That Old “There’s No ‘I’ in Team” Saying

We’re two games into our season without a win, at this precise moment. Not the worst start; not the best.

One of the things I am most proud of when it comes to the Spartans is the amount of people whom know exactly what their job is, what their role is, and when they haven’t done it. We are a young team that’s renewing all the time and it’s not easy to explain the rules and regs and ins and outs of American football in 3 hours a week to 50 men.

Without a win 2 games in to the season, I am always impressed when a member of the team stands up and takes responsibility for what they felt they did wrong. Having said that, I think it’s always important to remember that a team game is not won or lost because of one person.

Way too many times across my time in sport, I’ve heard people lament that they ‘lost’ the game for the team, or occasionally brag that they alone won it with their sole efforts. It is just not possible.

If you were the CB that let the RB passed with the ball to score the touchdown that won the game with 5 seconds left on the clock – it doesn’t feel good. I get that. But why did it come down to one score? Could the defense have done more to weaken the opposition’s score? Could the offense have put a greater shift in to widen the gap and see a one-score finishing line become a five-touchdown whitewash?

There is always more to it than just one man. We don’t believe in playing the Blame Game here – it’s not what you or I could have done, it’s what we could have done.

At the Essex Spartans we train our players to operate as a machine. A machine is not one hunk of metal – that’s what a fence is. And sure, a fence can be ornate and painted a nice colour and look pretty but ultimately it just stands there, dividing things. A machine has parts and cogs that move together, and if one part breaks it could go on. Not as well or as efficiently and not forever, but it’ll go on for a while as best as it can.

It’s really important to be the very best you can personally be on the field – that’s what we believe here and that’s what our coaches try and make the men understand every week. Self-evaluation is so important but means nothing if it is only done by one guy. That’s all ‘lose’ really is – Lost Our Self Evaluation. We do things together, or not at all. There’s a time for ‘what did I do wrong’, but there’s also a time for ‘what do we need to do now?’

And then we have to go on, together.

Everyone makes mistakes but the most important thing is having a strong team around you that will help pick you up and show you what to do better next time, and never ever allow you to feel that the weight of the whole result rests on your shoulders because of your error.

As we go in to our third game hoping for our first win, the margin for error is admittedly very small now. But one thing I am always confident in is that every man goes out knowing what he has to do, and what the man beside him has to do, and what the whole family has to do to make this work.

We don’t have an enormous degree of fame and greatness in our past, but we will have greatness in our future. And we will do it as a team, together, side by side – win or lose.

There’s no ‘I’ in team, and there’s no ‘I’ in ‘lose’ either.

Mud, Sweat and Beers

It was a completely unique day for us on Sunday when we were invited to a ‘scrimmage day’ at Hertfordshire Cheetahs (formerly Watford Cheetahs). Rivals from last season that have gone somewhat up in the league, we took all three of our teams to St Albans Rugby Club for a day of mud-wrestling.

Alright, American Football, but it really was quite the ‘rainy day’.

As the club’s media officer I was ‘off-duty’ for the day as we kept no scores, ran set numbers of plays in some cases and it wasn’t what we would call an ‘open event’ like our season games will be. Nevertheless, the support was there as it always is – wives, parents, brothers, extended family and players nursing injuries of varying degrees of severity who were kind enough to run the camera.

In the rain.

And the cold.

So I was free to observe other things, instead of my usual keep-up-with-the-score, snatch-a-quote-from-their-disgruntled-head-coach, watch-my-Peroni-intake-in-case-of-emergency situation. And what I observed was this.

Grown men getting just a pinch emotional when they stood up in a line as a team for the first time. Our Academy Head Coach taking the field as exactly that – Academy Head Coach – for the very first time, for his very first game, wondering what was going to happen and if everyone was going to be alright. And then a hilarious moment when he called their ‘jessie bluff’ and got them out of the shelter and into the tornado to finish warming up at half-time.

I’ve always said that I really love to see young people – young men especially – outside and doing something un-XBox-related. I like it even more when its pouring with rain and they carry on, and when their parents have come along to support them. When I couldn’t actually see the boys for the crowd of proud parents, it was the best moment of all.

So anyway – that mud. I was concerned that we may be sending players to our sports therapist with cases of trench foot if the senior scrimmage went on much longer than it did. From the comfort of a nice plastic chair under a covered awning, with a beer in one hand and a Jamaican beef patty in the other, I felt ever so sorry for those poor buggers. It was serious sheet icy rain and horrible wind and so much mud – and of course, someone has to wash all those jerseys too.

Not me though. Like I said – off-duty, and we not only rent our washing machine, but also the room its plumbed into.

So it was wet, and filthy, and emotional, and brilliant. There’s nothing like getting the family together, as we know, and I think we all feel like the season has properly begun now and we are so, so excited.

Hopefully the lads will all have a good wash before then, though.

 

 

 

 

2015 Season Fixtures Released

The Essex Spartans are thrilled to announce the fixtures for the upcoming 2015 season.

The programme sees the return of old opponents Ipswich Cardinals, London Hornets and Bury Saints, as well as welcoming two new teams to the fold this year.

West London-based outfit Wembley Stallions, and a new development squad from the highly established and successful London Blitz, complete the 5-team BAFA National League South conference.

Two of the ten games will take place on a Saturday night with a later 7pm kick-off, with the final game of the season against Wembley Stallions being played in honour of Breast Cancer Awareness on 1st August.

See below for the full fixture list.

Sunday April 12th – HOME – BURY SAINTS, 14:30 KO

Sunday April 19th – Away – LONDON BLITZ B – 14:30 KO

Sunday May 3rd – HOME – LONDON HORNETS – 14:30 KO

Sunday May 17th – HOME – IPSWICH CARDINALS -15:00 KO

Sunday May 31st – Away – WEMBLEY STALLIONS – 14:30 KO

Sunday June 14th – Away – BURY SAINTS -14:30 KO

SATURDAY June 20th – HOME – LONDON BLITZ B – 19:00 KO,SATURDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

Sunday July 5th – Away – LONDON HORNETS – 14:30 KO

Sunday July 26th – Away – IPSWICH CARDINALS – 14:30 KO

SATURDAY August 1st – HOME – WEMBLEY STALLIONS, 19:00 KO, SATURDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, Breast Cancer Awareness Game (Wear it Pink)

Fat Idiots Who Fall Down

The majority of us are almost definitely of that generation where every third film we watched growing up was some kind of horrendous American high school romantic comedy. And in said American high school romantic comedy, the stereotype is that the captain of the football team, usually the quarterback, is a devastatingly handsome WASP with no end of female admirers and college scholarship offers.

Although our sporting celebrity culture is not to the extreme that exists in the States – i.e., I don’t remember 40,000 people turning out to watch our netball team play Billericay School’s netball team – our football players are poster boys, underwear models, spokespeople and then athletes in their spare time. Treated like Gods from York City FC to the New York Jets, professional sportspeople have a gravitas and a ‘coolness’ that us office workers and teachers will probably never achieve in our lifetime.

So imagine my surprise, then, to discover today after staying up all night watching one of the best games of gridiron I’ve ever seen ever, with some of the most absurd and amazing interceptions I’ve similarly ever seen ever, that one opinion surrounding American Football players is that they are ‘fat idiots who fall over every few feet.’

I remember my dad using very similar words to describe several of England’s front line players in the 2002 FIFA World Cup. I don’t recall seeing anyone fat and idiotic falling over every few feet in Arizona last night – not for all the muscle-bound chaps with awesome dreadlocks or really cool face paint.

I’ve never played American Football in my life – except a quick throw-and-catch in my living room with my partner which ended when he accidentally nearly broke my nose – and yet I felt extremely hurt to hear those harsh words. At the Essex Spartans we have men of all ages, shapes and sizes, and I would die before I saw anyone I’d think of as a ‘fat idiot’. We have men who work out as a matter of principle or a solid way of life, deeply committed coaches and a Strength and Conditioning coach who works hard to keep everyone fighting.

I’ve heard this kind of thing before; “Isn’t it, just, you know, rugby with like, loads of padding?”

No. No it’s not rugby with, like, loads of padding. Rugby players are warriors, yes, and watching the hits they take is painful even from the safety of the sofa. There’s no need to engage in our-ballgame-is-better-that-your-ballgame viciousness, because it doesn’t help anyone.

Evidently, though, there are millions of people who don’t think that American Football players are fat idiots who fall over every few feet and we’re delighted that they come to watch our games, sponsor our club or just take a mild interest in what we’re up to in any small way. Sport brings unparalleled joy into so many people’s lives and actually, if a fat idiot who can’t stand up in a 5mph wind but loves American Football wanted to come to training with us, they’d be more than welcome.

So who cares. Haters gonna hate!

Learners

Following the enormous success of our Come and Try sessions – due entirely to you, our new players and rookies that came along in thunder, lightning and in rain – we are so thrilled to say that our Football 101s were an equally great success for us as a club.

All of these sessions since November are for mutual benefit – we want new players, and to give you an opportunity to try it out. We also want players who, once committed and confident that our family is the one for them, are going to skilful and safe, most importantly, so we are delighted that so many people came to these sessions to enhance their knowledge of the game and get to know one another that much better.

As you know, we take players from 14 until last-man-standing – if my 87-year-old grandfather wanted to come and play, we’d make room for him. And it doesn’t matter how old we are, we never ever stop learning about the world, and about each other.

I was first introduced to American Football at University, diligently standing in the freezing cold watching my partner play as cornerback for the university team. I learned what I was looking at, while he learned what to do. One day after a few months we had a conversation that went something like this.

“So, you know what you’re doing on the field now then?”
“Yes.”
“Really?”
“Well… I know what to do. I just… sort of can’t remember why, yet.”

Five years later he does now know where he has to run to, and why – but he is still learning, and so am I. And so are all of you. Even the players in the NFL that started in Peewee Football in their home towns decades ago are still learning about the game that has become their entire life.

We believe in learning here – that’s why we have an Academy and rigorous weekly training sessions; that’s why your attendance and concentration is always paramount to our success. There is no rule that says only the qualified coaches can impart knowledge – if you have spent longer learning than a new player who first put on pads a month ago, help him to learn, as someone probably helped you.

School’s out for the winter now, but it won’t be long before the holidays are over and we’re back to work, bigger and badder than ever before!

See you there.

Did Someone Say Super Bowl?

The Essex Spartans are proud to once again be hosting our annual Super Bowl Party, this year at The Golden Fleece pub in Duke Street, Chelmsford.

Arizona plays host to Super Bowl XLIX in 2015, so our up-all-night football fest will commence at 9pm on Sunday 1st February.

Tickets are £12 and guarantee entry to the party, where you will be able to watch the match in full, plus a meal (vegetarian option available) and half-time snack.

A limited number of just 100 tickets are on sale NOW! Order yours via email – social@essexspartans.co.uk. Please note – over 18s only.

See you there!

RSVP on Facebook – but don’t forget to buy your ticket! 

https://www.facebook.com/events/1523931344558089/?fref=ts 

Arizona, chaps!
Arizona, chaps!

New Faces, Old Hands

Look at our soldiers, the scruffy lot.
Look at our soldiers, the scruffy lot.

Happy New Year to all our players, coaches, supporters and friends!

The Essex Spartans were privileged to host four Senior Come & Try sessions, and three Academy sessions also, during November and December of 2014. We saw more than a hundred new faces come through the door to give our sport a try and great support was given by our vets – torrential rain or no.

We’re hoping that the enthusiasm shown on these occasions will be perpetuated through to this year, when we start gathering together willing brothers to buy kit and join the team for training. We were beyond impressed with the skill shown by ex-rugby players, seasoned vets fresh out of University ball, and those who filled in ‘No previous experience’ on the form and ran the field ragged anyway.

The most encouraging element of the whole exercise, however, was not the naturally gifted or the highly experienced, or even the ‘Ravens fan, all my life!’ lovers of the sport. It was the faces that kept coming back weekend after weekend, following us all over the county and improving. From some, it was clear that they were going home on Sunday afternoon and spending the week practicing the drills to come back and impress us the following week.

We noticed!

We’ve got lots to be planning for and looking forward to, now that it’s officially 2015. Tickets for our annual Super Bowl party go on sale next week, and the league are working on our fixtures as we speak. Pre-season training will commence at the end of this month and then it’s full speed ahead for what we hope will be our most successful season yet.

Happy New Year, and Roll Tide.

Spartan Pride: Here Comes Everyone

Whatever your age, gender, shape or size, there's a role for you in the Spartan family.
Whatever your age, gender, shape or size, there’s a role for you in the Spartan family.

When James Joyce, Irish writer and voluntary exile of the Emerald Isle, wrote of the Catholic Church, he said: Here comes everyone.

What he meant, of course, was to make a global institution or a small village family, it takes all sorts to make it work. Every family has the grafter, the joker, the sporty one and the mummyish one and that slightly shifty one that always has a good story even if you can’t quite persuade yourself that it’s completely true. And you love them.

The Essex Spartans are such a family; indeed, when they come, here comes everyone. It’s been more evident this season than ever and not just because of a small but noticeable increase in points and wins on the field.

When I first became involved with the Essex Spartans in 2013 under the wing of Head Coach Marc Saunders, he was quick and persistent in his telling me that the Spartans were not just a team, but a family. Every success they had had in their past, on and off the pitch, had worked because the men loved each other like brothers.

On Marc Saunders’ departure and the inauguration of current Head Coach Seán Benton, an internal overhaul led to the creation of more voluntary roles in the running of the club, and last season saw far greater participation on the side lines on Game Day as well as more wins on the grass.

Well – the 3G, but the effect is the same.

And that’s where you see the families. It’s not just the players who are a family. After an Academy player scored his very first touchdown of his thus-far brief career on Scrimmage Day last summer, there was only voice you could properly hear over the general cheering and merriment.

“That was my brother! That was MY BROTHER!!”

And then a small woman stood next to me nudged my arm and said, “That’s my son!”

Some families I’ve seen at every game and every function for the past two years and they are every inch a part of the team as a star quarterback even though not one of them plays. One coaches, one organises, and two run around in ‘soccer’ shirts taking penalty shots at an abandoned goalpost, but their faces are as synonymous with the team as a black and gold logo.

American Football was sold to me as the ‘ultimate’ team sport in which no matter what shape or size you are, or what your skill set is, you are valuable. Just like in a family. And it’s no good having twenty perfect D-linemen when no one knows how to throw.

It takes all sorts to make a church or a village, and it definitely needs everyone possible to make a team.

Join the family.

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