This Saturday the reigning British National Champions, the Tamworth Phoenix, will take their second stab at European balling in their first home fixture of the Northern European Football League.
In what’s set to be an impressive show at Pack Meadow Stadium, the Phoenix hosts last year’s NEFL Finalists, the Carlstad Crusaders, in what’s likely to be their toughest test as a football programme, to date.
While the Phoenix made short work of their lone domestic opponent so far this season – trouncing the Titans 60-7 in their BAFA NL season opener – they faced a much stiffer test when they travelled to the Copenhagen Towers a fortnight ago.
Mistakes early saw Tamworth’s first foray into European action quickly get out of their reach and the British champs’ scaled down roster were unable to get their bearings until it was far too late. Imported Towers’ Running Back, Dayton Winn, caused huge problems for the Phoenix D, racking up three scores in the first quarter alone as the Phoenix fell to a 50-7 loss.
Meanwhile, this week’s upcoming opponents, Swedish Champions the Crusaders, made similarly short work of the other new additions to the NEFL, the Oslo Vikings – Carlstad Quarterback Philip Juhlin completed 13 of 20 passes for 308 yards and threw five touchdown passes, with wide receiver Robin Juhlin hauling in seven passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns, as the Crusaders cruised to a 56-17 victory.
Ranked by AFI as a Top 10 team in all Euro-balling, the Crusaders are probably the top European team to hit these shores in years, and so the Phoenix are hoping their fanbase, the ever-impressive #Phamily, can be the boost they need to tussle with one of the top teams in Europe this weekend!
Head Coach Jason Scott was once again incredibly open about the vibes in the Phoenix camp following their loss a fortnight ago, and ahead of this weekend’s fixture:
Coach, hello again, and thanks once more for speaking with us here at DblCoverage.com.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room – the trip to Copenhagen: While groundbreaking for the Phoenix as a programme, hardly the ideal start to European football for the team?
Obviously, it didn’t go the way we would have liked, and whilst it’s tempting to make lots of excuses, the simple fact of the matter is that we didn’t turn up. It was tough watching the film back, as we didn’t give a great account of ourselves at all – we made basic errors, didn’t block well enough, and didn’t tackle well enough. The team that played in Copenhagen may have called themselves the Tamworth Phoenix, but it wasn’t a team I recognised.
We did do some things well; some young players got on the field, and we showed – albeit inconsistently – that we could stop the Towers and move the ball. We need to do more of the same on Saturday.
When we lost in the semi-final in 2016 to the Blitz, we knew what our level was, and what we needed to do. We rebounded and had the best season ever last year. We needed to take that loss to help our development, and I think defeat to the Towers last weekend will have the same effect. It’s my hope that it will keep us grounded and focused; it might even be the best thing that could have happened to us.
I know that there were some teams who enjoyed us getting the wrong side of a burger; but that’s to be expected. We pour points on to a lot of top quality opposition in the UK, and now we know what it feels like. It’s just more motivation for the season ahead.
How about this weekend’s upcoming opposition?
The Crusaders came oh-so-close to hoisting the NEFL title last year, losing out in overtime to the eventual Champions, the Helsinki Roosters, and have gotten off to a hot start to both their domestic campaign (4-0-0) and with a big win over the Oslo Vikings to kick off their international balling this summer.
What are your thoughts on the reigning Swedish Champs?
They’re a top ten team in Europe, what more do you want me to say? They have playmakers all over the park, and we’re going to have to work hard to contain them offensively and defensively. I watched the stream of their game against the Göteburg Marvels and I was extremely impressed with how they moved the ball at will – they have an elite quarterback in Phillip Juhlin, and a stable of quality receivers.
Defensively they’re as good as anyone – it should be noted that two of their TDs against Oslo came in the form of interception returns.
We need to find some small competitive advantages and exploit them. When I spoke to the team on Sunday, I asked them to focus on each individual play and to not to worry about the scoreboard. We have a monumental task ahead of us against Europe’s elite, and we cannot focus on the overall result. If we focus on the processes, then we have a real chance.
Coach Smith has been working tirelessly on formulating an offensive gameplan that will highlight some of our explosive players, and I’ve been looking long and hard at what makes our defence tick. We’ve added some tweaks on Special Teams, and we’re going to be ready when we kick off in a few days’ time.
Speaking of your own players, how’s the roster looking ahead of Saturday? You’ve had a bye week, but are you still carrying any knocks from the trip away, or have any holes in the line-up that need to be plugged?
Unfortunately, we’ve had some players who are unavailable for the game at the weekend; but we’ve brought in some more quality players who couldn’t travel to Copenhagen. Wide Receivers Axel Brown and Jack Verling add quality to the passing game, whilst Pete Davies brings a lot of smarts to both defence and special teams.
I was impressed by the way our young players performed on a big stage; hopefully, they can take another step against the Crusaders. Chris Miyouma really impressed me, as did Lewis Thomas. Both are going to grow and get better from that experience, and go on to have stellar careers.
Our veterans need to keep leading the way that I know they can. Having James Hossack back, fit and healthy really helped, and to be able to call on a veteran pair of safeties like Will Hobbs and Oli Campbell was invaluable.
And finally, this is the first time the Phoenix have hosted a game of this scale. You moved to a new home this offseason just to be able to host international fixtures such as this – what can the BritballNation expect if they wanted to head along on Saturday?
The team at Pack Meadow have been superb ever since we moved there in the offseason; the atmosphere is great, and we’ve had a lot of interest from the local community who are curious about what we do.
We’ve put in a lot of work to promote the game, and generate some interest and I would like to invite EVERYONE from the British football community down to the game. We want to represent BAFA and British football to the best of our ability, and we can’t do it without a raucous sideline!
We need the support of a loud home crowd to press home any advantage we have. The Copenhagen fixture was really well attended last week, and that certainly made a difference to us. We’d like Carlstad to feel as uncomfortable as possible playing in the UK, and our supporters can certainly level the playing field a bit. The noise they brought to the Warriors and Blitz games helped lift us, and we hope they can do it again this weekend.
We’ve been planning this event for months, and we think we’ve got a great product to show on and off the field; we’ve got live streaming and in-stadium play-by-play, we’ll be selling memorabilia and running a half time auction, and we will – of course – have a well-stocked bar and snacks for halftime! Pack Meadow is easily accessible, and with entrance only being £5 for adults, what excuses do you have?
Watch the game live on YouTube: