Pulling The Flag

The Quick Slant – Week 10

Hello dear readers. My name is Mik Smith. For those of you who don’t know me, unlucky; for those of you who do, unluckier still. I am pleased to have been given the chance to make my maiden voyage aboard the weekly flag ship, as we make a turn to starboard and set heading for the end zone of the season (that’s some gentle comedy right there).

This is my first attempt at something I never managed in my career as a receiver – the quick slant (I always struggled with the “quick” part). So sit back, relax, and let’s all hope our first time together doesn’t hurt, isn’t over too quickly and isn’t a horrifically shameful experience for all of us. And of course above all that you call me tomorrow and we try it again sometime with you on top.
Come Back to What You Know
Just as John decided to reference semi-obscure Scottish rockers Idlewild last week, I hope at least some of you have enjoyed my cheeky Embrace reference above. Embrace were a funny band. Had some good early albums, faded in the middle of their careers, before surprisingly finding favour again some years later after a sequence of unlikely good fortune.
Which shamelessly brings us on to a club who have followed a similar path, my Leicester Eagles, who this weekend bagged another two hard fought wins to move to 7-0 officially, with a walkover confirmed versus the Oxford Killer Ponies to move the Eagles to 8-0. With the two wins, the Eagles possess a clean sweep of divisional tie breakers, and therefore were newly crowned SWC North Champions, and with it a playoff berth.
This marks the first time since 2009 that the oldest flag specific club in the UK will compete in the post season, and perhaps more remarkably, the first time since 2009 that the Eagles have won more than four games. That year, the Eagles went undefeated through the regular season, before falling to the mighty Kirkcaldy Bulls in the British final. The good news for me and my team this time is that the Bulls are no more, meaning it is a mathematical and logical certainty the re-born Eagles will lift the silverware. For reference and engraving, you spell the name of the Manager, Head Coach and Quarterback M-I-K. The Eagles had a whole season not so long ago that yielded no wins and just a single tie, and were 3-7 last year. Our motto this year has been “Dark Horses”. I don’t want to blow our own trumpet, as for the last few years, we haven’t had a recorder, let alone trumpet, to blow; But perhaps the thus far under-the-radar Eagles can now be considered a contender for one of this year’s most compelling Cinderella Stories…..?
Mik Smith in his off duty moments
The rest of the relatively unheralded SWC North has been a strange division with the playoff picture as clear as Paul Gascoigne’s head following a family barbecue. Sunday’s long day in Buckingham looked to sort the men-and-ladies from the other men-and-ladies possibly-from-the-same-town-or-maybe-Buckingham; and it certainly did that. Having had an horrific opening weekend beset by squad issues, the Coventry Jets seemed to have rebounded somewhat, drawing on all of their collective experience to keep them competitive in the last few weeks. However, it all came crashing down around their ears this weekend. Having dropped two more games in Buckingham, to the Blitz and the Cougars, they are out of the playoffs just one year after going 9-1. The Cougars, having gone 1-3 on the day, are out of the playoff race with only two to play, but have a great youthful base to build on going forwards and will surely be stronger next year. As an interesting Cougars stat, and one worth plenty of kudos, Millie Barrett became the first female player this season to throw a TD pass in the league on Sunday, so congratulations to her. Will she be the only one to do so this year? Will we see a proliferation of female scorers next year? With the talent evident in the EWP and various teams up and down the country, I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.
Finally from the SWC North, the mysterious Buckingham Blitz remain an intriguing prospect, with some quality athletes, who played very well to bag three wins at the weekend and ran Leicester close. To their credit, this puts them into the playoffs in their debut season with time to spare, which they will enter as a relative unknown quantity.
Coming from a relatively weak division, both the Eagles and the Blitz will need to be on top of their game come the post season to make any dent on the tough Battle Cruisers lying in wait in the Southern playoff lagoon. Time will tell who will emerge dazed and confused from the flotsam and jetsam and make landfall on the island of glory.
A frankly glorious island
Of Lions and Titans
That was an odd metaphor, wasn’t it? Anyway, let’s brush past it. On to the SEC, where there were at least 75 games played in a veritably bustling inter conference-gripped Northampton. Worth noting is the rookie Northants Titans, who are seemingly playing all the time, and now sit at an impressive 32-30 record. Investigations continue as to whether this record is indeed legal in a thirteen game season, but what is for certain is that this highlights the importance of experience. With Luke Gambrill at the helm, several defecting Phantoms and some ex kitted players, the Titans have the look of a side far in advance of their experience as a club. They have gelled quickly, and look set to make the playoffs in their debut year. Also impressing in inter-conference play were the Reading Lions, who remain firmly in playoff contention sitting just on the Chichester Sharks shoulders in the SEC South. In a slightly different way to the Titans, The Lions also show that a little bit of experience goes a long way. The Lions are undoubtedly a hugely athletic and talented side. What they may have had last year in questionable on field banter, they lacked in a bit of experience to lift them into the playoffs above the more experienced Jets and Showboats. This year, their results (not least a tie versus the #1 ranked Rebels) suggests they are a team maturing fast and, regardless of what happens this year, are surely be a force to be reckoned with now and in the coming years
Remember kids: Genuinely nothing makes up for experience. Except perhaps youthful arrogance and confidence. And maybe large piles of money.
“… I still don’t get the playbook…”

The last few weeks of the season has started to see an increasing number of game postponements, leading to a glut of walkovers muddying the standings on our lovely standings page. Indeed, in an odd situation in the HNC South, the Northumberland Thunder lost their only game at the weekend, but actually moved off the foot of their division courtesy of two walkovers from the beleaguered Carluke Cobras, who unfortunately look set to fold.
No one likes a forfeit, but I want to personally urge a touch of caution against tying the offenders to the village stake and pronouncing them heretics. Having had to unfortunately forfeit games in previous years due to genuine squad issues, I do feel that leniency is sometimes the best policy on a squad with genuine issues. That said, serial offenders in the same season maybe do have to question whether they are set up to be in the league, if they aren’t already.
It’s a tough and emotive problem. Should the league punish those forfeiting further? Is it just a sad fact of niche amateur sport? Is the shame that every man in a forfeiting squad bears for the rest of his life enough? I would love to hear any comments on how the problem could be addressed or dealt with differently.
…And finally…

In other flag news, there were several games played elsewhere. Some won, some lost, but the real winner was football. With that, I will sign off, so until next ti…. [what do you mean I need to go into more detail? I thought this was the quick slant? I’ve already spent most of my time plugging my own team, do you think I have time to go through everything else? Oh for fu…]
Very quickly: the Blackhawks continue to underline their potential heading into the playoffs with a win versus Northumberland… The Solent Thrashers picked up three wins to take a firm grip on a playoff place in the SWC South… Sheffield Vipers impress with two wins in the MEC North meaning they and the Calderdale Knights are firmly ensconced in the top two and are both confirmed in the playoffs… “Taking a knee” remains a strangely controversial topic with some…. Many dog owners were seen throwing balls to pets at several locations through the weekend; reports that the animals simply fetched the ball back remain unconfirmed… [Happy now? Good.]
With that, I will genuinely sign off, so until next time: Stay classy. And if you can’t stay classy, at least have the decency photograph it so we can all have a good laugh.
Hey everyone! Come see how good I look!

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