to show the other teams that we fully deserved to be in the final but i guess it was a great learning experience for everyone.
What was your personal highlight?
I have two highlights of the week which is how I will remember our week in Japan. The celebrations after we beat Australia in the Quarters and the ecstasy and relief after we scored the last point in Sudden Death against the Swedes in the semi to guarantee a silver medal. On a personal level, it was probably smashing a golf ball over the back net at the nearby driving range. That must have been a 280yrd carry.
What was it that made the team do so very well in Japan? Or, what pieces came together to allow your team succeed that week?
It was probably the amount of training we put in as a team in the 2years leading up to it. We must have made over 30 trips to Loughborough and Coventry for the training weekends as a full squad. You spend a lot of time getting to know your teammates and by the time we got to Japan, everybody knew everyones playing styles and strengths/weaknesses. Also, the fact that Sion Scone is arguably the most stubborn coach on the planet...combined with the Nazi-like discipline of our captain Marc Guilbert meant that even when it was freezing cold in December and snowing, they were still making sure we were practising the right things and not pissing around wasting our time. Training weekends weren't always fun but taking home silver at Worlds certainly made them all worthwhile.
More recently, you picked up with GOAT at Northeast Regionals. What was that experience like?
It was a great experience for me. Not only to play against great teams such as PONY and Ironside, but to play with legendary Canadian & European players and get invaluable tips on how to improve. GOAT are a great bunch of guys and made me feel very welcome. It was also pretty interesting to get thrown in the deep end and learn new plays and zones in a short space of time.
What were the main differences to playing with a UK team at a European tournament?
US regionals was very similar to UK Nationals in the way that we had two 'easy' wins and then two 'tough'games. Overall, I didn't see a huge amount of difference in actual structure of how teams are managed or run but i might be able to answer this better in 2 weeks time!
The results didn't quite go your way with some tough Sunday loses. Despite qualifying for Sarasota was the team a little down on Sunday night?
Yeh, we were 14-12 up against Ironside in the final and even scored the 15th point but a Boston defender called a defensive foul and the observer ruled it a turnover. We had beaten the 2nd ranked team in the US and won Regionals for about 5 seconds. Unfortunately after that we went into meltdown and lost 14-16. It was such a bitter pill to swallow that we were so deflated when we played the 2/3 against PONY and consequently lost that as well 15-10. We won the game-to-go but there was definitely an overall sense of disappointment. I'm not sure about the overall feeling of the team on Sunday night as my flight home was at 7pm on the Sunday so i went straight to the airport and then straight to work when i landed. My feeling is that losing to Boston in that way was probably a good thing for our mentalities. It'll be better to go to Sarasota knowing we have a low seeding and have to fight for every game.
Are you planning on making the trip to Florida?
Yep, I booked my flights yesterday and as I was writing this interview at my desk my boss just announced to the whole office that we're all getting made redundant as of today (Fri 13th Oct) so I guess I should get on the phone to ebookers and extend my stay or go out a week earlier and attend the last training camp. True story.
With seedings due by next week, there's some interesting match ups predicted. Who would like to face the most? What do you think GOATs chances are?
I have been fortunate enough to play most of the top American teams with Clapham over the past couple of years at various tournaments so I don't really mind who we play as long as we win. I think GOAT have every chance of making finals. We showed we can compete against the best when we played Ironside last weekend. Nationals is probably the most highly competitive tournament in the game. Any team can win, but it's about how you perform against the best.
Finally, what advice would you give to young up and coming players in the sport?Nowadays I think there is way too much focus on fitness/strength. I would say just concentrate on your throwing abilities. You hear about people coming to training talking about how much they can now squat and deadlift and then they turf five throws in the training session. There's no benefit of being able to squat or dead-lift 120kgs if you can't break the mark or execute throws. If everyone had perfect throws, no one would have to jump high. Also, I would advise young and upcoming players to believe in themselves and be confident. There is so much great young talent in the UK and the biggest drawback in development is I don't think some of those players know how good they actually are.
Twitter: @cu_ultimate, @justinfoord28