Pulling The Flag

A Different Flag – The Danish Champions

UK flag football is a quiet state of affairs at the moment. Opal Series is over and teams are in preseason until the season begins again in April. But last year’s World Championships in Italy showed that there are some very strong teams across the world that play flag football. One of these powerhouses being Denmark.

The Danish national side have won the last 3 European Championships in a row (2009, 2011, 2013) and were runners up in the 2006, 2008 and 2010 World Championships. This is despite Denmark only having a population of around 5.5m people. Much smaller than the sides that beat them in the WC finals. (France, Canada, USA respectively)

With such a rich history, where better to start a feature series on international flag football but the Danish leagues? My intrigue took me as far as the Allerød Armadillos, who are the current champions of the Danish national flag league. I got in touch and managed to put together a very interesting interview with Benjamin Boraghi of the Armadillos. In addition to Ben’s affiliation with the Armadillos, he is also the head coach of the Danish women’s national side. So without further ado…

The Armadillos after winning the Dannebrog Bowl to become 2014 champions.

The Armadillos after winning the Dannebrog Bowl to become 2014 champions. Boraghi pictured far left on the front row.

 

N – Who are you and how long have you been playing flag football?

B – I am Benjamin Boraghi, and my club is the Allerød Armadillos. I co-founded the club in 2008 with a friend from high school. I used to coach the team, but I have resigned from that, and now I play at the centre position.

N – You have represented your country, when you got into the sport did you ever foresee taking things this far?

B – When we started the club, we had a clear goal of becoming the best flag football team in Denmark. We knew, it demanded hard work, but we were willing to dedicate ourselves to make it happen. That being said, I can to this day still get overwhelmed with how far we have gotten. We have one of the biggest clubs in the country, and we are now trying to prove ourselves as the best team in Europe as well.

Humble beginnings The Armadillos back in the lowest tier of Danish football, back in 2010.

Humble beginnings
The Armadillos back in the lowest tier of Danish football, back in 2010.

N – Your team, Allerød Armadillos are currently the Danish champions for the first time having beaten 7 time winners Avedøre Mammoths in the Dannebrog Bowl [Their equivalent of Britbowl]. What was that like?

B – It was a fantastic feeling for many reasons. As I said previously, our main goal has always been to become the national champions. To achieve this goal was one of the greatest feelings ever. Besides this, Avedøre Mammoths is by far the most successful Danish flag football team ever, and we have always had huge troubles beating them in our games against them. They have beaten us way more times than we have beaten them. When we won the final against the Mammoths, we finally proved to everyone that we are the best team in the country.

N – Denmark are one of the biggest countries when it comes to flag football, how popular is the sport there?

B – The sport is not that big in Denmark, it is actually quite small, having only about 500 active players. I believe several other European countries have more players. The sport has stagnated in player growth the last couple of years, which is quite sad, because it can be played by literally any type; men, women, old, young, big, small. If we all work hard together, it my strong belief that people will discover this wonderful sport, thus making it more popular.

N – How does the league system work in Denmark? Are there different divisions?

B – Our league system in Denmark is pretty straight forward. We have two separate splits, one in east and one in west. Each of the splits have a Flag National League, FNL, where the best teams are placed. Below this, there is the Qualifications Series, from where teams can qualify to the Flag National League, and then there are the 1. Division and 2. Division. New teams start in the 2. Division.

N – Armadillos were runners up to Mammoths in Big Bowl, one of the largest tournaments. Will you all compete next year and do you think you can win it this time?

B – We will definitely return, but we are actually not sure if we will this year. We have been invited to play at the Champions Bowl, which, funnily enough, is arranged by Walldorf Wanderers, the organizers of Big Bowl, and we really want to play versus the best teams Europe has to offer. So right now we are discussing which of the two tournaments we are going to be participating in.

N – On a similar note, with Danish sides making up the top two, why do you think the Danish teams are so strong?

B – I think that there are plenty of reasons for this. When flag football was started in Denmark many years ago, a small clique of very talented players was able to compete at the highest level in Europe. Most of these players are actually still represented in the sport, and they have helped new teams and players learn and become great players. We are not afraid to share tactics, training methods and exercises, which in the end helps all of us. Our league system is actually pretty well organised, as it provides us with a lot of games versus each other every season.

N – Denmark have won the last 3 European Championships, with the next one likely to be this year – do you think that Denmark can win for a 4th time running? And will you be involved?

B – I strongly believe that it is possible for us to win for the 4th time running. Our national team has a core of great players who are among the best at their positions in Europe, and our coaches are both very experienced and skilled. If we do not win, I think that either Austria, Italy or Israel will bring it home. I do not think I will be involved, but as a competing player, one can always hope that the coaches will look my way, when the time comes.

N – What would you like to see improved in the Danish leagues? Either to increase the standard or make things more enjoyable.

B – I just want more players! Our system is working quite well and the structure is fine, we just need more teams. I hate the fact that we have to ref each other, so a dream of mine is to get official referees at every FNL game.

N – I believe you coach the Danish women’s team. What has it been like to develop that team and get the team playing at a World Championship? Do you find it different working with women?

B – It has been an enjoyable time for me coaching the women’s team. I have learned so much and gained so much experience from working with the team over the last three years. I did not know that much about any of the teams or their players, which made it quite the challenge at the beginning, but as we worked towards the World Championship, it got more and more exciting. Playing against teams from around the world such as Japan, the United States and Brazil is one of my greatest flag football memories to this date.
There is a huge difference in coaching men and women. Women are much more emotional and impatient, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be hard to handle sometimes.

The women's national side in the 2012 Nordic Championship

The women’s national side in the 2012 Nordic Championship.

N – What is next for Armadillos? What would you like to achieve?

B – We want to prove that we are the best flag football team in Europe, which I sincerely believe we already are. To do this, we must win the Champions Bowl, since it hopefully will consist of all of Europe’s best teams. Other goals are to get a women’s team and a reserve team. I want us to be the biggest and best club.

N – And similarly again, what else would you like to achieve as a player/coach?

B – My personal goal is to win the national championship and Champions Bowl, playing as centre, and to win the European Championship with the Danish women’s team.

N – What advice would you give to somebody who has only played the sport for a season like myself?

B – Practice makes perfect. I have seen great talents achieve absolutely nothing, because their work ethics were horrible, and I have seen lesser talented players get as far as the national team, because they worked hard.

N – What might a typical training schedule be for the Armadillos? What would you prioritise working on?

B – It depends on whether were in the offseason or not. If we are, we are working on the small things, like route running, back pedalling and such. It is all about the individual technique. We would start a training with a warm up followed by one or two flag pulling exercises. Then we would split up into offense and defense, each focusing on their own technique exercise. We would likely finish off with a scrimmage, offense against defense.
In the regular season our focus is much more on team work and tactics. We are running a lot more scrimmage and focus a lot less on the players’ individual technique.

N – Having been with the Armadillos from the very beginning, just how far has the club come and grown? Is it very much the same band of players that started but with years more experience? Or have you grown to accommodate a much larger number of players over the years?

B – When we started the club, we were just some high school friends who enjoyed watching the NFL. We had some serious goals set for us, but we had absolutely no idea how to reach them. We did not really know how much of an effort it takes to make a club work and succeed, and it took quite some time to figure it out. Over the years we developed a more clean structure internally and we made a lot of changes to how we wanted our club to go on from there regarding practice, game days and team environment in general. We also saw a big change in players. As of now, only three players from the very beginning remain on our roster, and the last couple of years, we have picked up several players from other teams as well as clean rookies. Just 3-4 years ago, we were almost exclusively fielding 5 players on every game day, meaning everyone was playing both on offense and defense. Last year, we peaked with a roster counting 14 players, with 9-13 ready to play on every game day.

N – Why do you think Mammoths were able to dominate the Danish Leagues for so long [7 titles in 11 years]? Can that kind of consistency ever be repeated?

B – It was partly due to the lack of competition, but mainly, it was because Mammoths were a team always seeking to become better. The Danish national team consisted of many of the Mammoths-players, and for many years, even their coaches came from Mammoths. This meant that the players gained experience from playing championships against the best players from all over the world, and they brought that experience home to their club. The last couple of years, more clubs have caught up with Mammoths, because they were willing to share from their knowledge and experience, and because people from other clubs got better at innovating and learning from their mistakes, both on and off field.

N – Which Danish players should we be watching out for, in the European Championships, or Big Bowl maybe?

B – Niklas Dyrby Johansen, cornerback, from our club won the Defensive Most Valuable Player, when the national team won the European Championship in Italy in 2013. He has only gotten better, and I expect him to dominate once again. Jonas Bo Hansen – the wide receiver from our rivals Copenhagen Fusion – is another one to keep a keen eye on, as he is probably the best flag football receiver in Europe. He actually lost the battle for the Offensive Most Valuable Player to your very own Dan McMillan back in 2013.

Armadillos finish 2nd in the 2014 Big Bowl. Boraghi sporting some long hair 5th from the left!

Armadillos finish 2nd in the 2014 Big Bowl. Boraghi sporting some long hair 5th from the left!

N – Is there a women’s league in Denmark, and if so – how does it work?

B – There is not a women’s league in Denmark. Currently, we have three teams playing against each other as well as men’s teams from 2. Division. Hopefully, we will get a women’s league soon enough.

N – You’ve seen your team go from the bottom to the top. What tips would you give new clubs starting out with big aspirations like you had?

B – Do not be afraid to dream. I strongly believe that self-confidence and high hopes are necessary to reach the top. From the very beginning, we believed that we could be the best and we kept using that belief as fuel to get us, where we are today. Just remember to not be carried away and thus get cocky.

It is important to get your priorities straight, regarding your goals and how you want to run your club. In the beginning, we were running things very loosely, not planning practices thoroughly enough and having just a few people take care of everything. Now, we have almost everyone in the club involved in something else besides playing the game. It is very important, because it will make all more passionate and dedicated to the club. Besides all this, I would recommend taking practice very seriously, both on the practice field and in the gym.
We only got to where we are today by working very hard and not quitting, even though we have experienced a lot of losses and failures through the years. We have missed playoffs twice in a row because of a single loss. Never give up!

 

And there you have it. Huge thanks to Benjamin Boraghi for being absolutely fantastic in regards to this interview. It came completely out of the blue and a few days later I feel like I have such a good knowledge of Danish football and the Armadillos. Thanks a lot for being so concise and prompt in answering my questions. I’d also like to thank Lasse Christensen of the Copenhagen Barbarians as he was the one who directed me to Allerød Armadillos in the first place. Who knows where we will go next?

Finally – If you happen to understand Danish, or like pictures, here’s a link to the Armadillos’ Facebook page.

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