London Olympians (Adult)
2017 was very much a redemption story for the Olympians.
Only a few months previously, at the end of the 2016 summer seasons, they had limped unceremoniously out of the Premiership. Unable to complete fixtures due to falling roster numbers, it appeared a dark time for what is likely the most storied Britball programme still in existence.
However, they entered 2017 with a new Head Coach and a new GM, and while the impact may not have been immediately apparent – starting out the year 2-2-1 in the highly competitive SFC 1 East – as the new staff found their feet? Their contributions shone through.
The latter half of the season saw the Os hit a hot streak, winning the SFC 1 East crown before hitting playoffs with great momentum.
From failing to field a roster for games in 2016, the team were boasting a healthy sideline of 50+ ballers, and romped through the postseason to a southern title, and promotion back to the top tier once more!
A return to glory story, the Olympians in 2017 showed how it only takes a few sparks to ignite a Britball teams trip to the top of the British game.
Birmingham Lions (Women’s)
It’s fair to say that in recent seasons there’s not been a team more dominant within their own facet of Britball, than the Birmingham Lions.
As the women’s game has grown and grown in recent years, one constant has been the standard set by the Lions – a large, talented roster that plays with focus and determination… and has lifted the Sapphire Series National Championship trophy in every year since its inception!
As such, it’d be easy to argue that yet another undefeated Sapphire title in 2017 (with #1 offence and defence by a fair margin at 332 scored, 28 conceded through the regular series!) isn’t enough to warrant a ‘TOTY’ nomination – winning the women’s game is standard practice for the Lions?
Well, that may be so, but 2017 was so much more than ‘just’ another National Championship year for the Birmingham women:
Ever trailblazers, the Lions took their first foray into European football this year, taking a trip across to Finland to face the Helsinki Wolverines. The highly successful trip was also the Lions’ first foray into 9-a-side action as a team and sets up some very exciting possibilities for the women’s game moving forward.
Further, the Lions of Birmingham were a major contributing factor in the huge successes of the Lions of Great Britain this summer, over at the Women’s World Championships! Birmingham contributed more players to the GB roster – that proved itself the best in Europe at the championships – than any other team, including contributing two Captains – Jo Kilby and Phoebe Schecter.
Ever a dominant force, 2017 was a year of firsts even for the mighty Lions.
Leeds Beckett Carnegie (BUCS)
The Cinderella story of 2017, as an understrength and largely unknown roster from Leeds Beckett, drove itself out of obscurity and into the top tier of British University balling.
January 2017, and Carnegie return from the midseason Uniball break with a 3-1 record that looks rather unconvincing with any close inspection.
They opened the year by being bullied, 23-0, by conference favourites Sheffield Hallam, and while they then bounced back with three wins on the trot? Two came by less than a score – including being run close by the currently winless Tyrants.
Worse, the Carnegie roster is thin on the ground – at least half their season still ahead of them, and they’re not seeing even 30 bodies at training sessions out of the break… even at 3-1, it’s looking like the Leeds side might struggle to repeat its brief playoff trip from a season ago.
Another convincing loss to Hallam opens the year, before they once more barely scrape past a winless Manchester… Carnegie look anything but a National Title winning team… And yet, in that scrappy 27-32 win over the Tyrants, something clearly clicked into place.
With a roster of ~26 players, across February and March, Carnegie would go on to win seven straight on their way to a Division One National Title, dispatching all the preseason favourites for promotion in the North along the way!
That, in itself, would likely be enough to earn them a nomination here – but follow that up with a successful stint in the ever-tough Prem North so far? And something was clearly clicking in Leeds through 2017!
Tamworth Phoenix (Adult)
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about 2017 without talking about the Britbowl National Champions… The name of which, for the first time in nearly a decade, doesn’t start with ‘London’.
We’re aware that we’ve discussed the Phoenix in nearly every award category so far – but that only goes to emphasise how big a shake-up of the Britball spectrum their 2017 campaign has been!
The story of Tamworth is one of consistency and belief… belieph? The climb of a relatively young programme, through the Britball ranks, to the top tier of the game… and then an unwavering commitment to push further, rise higher, season after season.
2015, the Phoenix equalled the Pirates record atop the Prem North.
2016, the Phoenix earn their first Prem North Title, undefeated at 10-0-0.
2017, the Phoenix top their undefeated second straight title with a first ever trip to Britbowl, defeating the reigning National Champs along the way… and top it off with a come-from-behind, pick-six for the win, victory over one of the strongest and most consistent programmes in Britball history!
Stirling Clansmen (BUCS)
As we said above – you can’t talk about the year without talking about the National Champs! And with a third National Title in four years in 2017, the Clansmen continued to prove themselves the cream of the Uniball crop last year.
It wasn’t like the top tier Scottish programme had it all their way in 2017, either. While on paper they rode out Prem North champions with a 6-2 record last season, the actuality is that the Clan lost three ball games in their campaign, and only the Durham Saints’ enforced forfeits handed the Clan the Prem North crown.
The boys in green barely scraped past the Braves in the semis, and for the first time in years entered a National Championship as apparent underdogs.
Despite it being the Durham Saints’ first trip to Britbowl, the side had overcome the massive controversy and adversity they had faced in 2017, stripped of five of their hard-earned victories, to nonetheless book their place in the Championship game – along the way, defeating the Clansmen on both occasions during the regular season.
In a gritty, defensively dominated final the two sides held each other in check for most of the game. With the Clan holding a narrow lead into the fourth, it seemed Durham were destined to take the game to overtime after a strong final drive set them up in field goal range with the clock ticking down… But lo – penetration by the Clansmen special teams and a poor hold meant the kick never got off the ground, and the Clansmen returned to the top of the British University game!
Cobham Cougars Blue (U17)
2017 was an exciting year for the flagship team of this Programme of the Year nominee, as the Cougars went one-step-further in 2016, and hoisted the Under 17’s National Championship!
Sure, for a team that made the final a year earlier, it might not seem all that much of a shocker to see them hoist the trophy twelve months later – but in fact 2017 was a huge year of transition for the Cougars programme, and so maintaining their top-flight form is an impressive feat!
It was the first year, for example, that the Cougars – a relatively new programme, based out of ACS International School – fielded two teams in the Under 17’s leagues – quite a gamble to take, and showing great confidence in their depth and the capability of their coaches to split resources between two teams!
As it was, the Blues had one of the most impressive U17’s seasons we’ve seen. Yes, they excelled on offence, leading their conference and ranking 3rd nationally, despite competing in the tough South conference, but where they really shone, and perhaps how their title was won, was with a defence that rarely allowed more than one or two scores a game – ranked 6th in PAPG through the regular season, and conceding only an average of only 14 points against per game through the playoff tournament, on their way to hoisting the Britbowl trophy!
Considering the five-a-side youth game is often dominated by offences – having so few defenders to cover a fair amount of field? It just shows the impressive athleticism of this young outfit, who’s players promise great things for the future of the British game.