UKLacrosse Takes Innaugural London Tournament!
LONDON EVENT TAKES OFF!
By Trevor Rogers
If anyone had told me ten years ago that by 2003 there would be so many European countries playing lacrosse that there had to be a qualifying tournament for places in the actual European Championships, I'd have wondered how many beers they'd drunk. If that same person had told me that by 2003, the Committee of the South of England Men's Lacrosse Association (SEMLA) would be concerned to ensure that London secured a place in the circuit of European Tournaments before all the best weekends were taken, well, I'd have thought they were in danger of 'optimism overload'.
However, both came true.
To those like me who have dreamed the lacrosse dream against all odds, both were significant events in the development of the game in Europe.
Both events prove that where there is the vision, enthusiasm and a little hard cash, lacrosse can succeed and prosper.
The first ever London Tournament, jointly organised by e-lacrosse and SEMLA, took place in August 6-8, 2004 in Battersea Park. Thanks to the high energy and commitment of SEMLA's Executive VP, Paul Terry the event was created from nothing and was a resounding success for all concerned.
In Europe, stories heard and articles seen on E-Lacrosse about the big U.S. tournaments in Vail, Lake Placid, New Orleans, Las Vegas the Hawaii were obvious inspirations. The swashbuckling, high energy style of teams like the Crease Monkeys who have stormed Europe on previous tours was another. Then the clear success of the E-lacrosse Amsterdam Tournament in 2003 sent a loud message that there is a demand for such summer tournaments in Europe.
The Berlin Open has developed over ten years into the biggest tournament in Europe and is held in early June. Prague sets a high standard at the Prague Cup and the Box Lacrosse Open. Newcomers Madrid, Rome and Ljubliana also offer lacrosse in exciting new summer venues. Then, of course, Amsterdam is like no other venue and will become legendary like Vail and Lake Placid are now. Europe is the latest exciting destination for lacrosse and London has a style and sophistication of its own which we knew would add a different twist to the lax travel tournament experience.
Men's lacrosse in the South of England is undergoing a growth period with new teams entering the league from Universities and Clubs. The junior programmes are stronger than they have been for many years and so with this in mind, SEMLA is keen to generate the momentum and funds to keep the growth going. Attracting high quality teams to London and the South is an important part of the strategy to develop wider interest in the game.
The plan, therefore, was to create a tournament as close as possible to the centre of London to allow players and families to enjoy the sights and spectacle of one of the world's leading capitals with the minimum of travel. To include a men's and women's competition and maybe add a youth and 'mixed' lacrosse event at some stage in the future. We also wanted to keep the numbers of teams small enough (8) to avoid 'match overload' so that players and families could equally enjoy the trip to London and want to come again year after year.
From the start, despite short timescales for the planning and advertising of the event it was decided that the event would go ahead, whatever the actual number of entries, so as to serve as a pilot for bigger, better planned future tournaments. This was probably a wise idea as we had chosen an extremely crowded month with multiple conflicting events, European Championships, England Ladies tours to Australia, Madrid Tournament, Lake Placid, Ocean City, etc, etc.
The chosen venue, historic Battersea Park, was excellent, sitting on the south bank of the Thames just across the river from Chelsea, and just 10 minutes from the Houses of Parliament. Battersea is also an all weather venue, just in case the English summer decided to play a trick on us and provide a downpour. Happily, despite the worst overall August weather for nearly 100 years, we had selected the three hottest days of the summer with temperatures in the 30's C degrees (85+F) with cloudless blue skies for the whole tournament.
Sky Sports, the largest satellite TV network in Europe, asked to film the Men's Final and a women's exhibition game for inclusion in a programme focussing on less well known sports in the UK. This will be transmitted four times in September and will help to achieve the wider exposure of the game that we are seeking.
The 2004 Tournament featured five men's teams and two women's teams formed from the West London ladies club with a few guest players including members of the Scottish and Welsh European Championship squad and one very good Aussie.
The men's competition was between the three corporately sponsored teams of UK Lacrosse, Gin and Juice and Lax World/E-lacrosse, the Club team of Hampstead and a team of players representing the SEMLA League.
The games began to reveal a clear top three of UK Lacrosse (UK agents for Warrior Lacrosse) Hampstead and the South. Going into the Final the South had the better record having defeated the UK Lacrosse team in the round robin, however Hampstead had beaten the South and were nearly finalists, if only they had conceded fewer goals.
The final was filmed by Sky Sports using a platform, built overnight by the excellent staff of Battersea Park. The game was dominated from the start by the UK Lacrosse team which featured players from the North of England's Premier Division, Australia, USA and Canada.
The largely home grown talent on the South team struggled to find any rhythm and only began a revival towards the end of the game. There were enough 'spectaculars' for the TV crew to express amazement at the skill and speed of the players, a sentiment that they were keen to try to convey in the finished film.
The Tournament depends, of course, on those wonderful chaps in black and white stripes without whom the event would never succeed. We were lucky to have an excellent team who were organised by Simon Peach, a legend in European refereeing. The organisers would like to express a sincere thanks to all of the referees who made the trips from the USA and the UK to help out.
As expected, many lessons were learned and will go towards making next year's tournament better for all the players and spectators. We hope to attract some major corporate sponsorship with a possible increase in the TV coverage for next year and have already begun talks with a potential sponsor over naming rights for the Tournament.
We have received some serious interest for entries from the USA and Canada for both men's and women's teams. Our sister Association, the Southern Counties Women's Lacrosse Association, has agreed to join the organisation and this should ensure a top class Women's event.
With no international Men's events competing next year we hope that the abundance of highly competitive German, English, and other European teams will see the London Tournament as a chance to get some high standard competition. To encourage and facilitate this, a website will go live soon for the 2005 tournament featuring English and German versions and offering more convenient payment methods for the European teams while still offering credit card options for the North Americans.
The London women provided two excellent demonstration games which laid the foundations for a women's tournament next year. With the Women's World Cup happening in Annapolis, Maryland in the US during the same relative time period in 2005, the tournament will rely on club teams to organize and come, perhaps without some of their best players, BUT how exactly does one improve to become one of the best players? Play EVERY Summer tournament you can!
The social side of the Tournament will be better developed next year in anticipation of more overseas visitors. The venue will probably be Battersea Park again as the location and staff were first class.
All we need now is for you to spread the word and to enter or join a team for the 2005 London Tournament! The dates will be announced very soon on E-Lacrosse!
Trevor Rogers (left), here with Tournament Chief and UKLacrosse Keeper Paul Terry is the President of the South of England Men's Lacrosse Association (SEMLA).
A Great Picture: Matt Speno (right) is an old friend that just showed up in London to play. The other four are Army Helicopter Pilots straight from Iraq. They needed a lacrosse fix and we were only too happy. Look at the guns on the guy at the far left. He never played lax before but jumped in on D and loved it.
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Apologies to Gin & Juice and LaxWorld Teams. Half of the video tapes from London were lost in luggage by our staff on travel.
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