Chichester Sharks – 2007 English National Champions


Where do I start?


I think that nicely sums up what, at least for me, was one of the best tournament performances – EVER – for Chichester flag football. Two comeback victories from 2 scores down in both the semis and final, gave the Sharks their 2nd National Championship. I’m still stunned and not entirely sure how it happened.

Let’s take a step back first. The day started with a round robin tournament to fullfil the qualifying criteria for the Leicester Eagles and Mildenhall Mayhem. Except Mayhem didn’t turn up… again. We beat the Eagles and lost to the Voodoo, but it was obvious that all three teams were saving the good stuff for the games that really mattered.

On the day, the Sharks squad featured Neil Henderson, Pete Steel, Ben Pulleyblank, Gary Robinson, James ‘Lambo’ Lambert, Dayle Kirby and Dave Lee. I was gutted for Thierry, Ewan, Toby and Matt who wanted to play, but were ruled ineligible earlier in the week due to league rules (cannot play for a team in the finals, if you started the season on a different team).

The Sharks drew the Eagles in the semi-final – with Voodoo being awarded a bye to the final by merit of the best regular season record (and Mayhem’s no-show).

The game didn’t exactly go to plan. The Eagles came out with a very different approach to normal, with a QB switch from the round robin phase and a pretty scary aerial attack. We soon found ourselves in a hole, down at one point by 2 scores.

Things weren’t looking pretty for the Sharks, with the prospect of failing to make the Final a very real possibility. However, there was no shortage of resilency among the team on Sunday, with a comeback that saw Neil throw 2 touchdowns apiece to Pete and Lambo. That nudged us ahead of the Eagles 27-25. A great defensive stand on the next drive gave us an opportunity to seal the victory as the clock ticked down. Moving swiftly up the field, we had a 4th down on the Eagles 5, Neil fired a quick pass to me on a hook pattern, which i caught at the 1 and in a rather ungainly fashion, twisted and stumbled into the endzone for the clinching score. I then had to remove myself from the field as i had foolishly landed on the ball and knocked the wind out of me!

The game ended with a score of 33-25 to the Sharks, but at the cost of losing a player, as Ben re-hurt his mangled fingers and couldn’t play any more. Ben did a great job of helping us secure the victory, as he has done many times this season and I was disappointed for him that he couldn’t play in the final.

Talking of which…

I think if you’d asked anyone before the tournament who the favourites were, I think Voodoo would have been the consensus answer. And deservedly so. They have consistency performed well at all tournaments this year – they have a very fast receiving corp, Nick Watson at QB and a good defense. And they’ve beaten us several times this year.

We got a strange sense of deja vu in the first half as Nick came out firing as usual and we soon found ourselves in yet another 2 score hole. We could’ve resigned ourselves to a defeat and reasoned that 2nd place was still good, but we weren’t having any of it. We managed to fight back and found ourselves edging into the lead just after the start of the second half.

It was obvious that if we were to win this game, we’d have to come up with some way of stopping the Voodoo Offense. The answer came in the form of Sir Dayle of Kirby.

Now as far as stops come, this one was pretty extreme. Not only did his leaping interception stop the drive, it stopped the game. Mainly whilst we waited for the ambulance to arrive.

For those of you who didn’t witness the game, you’re lucky you didn’t see this particular play. I on the other hand, was standing on the sideline about 1.5 metres away. Meaning I got a front row seat to watch Dayle’s knee go the wrong way as he landed. Yeuuuck!

With both Dayle and Ben out, we reached rock bottom – I had to play defense! And there was still 15 minutes to go!

Adjusting the defense to a Cover 0 to suit my…ahem… particular skillset (i.e. not being able to cover anyone), we blitzed the rest of the way. And it kinda worked, the Voodoo only scored once more in the game.

We traded scores, with Pete grabbing his 3rd touchdown of the game with about a minute to spare. Plenty of time for Nick Watson to do his thing. With the Sharks leading 31-26, Nick quickly moved Voodoo down field into Sharks territory. On 3rd down I finally got the sack, giving Voodoo one last chance to win the game and title.

On 4th and goal from about the 15yd line with about 15 seconds, Nick passed backwards to WR/backup QB Adam Russell for a option play which had worked several times earlier in the day. Good downfield coverage forced Russell to try running for the score rather than pass but he came up short when I tackled him from behind – probably the only chance ever for me to say I chased someone down!

And that was it – we ran out the clock and became the 2007 English National Champions 🙂

Much hugging and back-slapping ensued!

We felt it only right that we shared the win and the team photo with all that played in the tournament, so the team rocked up to the St Richards A & E, only to find poor Dayle still sat in a wheelchair in reception!

Luckily it turned out his knee was not as badly damaged as first feared – he has a sprain, that will likely keep him out for a while. Bless him, he was so chuffed with the win, saying “I’ve never won anything before, I may retire!”

The performance on the day was very much a team effort, but a special mention should go to Lambo, who played out of his skin, notching up 6 TD and 3 interceptions on the day. Martin from the Eagles, described his performance as “player of the tournament”.

Martin went on to say on the league forum…

Congratulations to the Sharks on pulling off a stunning victory in the final. You showed great determination and skill to come from behind to beat us in the semi but your efforts against all the odds in the final against the Voodoo were remarkable. It must have been the sweetest of victories”

Indeed it was.

If you have anything extra you’d like to add, please feel free to leave a comment.

ESFL Finals – Chichester 21st October

The final tournament of 2007 will be held this Sunday in Chichester. The venue is our usual training ground and kickoff is 11 a.m.

We had hoped to arrange a venue with changing facilities, but despite lots of last minute ringing around we were unable to sort something.

I will be in touch with each of you today to find out your availability for Sunday – please reply by text or post your intention here in the comments.

Subject to the number of teams attending there may be some qualifying games for some teams to start the day, but Chichester have a bye to the Semi-finals by merit of finishing with the 2nd best qualifying record.

Hope to see you all there 🙂

England vs Wales – No training this weekend

This weekend Team England are playing a friendly against Wales in Cardiff. It is part of the development programme, to give experience to the new expanded England squad.

Chichester are well represented with Team England, with a good number travelling this weekend. The downside of this is we’re left with limited numbers for training on Sunday, so we’ve decided to take this weekend off – so no training.

It’s been quite some time since we’ve missed a Sunday, so that’ll be weird! Good luck to all the guys playing this weekend.

The following weekend is scheduled to be the Finals tournament. We are currently trying to organise a venue after a late change of plans. More details to come soon.