WANTED: SPORTS SPECTATORS
All smiles for Brum's home grown coaches
'IT'S NOTHING LIKE TENNIS' Spin galore at a table tennis session
Brum's 'Big Events' aren't anything to shout about
THE LION PER ARDUA AD ALTA - 'THROUGH EFFORTS TO HIGH THINGS'
Redbrick Sport's university sport pullout
WELLINGTON WORLD BEATER BEN WHITELAW speaks to triathlete and Birmingham alumnus Chrissie Wellington www.redbrickonline.co.uk
THE LION / DECEMBER 2009
Katie celebrating BUCS success with the water polo team in March
Page 3 – Home grown coaches Jessica Blackburn speaks to three Brum coaches who, having graduated, have stayed on to coach their teams to success
Page 4 – Do Birmingham lack support in the big events? Mesh Johal examines the lack of support for the university's major sporting events and assesses the impact of team performance
Page 5 – The big interview Birmingham alumnus Chrissie Wellington has won the Ironman World Championship three times. Ben Whitelaw spoke to her
Page 6 – We have our say before you decide to play Ever wanted to try out a sport but never got round to it? Redbrick Sport and Oli Sly are here to help
Page 7 – A day in the life of a sport scholar What does it take to make it as a sport scholar at Birmingham? Dave Rudge spends a day with one to find out
Page 8 – Is it time that intra-league changed? Michael Horrocks asks why Birmingham's intra-league sports aren't what they should be
WELCOME TO THE LION REDBRICK Sport is finally living the dream… an eight page insert, dedicated to university sport with back-to-back sports coverage and news. As some of you may or may not know, this proposal was one of my main manifesto pledges, which I was elected to achieve. The inspiration behind the insert was based on my personal view on the coverage of the BUCS Championships in March of this year. To be completely frank, I was extremely disappointed; expecting a sporting spectacle of coverage, something a little special to commenorate the fantastic results obtained during the week building up to the weekend in Sheffield. Readers came to find that only a small front-page banner differentiated the BUCS edition from the norm of Redbrick Sport articles. With the hope of achieving a superb BUCS insert in March 2010, it was agreed to pilot 'The Lion' this term to give all readers a greater insight
into UB Sport, the results of term one, the achievements of alumni and the nature of students who contribute towards the success of these organisations. This edition aims to challenge the previously poor internal recognition for teams and clubs and hopefully after reading the article on page 5 relating to UBS' 'Big Events'; students will feel inspired to mosey on down to various matches on a Wednesday afternoon to show their support. This supplement acts as a stepping-stone towards the progression of a concept passed down from VPS to VPS called 'sport under one banner'. As many are aware there are numerous guild sport societies; seven of which are BUCS competitive sports and UBS have taken notice of these teams and the other competitive sports, and are working towards housing these sports under their brand. Currently with limited resources due to the sheer size of the UB Sport
departments, support would not be financial but similar to the support received for clubs who pay their club development fee; support with facility hire, nutritional advice, physio support, approval to use the UB Sport brand, affiliation fees, insurance etc. Creating a sense of unity amongst all sports has been a key objective for most VPS' and collectively we have contributed to putting the wheels in motion. Further to this, speaking on behalf of the thousands of students already interested in sport and who may pick up a copy of Redbrick, flicking to the back pages of the paper has become habit. With this in mind, Redbrick would like to see a contribution from readers as to how the section can develop. Take your views online to the website www.redbrickonline. co.uk where you can leave a comment and complete the brief survey from Redbrick Sport. This poll will hopefully give an over-
view on the idea of having a summary of BUCS results every week and a summary of fixtures for the pending week. Let us know what you think. This insert has been written by numerous hardworking and dedicated students and I'd like to give a special mention to Redbrick Sport editors Tom Clarke and Ben Whitelaw for their contribution. Inseparable, they are two of the most confident and driven people I know and have turned my vision into reality and I can only say thank you! If you have any feedback on the pullout, please get in touch with me or the editors; we'd love to here from you.
Katie Ford VP Sport firstname.lastname@example.org. ac.uk
Editorial Information Editors Ben Whitelaw Tom Clarke Katie Ford
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Copyright (C) Redbrick 2009 Redbrick strives to uphold the NUJ Code of Conduct. The views expressed in Redbrick do not necessarily reflect those of the editors, the Guild or the publishers. If you find an error of fact in our pages, please write to the Editor. Our policy is to correct mistakes promptly in print and to apologise where appropriate. We reserve the right to edit any article, letter or email submitted for publication.
THE LION / DECEMBER 2009
Birmingham graduates make highly successful coaches Kat Merchant spurs on her players during a session
Photos by Tom Flathers BEHIND every successful sports team, there is an even better coach. This is especially true at the University of Birmingham, with UB Sport increasing funding over the last two years to improve contact between sports teams and their coaches. However, some of the University's best coaches are those that once attended Birmingham and have gone on to coach the sports that they competed in whilst students. Three coaches in particular have excelled in a coaching capacity after hanging up their boots. Chris Wright, in his first season as manager, led the men's football first team to the semi-finals of the 08-09 BUCS Championship. Nick Wilkins led his korfball team to regional glory in 2007 before going onto secure gold at the BUCS Championship final last year. Kat Merchant, the women's rugby union first team coach, has led the team to win all six of their matches this year and are top of their league. But why have they all come back to coach their respective sports after graduating? Nick Wilkins, the Korfball head coach, says he 'felt as though I could give so much back to a sport that had given me so much'. Three very different coaches, each got into coaching in a different way. Wilkins 'opted to step in and start coaching the team as a player-coach' when the team's coach moved away in his fourth year. Merchant led some of the fitness sessions when she was a student and ended up as the Backs coach, which was 'a fantastic opportunity to work with the girls on a more regular basis'. Wright, who graduated with a 2.1 in sport and exercise science, had been coaching at a local academy before he came to university. He became more involved in coaching university sport
in his second year on the way to getting his UEFA B coaching license. It was particularly interesting to note how the coaches believed how playing at Birmingham had directly affected their methods of coaching and their teams' style of play. Chris noted that the 'culture and the environment of the University determines how you play football'. He implied that, the intelligence of the players meant that they played an aesthetic style of football, as opposed to other universities, who 'play a more direct style'. He also noted the importance of facilities; 'the Track pitch is fantastic which allows the playing of open attractive football'. Nick was a little more sentimental in his response to the question. 'If I was coaching at a different university I would still coach to the best of my abilities; however, I feel as though a small part of my passion for the sport would be lost in my coaching, and left behind in the sports halls of the Munrow'. The Welsh korfball international continued: 'Being an alumni, I have more of an affinity with the University and I think that that helps me take great pride in gaining results, which in turn fuels me to get the most from my players.' This typifies the passion that goes into the sports at Birmingham and the time and dedication required. Not only do all the players of any sport want to win, but so do the people behind them. Wright corroborated Wilkins' need to understand the importance of sport at Birmingham. 'It's important to have a coach that loves the sport and the University, who understands the history, where it's come from and where it's going'. He went on to say that the funding the current coaches and the players coming up the ranks is just as, if
not more, important than bringing new coaches in. 'Once you fall in love with it you never want to leave. That's why Alex Merry (men's football second team coach) and I are still here after graduating'.
JESSICA BLACKBURN speaks to three successful Birmingham coaches about swapping their playing shirt for a whistle and clipboard settled and happy in their environment. Such is arguably why Birmingham's graduates are excelling. 'A nongraduate of the University could, over time, start to appreciate what a uni-
Being an alumni, I
have more of an affinity
with the University
Nick Wilkins – Korfball Head Coach Rachel Shepherd, of Sport Development, said that the value of sports coaches cannot be underestimated. As a result, each new coach has an induction process whereby they are made familiar with the University environment. 'After just one year of increased funding, we are already seeing great benefits of inputting this financial resource'. With new coaches to the University being given a strong support system, it seems the emphasis is on getting the coaches
versity can do to support you, but being a graduate definitely puts you one step ahead early on' Wilkins noted. This seems to be a positive reason for employing more coaches from the University and supporting students who feel that they would like a chance to become more involved in the coaching side of sport. Shepherd said, 'Our coaches, whether they are contracted, paid on a casual basis or volunteers, are a vital part of the development of our sports teams. More than
that, they are a fundamental part of the success of UBSport'. The bottom line is that Birmingham is wholeheartedly dedicated to putting money directly into coaching to improve the performance of individual sports. Shepherd noted that other coaches, including women's lacrosse coach, Dave Albini have been the main reason for the vast improvement in results over the last couple of years. The argument that Wilkins, Merchant and Wright present is a convincing one. The idea being that having a coach who once competed at Birmingham will be an advantage over a coach brought in from another university or country, however brilliant their achievements beforehand. Here's to hoping that the level of coaching at the University of Birmingham continues to grow and progress and that the current crop of players go on to learn the ropes of coaching. The successful results of Nick Wilkins, Kat Merchant and Chris Wright certainly offer hope for the future.
CAPTAIN'S CORNER Name: Jack Grylls Club/ Position: Lacrosse Club Captain Course: Mathematics What is the best thing about being Club Captain? The best thing is being involved in the club and helping the men's side develop into a force to be reckoned with. This year we have started a men's 2nd team and it's been great getting more people involved. What do you most enjoy about lacrosse? I never got to play rugby at school because I grew up in central London so being able to try and throw my weight around a bit and hit people hard is amazing. Do you see yourself as having a long-term career in the sport? I think there's more chance of me getting a first in my degree and seeing as I'm answering these questions instead of revising for a test I have tomorrow that's very unlikely! Who are the hardest opponent you've faced? Either Oxford last year who seemed to decide they wanted to win by a certain amount of goals. Or Nottingham this year who have half of the England development squad playing for them. What is your best memory of an individual game? Last year Luke Williams, our captain, sent an unsuspecting Cardiff player sideways in the air with a check. I don't think I will ever see a better hit. Can your teams win the championship this year?
Wright oversees a late night training session on the Metchley 3G pitch
Our men's team is in the hardest league in the country and, although we are currently some way behind Nottigham, we are still developing. Our aim is to win the Plate and if we play our best, we have a chance at that. Our women's team, on the other hand, are still unbeaten and a win against Durham in two weeks time could see them crowned champions! Their aim is to win everything as for the past four years they have won silver in the finals. by James Phillips
THE LION / DECEMBER 2009
Why Brum's 'Big Events' are not that big MESH JOHAL asks why students aren't engaging with university sport BIRMINGHAM has long been an epicentre of university sporting success. The university's position near the top of the BUCS table is evidence of the commitment of the athletes towards sporting excellence. But with only ten per cent of the student body competing in sports teams, what are the other ninety per cent doing to support University sport? The answer is not much. The recent 'Big Events' have shown a distinct lack of support for university sport. Whilst last month's XpLosION was a success, the Rugby 'Big Events' and most matches in the 'Clash of the Titans' series against Loughborough saw poor attendance figures compared to recent years. So what is it about University of Birmingham Sport (UBS) events that are not attracting people to come and watch? The 'Big Events' are run by UBS marketing manager Glen O'Donovan. When questioned about the aims of the events, O'Donovan was clear with what he hoped to achieve. 'The Big Events are an opportunity to showcase sport at the University. We want to put on competitive sporting spectacles which promote the University of Birmingham Sport brand.' University sport participation
In the past, the rugby union 'Big Event' has created a great deal of hype around campus. In 2007, the match attracted over a thousand spectators causing stands to be erected in the Bournbrook car park to cope with the numbers. This year's game, by comparison, saw a disappointingly low turnout to watch Brum lose in a close contest against Nottingham University. The question is what has changed between 2007 and the poorly attended match in October this year? 'We were very disappointed by the attendance of the game.' Donovan said. 'The late kick-off was a definite fac-
tor. Maybe an earlier kick off would have been more accommodating to students. Also the game used to have the lure of the rivalry between Brum and Loughborough which this year it obviously lacked.' Whilst there has seen a fall in support for the rugby union 'Big Event', the annual XpLosION was a success this year. Fifteen hundred spectators came to watch BUAFL Champions the Birmingham Lions, the Pussycat Cheerleaders, Birmingham Dance Squad and an extravagant fireworks display. An unknown quantity to most of the spectators, American football provides something new with its unique spectacle of entertainment and sport. With this is mind, the offering of new and different events should be a line of action taken by UBS. A Varsity or inter-city event could be a potential concept that may see an increase in spectatorship at UBS events. The Varsity competitions in cities such as Leeds, Nottingham and Newcastle are huge events which attract thousands of students to watch competitive and entertaining sport. During the recent Leeds Varsity between Leeds University and Leeds Metropolitan University, ten thousand students came onto campus to support their fellow students whilst seven thousand went to Headingly Stadium for the rugby union finale. Although Birmingham have the 'Clash of the Titans', in which nine UBS teams play against Loughborough on one afternoon, this was something of an anticlimax when it took place in early November. Of the fixtures, only the men's basketball really captured the imagination of the event, as a boisterous and vocal crowd turned up to support the home side. On the potential occurrence of a Varsity event, Katie Ford, the VP Sport was cautious about the idea. 'The problem is twofold. Firstly, Warwick already have a Varsity series against Coventry whilst the other universities in Birmingham do not have the sporting strength to participate in a Varsity series. In addition to this Club Development, BUCS and Premier League matches must take priority over what is effectively a friendly.' Birmingham's elevated position in the BUCS
November's xpLosION was one of the few 'Big Events' that was well supported table justifies this focus on performance in BUCS competitions over any additional tournaments. But, if an annual Varsity match was organised, against Loughborough for example, the competition against the number one sporting academic establishment in the country would not only help our athletes but may inspire students to come and support Birmingham on a weekly basis.
to support the University teams in the 'Big Events', it may be a catalyst for more people to come and support the University teams on Wednesday afternoons when BUCS points are won and lost. The worry, however, is that this problem may not be confined to Birmingham. With information readily available on the BUCS and UBS website, posters for events and a Facebook group, sport at
The 'Big Events' are an
opportunity to showcase sport at the University
Glen O'Donovan - UBS marketing manager The result could even see crowd figures match those of Leeds Metropolitan University, whose emphasis on sports has seen crowd numbers soar with thirty percent of students now engaging in sporting events throughout the year. If Birmingham could get ten thousand students
Birmingham is well advertised. Is support for university sports teams therefore a national problem and is Birmingham just another example of a wider problem? On the matter O'Donovan said, 'University sport is definitely under-supported and under-
Photo: Laura Rainsford valued in the UK. There is no regional or national coverage of some of the best athletes in the country. From a Birmingham point of view, that is why we try and run these 'Big Events'. Sport at Birmingham is so important to our culture and these events are provided to enhance the 'campus experience'. With just one percent of Brum students watching weekly UBS matches, it is clear that students are not engaging as O'Donovan would wish. The success of the clubs involved in these 'Big Events' could be a reason for students staying away. In the case of the rugby union club, their disappointing season on the field has seen a decline in support off it. O'Donovan believes this could be key. 'When I started five years ago we beat Loughborough in one of our first 'Big Events'. Then, we were a Premiership side, playing competitive rugby against the best universities in the country. People want to see and support a successful team and unfortunately the decline in recent years could well be
a factor'. Financial limitations of UBS could be another factor preventing more extravagant events. The cost of fireworks for XpLosION, for example, would have been high. If more funding was available to UBS, bigger events could be produced, which could mean more people watching UBS events. The timing of university sports matches on a Wednesday is another issue that has been raised. Ford was realistic about the matter. 'With the nature of Wednesday afternoon sport, clubs and teams are often unable to support each other due to clashing fixtures. Furthermore, students who may not necessarily compete in sports may have other commitments on Wednesday afternoons, such as studying or society meetings for example'. At the end of the day, University of Birmingham Sport is a successful brand which contains the sporting stars of the future. So if you're not doing anything on Wednesday afternoon, go down to a game and offer your support.
THE LION / DECEMBER 2009
Photos courtesy of http:// www.chrissiewellington.org
Chrissie Wellington is the The Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year for 2009. The day before receiving her award, BEN WHITELAW caught up with her to talk about her success
Wellington the warrior CHRISSIE Wellington racks up more miles than Phileas Fogg but wouldn't have it any other way. The University of Birmingham alumnus has visited more US states in the past few months than she can care to count and capped it all in Hawaii in October by winning the 2009 Ford World Ironman Championships, setting a new world record in the process. Astoundingly, it was her third consecutive victory in only her third world championships as a professional triathlete. Talk about indomitable. Wellington is different from other world champions. She breaks the rule that it is essential for an athlete to be dedicated to their sport from knee high, groomed into champions by parents keen for success. Wellington did nothing of the sort, only running her first triathlon in May 2004 at the age of 27. 'I kind of fell into triathlons' Wellington says casually. 'Before I started I knew absolutely nothing about triathlon or Ironman. I only got into it by chance when I was up in Birmingham visiting some friends. I was swimming at Tiverton Pool with a friend who was a member of the BRAT (Birmingham Running and Triathlon) Club when a guy came up to me a said 'You're pretty good
at swimming and I have heard you run as well. You should join the club and do a triathlon'. I protested, saying that I couldn't as I lived in London, but he insisted it wasn't an issue and I joined.' That man, the man who spotted and encouraged a future triple world champion, was Paul Robertshaw, a triathlete enthusiast and owner of the TriFirst store in Harbourne. Robertshaw remembers the day he met Wellington vividly. 'I will obviously never forget the first time I met Chrissie when she turned up to join in that BRAT Club swim session. Her love for training was immediately obvious, and I quickly got a measure of her enthusiasm when I suggested that she should have a go at triathlon. No-one could ever have predicted how successful she would become but it was pretty safe bet that however far she progressed she would give it her best shot and, at the same time, enjoy the adventure immensely.' Wellington and Robertshaw are still in touch and meet up in Birmingham whenever she isn't navigating North America and winning World Championships. In the three years after dipping her toe into the waters of triathlons,
Wellington morphed into a world champion. In that short space of time, the Suffolk born athlete went from a position of having never run a triathlon to turning professional in 2007, just eight months before becoming World
into the sport quite early and as a result, I got to love the sport, the training, the lifestyle and the masochism. It is as much mental as it is physical and I see a triathlon as a challenge rather than being daunted by it.'
University, for me,
offered so much in terms of independence
Champion. When asked what she would put the speed of her success down to, Wellington is as clinical with her response as she is with her picking off her competitors during a race. 'Mainly untapped talent which required me to explore it. I believe many people have talent that they often don't have the courage to explore. On top of that a coach that believed in me and realised my potential. A healthy training environment was key too as I was able to learn quickly.' She saves the most important ingredient to her success until last. 'Then there is inner drive. I am an impatient person and I didn't really want to be second best for very long. I put my heart and soul
Just like Phileas', Chrissie's journey is one of impressive length and adventure. She came to study Geography at Birmingham in 1995 with a view to taking every opportunity that came her way and was Chairperson of BUNAC, an organisation which enables young people to work overseas. On top of that, she was captain of the University Swimming team but freely admits that the social side of the sport was equally important as training hard. 'The weekly Sports Night at the Union was the highlight of the training week! Gary Humpage was my swimming coach whilst at university and still has great success with the club. He used to get annoyed with me a bit
as I maybe didn't concentrate as much as I should have done during session but he is still my number one supporter.' Throughout her time at university, aside from the odd drunken night at the Guild with her fellow athletes, Wellington's priorities always lay with her academic course and she was determined from the start to make her studies count. 'University was very much about the academic when I was a student.' said Wellington. 'Ask any of my tutors and they will agree I was a diligent student who was committed to the academic work. Sport was a recreation for me at that stage.' It was therefore no surprise when Wellington graduated with a first class honours degree and more than enough experience to spur her on to achieve more in life. Periods spent in Manchester completing an MA, in London working for the UK Government and Kathmandu in Nepal working for the Nepalese development NGO, Rural Reconstruction Nepal (www. rrn.org.np) followed but Wellington is quick to admit the way in which her three years at Birmingham shaped her most as a person. 'University, for me, offered so much in terms of independence, a chance to live for and by myself
and to think analytically. It helped to develop my mental strength, determination and drive and gave me a desire to explore and to take opportunities. It was a pivotal part of my life and I look back on it incredibly fondly.' The end of the journey led to October and her victorious race in Hawaii. Despite being arguably the greatest female triathlete of all time, Wellington is still motivated to progress on the Ironman distances of 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile cycle ride and 26.2 mile run. 'As any athlete, my goal is simply to improve. I want to be stronger and faster than my last race and to not rest until my potential has been filled. At the moment, I still feel as if I have a way to go before that is the case.' 'It's not about times or victories; it's about enjoying what I do and ensuring I improve with every race' she continued. 'Records and times are not the be all and end all. I simply want to aim for the top and to raise the bar for other competitors to reach.' With her recent success in America, life simply couldn't be much sweeter for the former University of Birmingham student. It's no wonder she signs off her emails with 'smiles, Chrissie'.
06 The club 'producing spin faster than Tony Blair'
THE LION / DECEMBER 2009 Sly lets fly with a measured forehand during a table tennis session at the Munrow
OLI SLY learns that table tennis is not just tennis on a table WHEN asked a few weeks ago by the Redbrick Sport editors to whip out my short sport shorts for the evening, of course, I duly obliged. But before anyone jumps to conclusions, I will clarify that this was purely for sports reporting purposes. I had been asked to go and try out a table tennis session to see what all the fuss was about. Arriving at the Murow Sports Centre on a chilly Monday night, I was slightly nervous about what I might find. After all, I had reported on the men's first team on a number of occasions and had struggled to write down what was going on it was so fast paced, let alone play the game myself. But what could really go wrong? After all, I've played tennis for many years so surely I'd be able to cope with a mini version except on a table. Obviously there are a few differences; the racket being much smaller and made out of rubber and wood instead of the graphite frame with strings; the ball being much smaller and made of celluloid instead of the rubber and felt; the table being nine times smaller than the court; the serve having to bounce on both sides of the net; the sets being first to eleven points; the requirement, in doubles, to play alternate shots; if
you swing the racket to hit the ball it will end up miles outside the table… right, OK, so it's nothing like tennis. This didn't put me off, however. I was forgetting that I had dabbled in the sport only a few years previous before being forced to retire after not being bothered to continue playing following GCSE PE. I entered the New Gym ready for battle, waiting for my first challenger… and yet no-one came over. I knew what was going on though; these savvy table-tennis players had obviously done their research. They knew that facing the man with a 24 out of 25 score from his P.E. GCSE table tennis was a potential banana skin and didn't want to be embarrassed. Or it could, of course, been the fact that the waiting club members were all wondering who this loner was and not had a clue what I was doing there. Although the latter was the more likely, I comforted my insecurities with the first explanation and the hope that they had heard about my stinging forehand. Finally, however, I was called over to a table by someone who had obviously taken pity on me and we started warming up with some cross table rallies. Despite starting to get into a rhythm of shot-
Photo: Tom Flathers making, I couldn't help but notice the pair on the table next to us, who were producing spin faster than Tony Blair. Perhaps there were reasons to doubt my abilities after all, a fact confirmed later by my old reliable service action embarassingly deserting me in front of the squad. However, I needn't have worried. I was eventually partnered up with club captain Will Elliott
like myself trying out the session for the first time, and it was clear from the friendly nature of the group and their inclusiveness that they welcome beginners whatever the time of year. Elliott explained to me that whilst the first team is the focus throughout the rest of the week, the two hours put aside on a Monday night are simply for those who wish to just come and en-
I focused on just
returning the ball to keep the rally going who could deliver some of his own ferocious topspin, whilst I focused on just returning the ball to keep the rally going. It soon became apparent to me that this was not a team training session, but simply a social for those who wished to come and participate and to socialise with others who also enjoy playing the sport. Despite being ten weeks in to the first term, there were still debutants
joy themselves. Equipment, however, was a problem in need of addressing, and whilst the session was not overcrowded, he admitted that more tables were needed 'We have been looking for more tables and have had two recently delivered but we've been asking for a few weeks now for them to be put up and it hasn't happened.' On the subject of the first team, he added that
BUCS update: How has Birmingham done this term? Overall wins at home
AFTER slipping to fourth in the BUCS Championship table last year, Birmingham have started strongly in their quest to return to the top three sporting institutions in the country. Notable performances so far include the women's rowing team. Their lightweight pair and lightweight double skulls picked up four BUCS points each at
the Small Boats Head meet at the end of October. In addition to this, the women's swimming team earnt Birmingham four crucial points in the women's 200m backstroke at the Short Course swimming meet at Ponds Forge in Sheffield two weeks
ago. Birmingham were also helped by the strong performance of the ju-jitsu team who picked up two points at Atemi National Championships at the Telford International Centre in November. It can only be hoped that these strong performances continue and that Birmingham have success in the BUCS Finals weekend at Easter.
there were currently plans in place for an additional team next year. 'We would like to have a second team up and running next year but the team this year have done alright, with two wins, two losses and a match to be rearranged.; I have been to watch the side on a few occasions this season and one thing that strikes me, is the superb organisation of the team itself. The players have to make their own match and travel arrangements as well as umpire and score their own matches as there are no professionals on hand to do so. All is done efficiently and with no complaints, the team members fulfilling these duties due to their passion for the sport and the willingness to represent the University. The team have got a tough record to follow though, the club finishing 1st and 2nd in the Men's Northern Premier division in 05/06 and 06/07 respectively. However, this does not necessarily set the standard for the rest of the club. Whilst the first team is full of former and current county players, the more relaxed
training sessions do not have any particular ability level tagged to them, with the club encouraging as many people as possible from all abilities to come along and participate. The Monday sessions require casual commitment as there are no limits as to how long you have to stay, who you play or how good you are. Neither is it a commitment to be there week in, week out; it a case of turning up as and when you choose to. Whether looking to start out in the sport, have a knock-about or test your abilities for the Birmingham side, Monday nights at the Munrow are the place to start. And after taking away an almost unbeaten record myself (helped significantly by the much better standard of partners I was landed with), only ruined in the final minutes by a 3-0 singles hammering, I may well be returning to have another go next week after thoroughly enjoying the experience. Sessions begin at 5:15pm and last approximately two hours, no kit is required and bats and balls are provided.
Overall wins by teams 50% 45% 40% 35% 30% 25% 20% 15% 10% 5% 0%
THE LION / DECEMBER 2009
A day in the life of a sports scholar
Focus on...Gaelic Football
How do sports scholars fit it all in? DAVE RUDGE spent the day with judo scholar Diego Scardone to find out TWO weeks ago I trailed judo scholar Diego Scardone to gain an insight into his lifestyle and the pressures of balancing work, training and socialising which are faced by all sport scholars. Brazilian-born Scardone moved to the UK four years ago. The 22-year-old first year political science student trains for 2-5 hours a day, six days a week. He attends lectures and seminars whilst nearly all of his free time is devoted to personal study. He kindly took time out of his packed schedule to meet me in the Avon Room where we discuss sports injuries, parties and politics. Diego begins 11:00am by explaining: 'Judo is an Olympic sport with an oriental philosophy. The main objective is to get the highest score, like the knockout in boxing. Through standing techniques you can throw the person so they land on their back; that is the maximum score in judo. In ground work, to get your opponent to tap out, you can either strangle your opponent or use arm locks where the person can't cope with the pain in their joints so they tap.'
about 50 per cent and my coach said I should have the operation right away. But my doctor and physio said no; try to strengthen your quads and hamstrings and hopefully avoid the operation. One year later I was in the New York Open and I ruptured my ACL. It's frustrating but it's something you have to expect in high performance.' On the subject of diet, Diego talks at length about the strict eating regimes of professional athletes. 'My diet is really restricted because I have to weigh less than 66 kilos. Usually I am two or three kilos over. I always have to push my muscle mass as high as I can and in order to do that, I can't eat saturated fat.' Scardone added that getting a good night's sleep is just as important as what he eats. 'I had a few problems when I arrived in Birmingham because I was sleeping in halls. I couldn't cope with the parties and I've moved from the halls because I couldn't sleep. I live in Selly Oak now with other athletes and things are better. Usually I go to bed at 11pm and get up at 7am for gym sessions, so I get about eight hours sleep.'
I started judo because
my teacher couldn't control me
He indicated physical strength is an intrinsic part of the sport: 'I go to the gym once a day. I'm doing muscle building three or four times a week. I never enjoy going to the gym. I can't understand why people do. For athletes, we don't go to the gym to enjoy it; we have to go. Gym training and endurance training are really hard. Though judo training is harder, I prefer judo.' Scardone revealed he has been out of action since February this year after injuring his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). 'I had to have ACL reconstruction in my knee. At first, the doctor said my ACL was damaged by
Due to his rigorous training schedule, Scardone doesn't socialise as much as other students. 'We have to have strong commitment. That means sometimes I won't be able to go out with my friends. But that's fine. Since I was twelve, I couldn't go to friends' birthday parties because I had competitions. And I can't drink during competitions otherwise I won't be able to fight. That doesn't mean I don't drink. I will drink a glass of wine, but I wouldn't compromise my performance.' Diego says that his greatest achievement was winning his first gold medal when he was nine. 'It wasn't prestigious but
it meant a lot. I was eight when I started competing, and for a year I didn't win a fight. The year after, I started winning all the competitions.' 'I started judo because my teacher couldn't control me. I was hyperactive and she advised my mum to take me to judo class. My parents pushed me a lot, sometimes too much. There were times when I hated judo. But looking back, it was amazing what my parents did.' We stop at Diego's request outside the Aston Webb Building in order to attend the protest against the Department of Sociology's closure. The weather is miserable but Diego's enthusiasm isn't dampened as he hands out fliers to the raucous crowd. We stay and support the demonstration for a good hour. It becomes clear to me during the course of the afternoon that Scardone is something of an idealist. Despite the fact that he would not be personally affected by the review of the department, the cause is one that's clearly very close to his heart. He told me: 'Students have a contract with the University. That is a legal contract and it should be an ethical contract. They have studied for years to get here and from the moment they're paying, the institution has to serve them as they said they would. The fact that they may close Media, Culture and Society is very sad. I think the process should be reviewed with participation from students, staff and the University.'
We return to the Avon Room for the conclusion of the interview. I ask Diego what he enjoys most about his
course. 'Studying political science is like looking through special lenses. You understand why people behave the way they do; you can read between the lines. I would like to be involved in politics and judo after I graduate. I would like to try to change people's lives through sport.' Scardone speaks highly of his coach Fitzroy Davies. 'Fitz is a world class coach. He pushes me and I'm the kind of athlete who works better under pressure. He's committed and makes a lot of sense.' The interview comes to a close with Diego expressing his love of the UK. 'I think British people are really special. I don't really miss Brazil. My sister is growing up here, my parents live here; I feel like this is home.' I go to watch Scardone train at the Dojo at the back of the Old Gym. He looks to be moving freely and doesn't appear to be in any discomfort as he repeatedly flips his sparring partner over his back. Now and then Fitz goes over to school Diego who listens intently.
I leave the Dojo with Diego telling me that he plans to go straight to the library and read for three hours. At 10pm he will make his way home, eat and go straight to bed. The following day he'll wake up bright and early at 6am for training. Scardone is hoping to return to full training by January when he will begin his preparation for the British University Championships in March. A very likeable, level-headed young man, Diego, with his talent and professionalism, has what it takes to become a future judo star.
ASK the majority of England's population about Gaelic football and the response will likely be one of bemusement. Venture over to the Emerald Isle though and the Irish offer up a very different response. Believe it or not Gaelic football is Ireland's number one sport. It garners thirty four percent of sport spectators in Ireland, with football recieving sixteen percent and rugby union just eight percent. Gaelic football is a bizarre concoction of football, rugby and Aussie rules, melded together to create a physical and fast paced sport of which the Irish are fiercely proud. As in Aussie rules, the ball can be passed with the palm of your hand or with your feet and, similarly to rugby, points are scored by kicking the ball between posts. The difference with Gaelic football is that, like football, it is possible to score by kicking or throwing the ball into the goal, which is rewarded with three points. The game is more physical than football but less so than rugby, with players permitted to slap the ball out of other players' hands. Where Gaelic football differs substantially from other sports, however, is dribbling. Players are forbidden from running more than four steps without bouncing the ball or kicking it back into their hands, a skill known as 'soloing'. You needn't travel as far as Ireland to sample Gaelic football though. Thanks to the hard work of Joe Hopkins, the University of Birmingham now has its own Gaelic football team. The team trains every Wednesday at 2:30pm at Selly Park, with matches played on Sundays at Eringobrach in Erdingtion, Birmingham. It costs £20 to join the men's team and £10 to join the women's. At present, the men's team play in the regional Wales and Midland league along with Aston, Newman College, Aberystwyth and Worcester. Come February, they will switch to the BUCS Championship. In terms of funding, Hopkins, who began the club in March 2009, commented that he thought the Guild had been 'very generous in giving over £1000 to the club to date'. However, he also expressed dismay that the club are unable to be
recognised as an AU member. Funding from the AU, he said, would mean the 'Guild wouldn't have to fund the club and money could be spent on other Guild societies'. Hopkins, who is the club's chair, spent last summer searching for sponsorship, and after a series of knockbacks, he finally agreed a deal with Posh Pavings whereby the players drop off leaflets advertising the business's services in return for commission on any sales in Edgbaston and Bournville. So far the club have been given close to £1000 and this has allowed them to purchase the balls, kit and equipment they need. It certainly hasn't been plain sailing for the club. They have had to contend with archaic Gaelic rules, which forbid any club from wearing kit made by anyone other than an Irish manufacturer. This rules out Kukri, and as a result the club have been forced to wear kits emblazoned with a different Birmingham badge. Despite the various setbacks, the team are lucky this year to have the services of Birmingham student Shane Waters, a qualified Gaelic football coach currently playing St. Kierans, London under21's and now Birmingham. The club has also been helped out by Ger Noone, an Irish coach who set up the Newman College team and also works for the GAA in Warwickshire (the English Gaelic football equivalent of the FA). The club welcomes new members especially those with no prior experience of Gaelic football. Indeed, Joe noted that, 'most of the players hadn't seen a full size pitch before.' The club are aiming to make the game more accessible and are trying to set up a six-a-side version which they hope will be up and running by the start of next year. When quizzed on his reasons for taking up Gaelic football as opposed to the traditional football, Hopkins said that he enjoyed 'the individual battle element of the game'. He stated that he 'wasn't great at football and it was nice to do something different'. For those also keen to try something different, contact gaelic_football@ hotmail.com or UBGAC@ guild.bham.ac.uk. by James Mckelvie
THE LION / DECEMBER 2009
Intra League: time to get serious MICHAEL HORROCKS examines why Birmingham's Intra League sport lacks the competitive edge seen at other universities Photo: Tom Flathers THE University of Birmingham's sports teams are some of the finest in the country, consistently finishing in the top three of the British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) championship table, but equally important to many students and staff is the Intra League, bringing competitive, organized sport to over 2,000 members without the commitment and pressure of playing for the University. There are eight different sports on offer in the Intra League this year, men's and women's six-a -side football, men's 11-a -side football, men's basketball, mixed hockey, mixed netball and two new sports, men's futsal and mixed touch rugby. Birmingham's Intra League offers not only a variety of sports but is also growing in size with the statistics showing significant growth over the last three years. Mixed hockey in the 2007/2008 season had 112 members but that number has since grown totalling 256 for the current campaign. Growth has also been seen in men's 11-aside football currently displaying 420 members, meaning 90 more students are involved than last year. Even the new sports have proved popular in their first year, touch rugby with 70 members, futsal with 50. The rapid increase in Intra League
Photo: Tom Clarke
participation poses many questions including why it is so popular, and what motivates people to play? Men's six-a-side football has held the vast majority of Intra League members in recent years, with 1,000 staff and students playing in each of the last three seasons. With leagues running at 12pm and 1pm every weekday the Intra League provides ample opportunity for footballers of any ability to get involved whatever their reason to partake, truly providing
ing, 'For me it is a great way to keep fit, and gives me something to look forward to at the end of each week', before adding 'of course it's much more enjoyable when you win'. Students make up the bulk of the six-a-side league teams but Intra League is also open to staff from the University, an opportunity many are grateful for as it gives them a role in university sport. Catherine Adams, the Intra League co-ordinator, says 'from research we've done, staff take part
We looked into entering
this year, but it was too expensive Harriet Burford
something for everyone The variety of reasons to get involved with Intra League is displayed by the Medieval Battle Re-enactment' team, who find themselves sitting atop one of the leagues with six wins from as many games. Their captain, Tom Jones, explains 'I entered the team with a group of friends for fun, but being competitive as I am, I want to win every game'. Fred Clarke, another member of this successful side is kept interested for different reasons say-
to get them out of the office environment during lunch, and also to improve teamwork and meet new members of staff from other departments'. A large number of first years initially get involved through their halls of residence teams which are organised each year by their Sports Representative, but there is not always space for everyone. James Carroll, the current Sports Representative for Tennis Courts says, 'football has generated the most interest this year and I've had
to turn people away from the 11-a-side team which is a shame, especially as many of them were unsuccessful in the University trials'. Tennis Courts have also been over subscribed in Mixed Hockey which shows there is enough interest to expand the IntraLeague further. Mixed hockey is the most consistently expanding sport in the Intra League over the last three years, with a large range of ability on display allowing anyone to get involved. Graham Hulbert, captain of the 'Engineering Eagles' and representative for the entire league has played Intra League hockey for five years and speaks highly of the role it plays in university sport. He says 'the standard is so variable. Many of our players left the University team for a variety of reasons whilst other members are just looking to try something new which makes it pretty special'. Intramural hockey offers the chance not only offers the chance to play mixed ability but also mixed sex sport, which Hulbert says 'takes the nasty edge of competitiveness away for games, though people still want to win'. The 'Engineering Eagles' train weekly and hold regular socials giving students in the team an experience not too dissimilar from a local club. Women's six-a-side
football is where you see a lot of students taking up the sport competitively for the first time. Harriet Burford played for her halls team in her first year saying 'I had always enjoyed watching football, but this was my first chance to play competitively, I have great fun'. The sad fact is that many students do not get involved with the Intra-League again after their first year. 'We looked into entering this year, but it was too expensive' said Burford, a view that is reflected in the number of participants this year falling by 30 to 90 members, the lowest it has been in the last three years. Perhaps in order to keep expanding intramural sport should be made cheaper, though this is unlikely to happen when demand for places in other sports is so high. The issue of sportsmanship is important to the Intra League, particularly in six-a-side football where the games are self-refereed. Adams says 'sometimes there can be an issue when there is a discrepancy about a foul or goal, but generally it's not a problem. Everyone is aware when they sign up to Intra League, it's more about sportsmanship and fair play, rather than serious competition'. 11-a-side football uses FA affiliated referees and the mixed hockey games are umpired by university team members a benefi-
cial arrangement for both parties as it improves umpiring skills. Intramural Sport at Birmingham University is certainly increasing in popularity and needs to keep expanding to satisfy this growing demand. Adams describes how 'every year we have more demand. Unfortunately, we have to turn teams away each year because we can't accommodate them due to facility shortages. We have extended leagues this year to involve more teams, but it's still not enough'. Although Birmingham is currently running one of the biggest Intra League's in the country it is along way behind those of York and Newcastle. Intramural 11-a-side football reports regular feature on the back page of these universities' newspapers with Chris Barnett, a student at York saying, 'it's good motivation to know that if you play well your name could make the back page of the paper'. In order to appeal to a wider audience, and generate similar interest levels as Newcastle and York, intramural sport at Birmingham needs to become less informal and take on a more competitive edge. Though, it should be remembered that the fundamental aim of the Intra League at Birmingham is to include everybody; an aim that should not be forgotten as it seeks to expand.
Photo courtesy of UB Sport