Phoenix find value in European Football experience
Images courtesy of Adelie Hernandez at Phoenix Photography
The Tamworth Phoenix are currently at the pinnacle of the British game, with the Britbowl XXXI trophy secured safely in their clubhouse, the 2018 season has seen them venture into Europe to take on some of the continents best sides as part of the Northern European Football League tournament. Their first challenge was a trip to Denmark to meet the Copenhagen Towers. Despite showing some flashes of excellent play, they succumbed to a physically dominant Towers outfit with an elite level American running back.
Returning to the West Midlands, they put what the experience had taught them into their preparation for their next opponents, Swedish champions, the Carlstad Crusaders. On paper this would be an even tougher test for Tamworth, Carlstad are ranked as one of the top ten teams in Europe. The Phoenix would be hosting the game at their new home field, “Pack Meadow” and after exhaustive preparations by the Phoenix committee and back room staff all was set fair for a big Britball event. Let’s see how the contest unfolded.
The kick-off time of 6.30 in the evening on a Saturday ensured that fellow British teams would have the opportunity to attend and show their support, and all the “extras” that make it an “event”, like catering and a programme were in place. So to the match itself.
In the first quarter Copenhagen came at Tamworth like a train, playing at a tempo unfamiliar to British teams. Quarterback Philip Juhlin connected on a succession of quick hitting slant plays that got the Crusaders into the red zone, from where they ran the ball in for the go-ahead score. The PAT was good, and with less than three minutes on the clock they led 7-0. Would the Phoenix crumble? Absolutely not. They came straight back, Daley found the sure handed Ben Burslem with a deep pass, and he followed that with a well-executed jet sweep that saw Burslem dash into the endzone, touchdown! The kick was good, and just like that the scores were level.
Carlstad were soon back in Tamworth territory, but after some great work by linemen Wayne Drew and Will Stone disrupting things in the backfield, the Crusaders had to settle for a field goal, edging their lead to 10-7. On their next possession Juhlin went to the air to find his favourite target, receiver Dara, who had a distinct height advantage over the Tamworth defensive backs. He snagged the ball and sped in for the score. Once again the kick was good and it was now 17-7 Crusaders.
Phoenix quarterback Patrick Daley, was “doing Patrick Daley things”, extending plays with his legs and keeping the chains moving, but was unable to craft another scoring opportunity. Carlstad got the ball back, and drove down the field. They were making gains on most plays, but a sack by Stone forced them to attempt another field goal. With five minutes left in the half they led 20-7. With the Phoenix struggling to make any consistent gains, Juhlin and Dara struck again, 27-7 Crusaders.
With time running out in the first half Daley doubled his efforts to reduce the deficit. A big scramble lifted the crowd, but disaster struck on the next play when his deep pass was picked off by Carlstad’s outstanding American safety Rucker, who returned the ball all the way to the house. The kick was good again, and at the half it was 34-7 Crusaders.
The second half started with Tamworth in possession and their persistence ultimately paid off when Daley broke free and found the endzone to reduce the deficit, after Lenkoswki’s kick it was now 34-14. This seemed to encourage the Crusaders to stiffen up on defence and the game effectively became a stalemate. Juhlin and Daley both ignited the crowd with moments of excellence but neither side could add to their total, and Carlstad retained their 100% record in the NEFL.
Disappointing for the Phoenix for sure, but let’s put some perspective on things. Tamworth suffer from being part of an “amateur” league set-up, where general expectations are low when it comes to operating in a more “professional” way. They should be commended for their efforts to drive the game forward in Britain. By comparison Carlstad operate in a semi-professional league, their roster includes two Americans, two UK players (Natal Melero and Alex Haldane), along with a French and a Norwegian import. They have numerous sponsors and a large following of fans. On balance, this was a good showing by the British Champions, and given the results so far, they look to have a decent chance to secure their first European win when they host the Oslo Vikings at Pack Meadow on June 9th. I spoke to club chairman James Hossack to get his thoughts. “It was a fantastic opportunity for us to play one of the best teams in Europe and although the result didn’t go our way, we certainly proved we could compete at the next level and felt we were in this game to compete for the win. I was delighted with the experience we put on as a club at our new Pack Meadow venue. Great facility with covered seating, bar and burger van. Special thanks to Football America for bringing the travelling shop and supporting our European campaign. Also thanks to Onside Productions for streaming the game and delivering a quality product.
Oslo in June will be a different prospect again. Obviously, we’ve both lost our opening two games so will both be hungry for a victory. We’ll be preparing hard to make sure we get it. Two massive games to attack first though against quality opposition in Merseyside and Edinburgh”.