Lions in Finland
With a collection of five Sapphires stashed in their trophy cabinet, the Birmingham Lions are about to embark on a quest to secure another gem for their collection. This time it’s a Diamond, and it’s located in Helsinki Finland.
The Lions will be competing in a four header along with the hosts, the Helsinki Roosters, the Tampere Saints and the St Petersburg Valkyries. The format will see them play a round robin tournament, followed by two games to establish 1st, 2nd 3rd and fourth place. All this happens over a long weekend, starting on Friday April 20th and culminating on Sunday the 22nd.
This will be a landmark event for Women’s Football in Europe, so it’s fitting that the team at the vanguard of British Women’s Football are there to represent us. Playing four games over three days will be a big ask , but the Lions have the depth and talent in their roster to make an impact, and hopefully bring home the trophy. This is a full on eleven a side tournament unlike our domestic Sapphire Series which utilises the seven a side format. That shouldn’t be an issue for Birmingham, as a large part of their roster have played elevens for Great Britain, interestingly they beat the Finnish national side in last year’s World Championship.
Head Coach Jamie Kilby is looking forward to the challenge with cautious optimism. “The Birmingham lions are about to embark on their biggest test to date. Playing 11aside football for the first time, against some of the best club teams in Europe. For us this is a true David and Goliath story. Having never played a 11s game together before the tournament actually starts it can't be underestimated how tough this challenge will be, and that is the exact reason why we want to take it on. The Birmingham lions are fierce competitors and won't take anything lying down, and with a roster bursting with talent in their prime I'm confident we are going surprise more than a few people”.
The Lions will need to call on their veteran players to set the tone and keep the confidence high. Defensive stalwart Laura Moore shared her thoughts. “For me the competition will really test us. Test our teamwork, our ability to adapt and give us a benchmark as to where we stand on the European Club stage. I am excited and ready for the Lions to keep pushing the boundaries and striving for more and more challenges. Here’s to a successful trip”.
The key to victory could well be the battles in the trenches, so I spoke to Birmingham’s dynamic edge rusher Aimee Cottingham and O line standout Michelle Gwynne to get their take on the forthcoming challenge.
Aimee has no fear, “Finland: it’s going to be a tough test for us having to face off against some very experienced sides who will know the 11’ a side game inside out, but we are up for the challenge. Even in our short history we have set ourselves some pretty tough challenges, but this is by far our toughest test. But you don’t excel at something if you don’t push yourself and I think we have the talent throughout the squad to really make our mark in Europe. It was great to win our 5th national championship recently but now we are solely focused on the task at hand and that is to go to Finland and play some exciting, hard hitting football so watch this space!”
Michelle reflected on her Football journey so far, “It's been a pretty exciting trip being with Lions from inception. I love the team ethos of hard work, being humble and team which has held us in good stead for the challenges we have faced along our journey. I am incredibly proud to be a Lion and to be part of a team that stands for all those things, my team mates are like a second family. I am looking forward to taking the field with that family in Helsinki and to push the boundaries of football for all of us to the next level, playing multiple games of 11's against some tough competition in Europe”.
The Lions start the competition on the Friday with a match up against the Valkyries. The busy Saturday schedule sees them play the Roosters in the early game and then the Saints in the later fixture. Sunday will see them compete in either the final or the 3rd/4th decider. Given the amount of game action to cram in, the Friday and Saturday games will be played over two 12-minute halves. On Sunday, the matches will be over the full four quarters. All the games will be played at the impressive Helsinki Velodrome stadium, and will be live streamed, so we can catch all the action.
Let’s hope they bring home the Diamond Bowl trophy to add to their burgeoning collection of precious gems!