Pulling The Flag

Great Britain at the European Championships

The Great Britain Lions preparations for the 2017 European Championships went well this year. The squad were in good spirits and on the face of it was the strongest group of players to travel to a major championship. The one replacement made in the run up to the event was the inclusion of Fraser Thomson for his injured club team-mate Kevin Woods. While Fraser is not a straight replacement for Kevin, he brings other talents to the squad.

It was at the last minute that disaster struck. The first choice Quarterback, Vince Macchi from the Baker Street Buttonhookers, had to pull out for family reasons. That would mean some re-shuffling. Back-up QB Sheffield Giants’ Dean Whittingslow would have to take over behind centre, and some reshuffling of the defence.

 

Game 1 on Saturday 2nd Sept – GB Lions v Norway.

The Norwegians have not appeared at a championship for some time. What was expected, was really what we got. Some fit and competent Tackle Footballers playing Flag. While they were physically able to compete, they lacked experience in some of the subtleties of the non-contact game.

In a nervy start for both teams, Aberdeen’s Gary Elliot intercepted a pass into the end-zone on the Norwegian first drive, only to have Norway pick it back as GB were driving. However, in the very next play Manchester Titans player, David MacInally, intercepted a short pass attempt and carried it into the end-zone. The xp from Callum Woods made it 7 – 0 to GB.

The nerves still had not gone though, as at the start of the next GB drive an attempted pitch for a “two QB” play was fumbled in the end-zone for a safety. 7 – 2. That also turned the ball over to Norway.

A speculative long ball on the resulting posession caught out the GB Defence and Norway took the lead 7 – 9.

The next TD came from Grangemouth Broncos’ Callum Woods to put GB in front. The xp was missed but GB were ahead 13 – 9.

As half time approached, spectators at home were thinking, just keep the ball and go into the half in the lead. The team had other ideas and scored through a Steve Mongey (Buttonhookers) TD and Callum Woods XP. That gave the Lions a little bit of a cushion 20 – 9 at the half.

Finally, the nerves seemed to have calmed down. The Norwegians rarely threatened in the second half.

TD and XP from Gary Elliott made it 27 – 9, a sack from Oilcat Calum Young to force a turnover, a TD from Farnham Knights’ Michael Bradley-Banszki (33 – 9) and another TD from Gary Elliott meant they had a 39 – 9 lead.

The few hiccups at the end of the game can be forgiven as players were rotated and different things tried. They may not get the opportunity to try these things in the other games.

A good performance in the end. Hopefully, the nerves are well and truly settled for the next game against Sweden at 11:40 UK time.

Thanks to Kevin Woods for the filming and commentary.

 

Game 2 on Saturday 2nd Sept – GB Lions v Sweden

Many of the Swedish players should have been familiar to a number of the Lions team. The Swedes had been doing the rounds of some of the bigger tournaments around, including the Flagging New Year. At the FNY tournament, the MVP award went to Sweden’s Philip Smith, so GB would have to be wary of him at least.

Having the comfortable win under their belt, the GB Lions would still have to settle themselves into the game against Sweden.

Trading early TDs, Sweden came out on top by scoring their XP. Callum Woods with the score for GB. 6 – 7.

Missed XPs were to become a feature of the GB game for the rest of the weekend.

Then after Gary Elliot scored the second GB TD (again the XP attempt failed), Bud McFerrin (from the Clyde Comets) caught an interception to halt a Swedish drive.

GB took the ball up the field and scored through Callum Woods. XP attempt failed.  18 – 7

The Swedes managed to peg back the GB score just before the half, but the Lions went into the second half with a four point lead. 18 – 14.

The second half didn’t start well for GB as Dean Whittingslow was sacked in the end-zone for another Safety. 2 Points, so GB’s lead cut to 2 points. But it also turned the ball over to Sweden.

When Sweden then scored on a long pass, GB were behind. 18 – 23 after the XP.

Whittingslow then threw a long pass of his own to Gary Elliott (or as the comentators would say “Hightower Gary from England”). GB back in front, but with another failed XP, they only led now by only 1 point. 24 – 23.

Sweden now had to chase the game, and made some poor choices in their play, because when they scored to take the lead 29 – 24 and missed their 2pt attempt, they left a lot of time on the clock.

GB drove the length of the field and looked to have secured a last gasp winner with a pass to Gary Elliot, but the refs ruled him out of bounds.

GB lose 24 – 29.

 

Game 3 on Saturday 2nd Sept – GB Lions v Denmark

This was always going to be the toughest challenge of the weekend. They were runners up in the World Championships in 2016, pushing the USA really hard in the final.

GB went into this game knowing that with Denmark winning all their other games, the result of this match would only change things if GB were to win it.

However, the kudos of beating the top dog is always an incentive.

Unfortunately, there were not too many highlights for GB in this game.

Playing against Denmark, one of the best teams in the world, you have to be on top of your game.

Playing without your first choice QB against one of the top teams in the world you are always going to struggle.

Throwing an interception on the first play of the game doesn’t help.

GB were already 14 points down before Michael Bradley-Banszki put GB on the board with a TD. Another missed XP. 6 points to 14. Other than a tipped pass or two, there was very little GB seemed able to do to stop the Danes. On many occasions, our defenders were in the perfect position but the bigger Danish player just reached beyond our players hands.

By half time the score was 6 – 28, by full time the lead had extended to 6 – 48.

The few highlights that could be pinpointed for GB would be – MBB’s touchdown, Gary Elliott batting the ball as it left the QB’s hand and Julian Holburn-White (Glasgow Hornets) made a couple of first downs out of short passes.

GB would have to pick themselves up and look towards Sunday’s game against Israel. That has become a must win game if they want to be in the running for one of the two places up for grabs at next year’s World Championships in Panama.

Game 4 on Sunday 3rd Sept – GB Lions v Israel.

Having lost two of their three matches on Saturday, GB were still in with a chance of making the Final, if they could beat Israel by at least a score.

Israel are one of the best Flag Football national teams in the world, but they were less than convincing in their two previous matches.

With the inspiration of the GB Lions Ladies beating Israel’s Ladies, the GB Mens team went into this match full of confidence.

While Israel scored first, Kenny Bello (London Rebels) quickly responded for GB. With another missed extra point conversion  the score was 7 – 6 to Israel. It then went to 14 – 6 with another Israeli TD and XP.

Still there was no need for any panic. Then a pair of interceptions thrown by QB  Dean Whittingslow, each of which resulted in TDs, 12 points.

GB kept playing and their persistence paid off with a TD pass from Whittingslow to Julian Holburn-White (missed XP). But they were still down 26 – 12.

The Lions seemed unable to stop the opposition scoring. Another TD, then yet another interception resulting in a TD meant the Lions were looking at a 39 – 12 deficit at half time.

Head Coach Alan Young then took the decision to try Kenny Bello at QB.

With Bello throwing the ball in the second half, GB would go on to score three TDs through Steve Mongey, Michael Bradley-Banszki and Julian Holburn-White, plus a Bradley-Banszki 2 point conversion.

On a better note, whether Israel had taken their foot off the gas, or the GB defensive adjustments worked, the defence didn’t concede a point.

In the end the first half deficit was just too much to overcome and the Lions lost by a respectable scoreline of 39 – 32.

The loss meant they were out of the Gold/Silver game, but they would still have the opportunity to get revenge for the defeat to Sweden the day before in the Bronze Medal game.

 

Game 4 on Sunday 3rd Sept – GB Lions v Israel.

Just before the GB Lions (Men) were due to play in the Bronze Medal game the GB Lions Ladies did themselves proud winning the Bronze medal in the ladies competition.

Would that inspire the men? Having lost to Sweden on Saturday the GB team would be determined not to repeat that result.

Sweden however were first on the scoreboard with a TD (but no XP) on their first drive.

Things could have gone horribly wrong for GB on their first drive if an interception by Sweden had not been called back for a Defensive Pass Interference penalty. Unfortunately, even with the ball back, GB failed to score.

It was with some relief therefore that David MacInally intercepted a Swedish pass in the end-zone as they threatened to score. On the subsequent GB drive Callum Woods scored for GB. Guess what! Missed XP.  6 – 6.

Sweden got their noses in front again with a TD and XP. Another MacInally end-zone interception just before the half stopped Sweden getting any further points. Half time – GB 6 – Sweden 13.

In the second half, maybe the pressure began to tell on both sets of players. Both teams turned the ball over on downs early on. Both teams threw interceptions (MacInally getting his third pick.)

Then GB got their noses in front with a TD pass from Bello to Elliot. The two point conversion was missed. GB back in the game just the one point down. 12 – 13.

Good defensive work from GB, forcing the turnover on downs, then gave GB the chance to go ahead.

Michael Bradley-Banszki was the scorer to take the lead, and finally an XP from Elliott gave GB a 19 – 13 lead.

As Sweden tried to force the ball down the field to take the lead back, they threw yet another interception. This time to the very long arms of Elliott.

GB then had to try to use up the clock. They almost managed it but not quite. 8 seconds on the clock. So it was a strange last play. With fourth and goal to go from about 15 yards out, Bellow took the snap and handed it to Bud McFerrin who legged it to the other end of the field, scampering all over the pitch trying to avoid the tackle that would stop the clock. Anyone who has seen Bud run will realised that he got the job done.

GB Lions Men were also Bronze Medalists. A great result for both National teams.

 

With the last minute departure of the starting QB, the one who had developed the new playbook, the expectations of how GB would be likely to perform must been significantly reeled in. For the team to come away with a third place was a great achievement and makes us wonder… What could have been.

By Jimmy Thomson

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