French North West Conference: The birth of a quidditch league in France?

by Grégoire Bourget

Since early January, five teams from northwestern France have been playing against one another in what has been called the “Ligue de l’Ouest” (Western League). While it still looks like a conference spread over multiple weekends, could this be the birth of a quidditch league in France?

The original idea of the league comes from the most recent 2016-17 Coupe de France held in November 2016, which saw none of the western teams qualify for the European Quidditch Cup (EQC). This meant that the official quidditch season for these teams was already finished in November. To create new objectives for their players, Angers Harfangs’ staff came up with the idea of organising matches with the closest teams, as northwestern France hosts five teams within a 120km radius. After discussing the idea with these teams, Nantes took up the organisation, and the conference started on January 29 and ran until April 29.

The conference format was quite standard: each team played against the four others twice. When two teams played against each other, two matches were played. Points were awarded based on victory (3 points) and snitch catch (1 point).

The Participating Teams

The most renowned of the participating teams are the Nantes Elephants, who were founded in 2011 and are France’s first official team; they also happen to be the only team in the country  with a kidditch section. They organised the last Coupe de France, where they finished in eighth place. The team is experienced and holds one player who was part of Team France at World Cup 2016 in Frankfurt.

The Hermines de Rennes Quidditch are the only official Breton team. Coming in sixth place at the last Coupe de France, they were the best ranked of the five participating league teams.

Les Harfangs Angers Quidditch club were one of the revelations of the last Coupe de France as the team became official this season. They performed quite well for a new team with a 10th-place finish and proved to be a worthy opponent.

Caen Burning Hippogriffs ended just one rank above the Harfangs at the Coupe de France after a very close match where they won 70*40. Experienced, and learning from their new Paris Frog recruit Harry-Olivier Cabo, they were not to be underestimated.

Tours Magyars à Pintes (a play on words with the French translation of Hungarian Horntail), who became official in January 2017, are the newest official team in France. This was their first time playing official matches, and they used this conference as an opportunity to gain experience.

Ranking & Team Performance

Caen Burning Hippogriffs

Caen Hippogriffs line up at the Tournament of Caen on May 10 | Photo credit: TBC

Caen Burning Hippogriffs came in first place in the Ligue de l’Ouest with 27 points. Seven wins out of eight matches as well as six snitch catches got them the championship, with no risk to be caught up by the other participating teams. They first played against Tours, then against Angers and Rennes on the same weekend, and lastly against Nantes. Their only defeat happened against Angers in double overtime, with a very close fight as both matches ended with 10 points between both teams.

“Angers gave us many difficulties they are very good,” said coach Cyril Dumas. “Matches were intense and close.”

Nantes and Rennes were no easier opponents, despite the fact that Caen won both matches. Rennes built up on the psychological impact of the double overtime against Angers to push one match in overtime and catch both snitches, while Nantes ran through Caen’s weaknesses after the seeker floor to try to catch up on score.

“Rennes were only seven but these were not easy matches, mostly because of the fatigue brought by the matches against Angers but also because they play very well,” said Caen captain Jennifer Larivière. “Nantes was a team we feared because of our [last] match at the Coupe de France. We were well ahead at start, but the seeker floor completely disorganised our defense.”

In contrast to this, the match against the inexperienced Tours was an easy win where the Hippogriffs won despite not trying very hard.

“This tournament showed a big problem: our chasers were not good enough,” said Larivière. “[They were] disorganised, inattentive, badly positioned… These errors were corrected during trainings,” said Dumas.  

Angers Harfangs

Angers Harfangs (pictured in orange) against Nantes Quidditch | Photo Credit: Guillaume Lorenzi

Angers Harfangs came in second with 20 points, winning six out of eight matches but only catching two snitches. They first played against Nantes, then against Caen, followed by Tours, and lastly against Rennes. Against Tours they got their only catches, and despite having some hard times in beater duels, their strong chaser game gave them big wins. Nantes could have been a hard opponent but  Angers won again by a large margin. Rennes were tougher opponents, with a 1-1 record, and they proved that the Harfangs need to improve their snitching capability as their victory was out of snitch range while the defeat was in snitch range. Caen was the hardest match for them, and Angers put all they had in order to do better than they did at the last Coupe de France where they lost 70*-40. This led to a defeat within 10 points, and then to double overtime and a victory for Angers.

“I am personally proud of my team that showed nice things, never stopped evolving, and was able to be present during matches to give their best.” said captain Florian Giffard. “The Coupe de France triggered something and this trigger clicked again during this tournament.

Rennes Ermines

Rennes Ermines (pictured in white) compete against Tours in friendlies on March 12 | Photo Credit: Charlotte Million.

Rennes Ermines came in third with 15 points, going 3-5 with six snitch catches. They played the very first match of the conference against Nantes, then played against Caen, Tours, and lastly against Angers. They went 2-0 against Tours, catching the snitch both times.

“Tours [are] a young team, but full of potential,” said coach Juliette Vallois.

However, wins were not so easy against other teams. Against Angers they won one more match and grabbed two snitches. Against Caen they also got two snitches, but lost both matches.

“We managed to keep a respectable score, but we also lost against them,” said Vallois.

Nantes proved to be a formidable opponent, defeating Rennes twice, catching the snitch both times.

“I am very proud of the progress my players were able to make,” said Vallois. Moreover, while we had difficulties to come to the matches with a comfortable roster because of everyone’s personal life, they were able to meet the challenge. Even if we didn’t win all of our matches, they improved their agility, self confidence, and perseverance.”

Nantes Elephants

Nantes Elephants | Photo credit: Franck Tomps

The Nantes Elephants took fourth place getting 14 points with a 3-5 record and five snitch catches. They opened the conference against Rennes, then played against Caen, Angers, and closed it by playing against Tours. While Tours was an easy opponent for the other teams, they proved a difficult foe for Nantes; both matches ended in snitch range, and with only one catch, Nantes got only one victory. They had started the conference much better against Rennes with two victories and two snitches, but they failed to keep a constant performance, and lost all matches against Caen and Angers, despite catching both snitches against Angers.

The second and third matches against Angers and Caen were much tighter,” said coach Camille Vallois.They really have good players. We had difficulties getting an adequate roster, so the matches were very close. Concerning the general impressions, we are happy in general, but we deplore not being able to gather enough players at all matches, making it hard to set tactics.”

Tours pictured (in blue) with players from Rennes Ermines after friendlies on March 12. Photo credit | Charlotte Million

Tours Magyars à Pintes

Tours came in last going 1-7 with one snitch catch, giving them four points. Their first game was against Caen, then against Rennes, Angers, and lastly against Nantes for the final match of the conference. The tournament was overall a steep slope for Tours, forcing them to do better again and again, despite losing their matches. Caen, Angers, and Rennes all won largely against them.

“Against Caen, we were put in front of all of our flaws, but we left happy to have scored two goals in each match,” said coach Ghersean Bourget.

“With this first match, we discovered what it was to play a proper match against a team that really wants to win,” said captain Florian Caillot.We gained experience and found out what we had to work on for future matches.

Their lack of experience was their main adversary throughout the entire conference.

“Against Rennes there were still a lot of rookie mistakes, a lack of rule knowledge, but there was noticeable improvement,” said Bourget.

It can be seen that all the matches were useful as they finally managed to push both matches against Nantes within snitch range and get one victory.

“These two matches were the result of our efforts following the previous matches,” said Caillot. “We finally found the gameplay we like (though there are still errors). The victory and snitch are the icing on the cake. Our team has evolved on the pitch since the beginning, and we now have the capability to fight and hold against older teams and this really pleases us.”

“We really improved a lot since the beginning; we learned many things from playing against other teams,” Bourget said.

The Conference

What about the conference in general? The new conference was created because Coupe de France happens early on in the season, marking the end of the official season for many clubs.

The main issue mentioned was the match dates: all of the teams pointed out the fact that the dates were not fixed; they were announced, then changed at the last minute, or simply announced last minute. This made it difficult for some teams to gather their players, especially Nantes, who pointed this out as one of the reasons for their relatively weak performance. This also made it difficult to recruit referees and snitches, as they sometimes were informed of the match date and place only two weeks in advance. Therefore it seems that a calendar with fixed dates for all the matches set at the beginning of the conference would make it easier for everyone involved.

Despite these mistakes, the general impression of the conference was very good. The teams generally praised the conference because it allowed them to get some challenging and official matches after the Coupe de France. All of the teams pointed out that they were able to improve as a group, work on specific problems that may have remained unnoticed, and allow their players to gain confidence and skills.

The opinions about recognition by the Fédération du Quidditch Français (French Quidditch Association, FQF) are more divergent. All teams expect recognition, though at different levels. For some, the conference should be recognised but left in the hands of the teams taking part in it. They might be afraid of the FQF’s intrusiveness in the organisation of the last two Coupe de France tournaments. Others feel that the FQF should get involved in the organisation, officialise the conference into a league, and help extend the project to all clubs in France by creating other leagues in the different regions. However, for now, no one is speaking of using these leagues to establish a ranking on a national level; people believe that the Coupe de France should keep this role.

This first edition of this league, with its ups and downs, proved to be a success. It provided every team participating with eight matches over three months, giving new teams very useful experience, and allowing all teams to work on their gameplay and skills to improve themselves. Some things need to change as is expected from a first try. The general opinion of the league is very positive; all teams that took part in it suggested that this idea should be applied to other regions in France as well. This really seems to be the birth of a quidditch league in France, and with the help and recognition of FQF and the creation of other leagues in France, this could bring French quidditch to a new level, fueling its development and raising new talents.