By Anna O’Gara
Editor’s note: Anna O’Gara currently plays for Northern Watch.
The Quidditch Premier League (QPL) has its 2018 season brooms–up this Saturday, June 16, with the first Northern fixture being held in Manchester. This will be the debut of the team who are sure they are “not gonnae come last” — the Scottish Thistles. The outcome of the Northern fixtures will likely cause more upsets than in the South, given that three of the Northern teams will be gunning for first place. With one successful season under its belt and another team added to the mix, this first QPL fixture is set to reflect the growth the project has made in just one year.
Gavin Hughes’ Thistles side, while an entirely new team to the league, is a squad with some experience in QPL. The Thistles have four players coming from Northern Watch, most notably manager Hughes, and one from Yorkshire Roses. Despite this, the squad lacks depth, which makes their debut likely to be an uphill battle. They will be taking many players from local teams, primarily St Andrews Snidgets, Holyrood Hippogriffs, and Development Cup winners Glasgow Grim Reapers. Many of the players have played together before, albeit in these less developed QuidditchUK (QUK) teams, so the coaching team may be wanting to strengthen the basics before all else. The Thistles will have a good coaching staff under Chema Hidalgo-Lopez for the beaters, Kieran Newton for the seekers, and Hughes for the chasers; the aim of these coaches is likely to be team cohesion to bring all of their players to a solidly competitive level. Shown by the player profiles on the Thistles Facebook page, this is a team with heart that won’t take itself too seriously, and this is why they are the team I most look forward to playing against. Amongst the seriousness of the league, these early years may be the only time we get to experience the degree of playing-for-playing’s-sake mentality now generally only seen at merc tournaments or Development Cup. This is the side I want most desperately to prove people wrong, but also to learn a lot and bring something back to their teams which are generally in Scotland. There are currently only four QUK clubs in Scotland and, as shown by Glasgow’s win at Development Cup, the area is ripe for growth. The formation of this team will only be good for Scottish quidditch.
Thistles manager Gavin Hughes | Photo Credit: Claire Purslow Quidditch Photography
Despite worries about losses to the Scottish Thistles, the Northern Watch team is looking remarkably strong. The team took a greater influx from North West teams like Chester and Manchester and has also tightened their squad since last year. The team features some big–hitting chasers in Olly Barker and Morgan Ward, although there is also considerable intelligence and speed to balance, with the likes of Connor Climo returning and Tua Karling taking a coaching role. There is significant talent in the beater line-up, especially with the males, and it again shows a mix of dynamism and intuition. Germany’s Leon Bürgers enters the ranks and is set to bring speed, aggression, and raw talent with a bludger which should nicely complement the kind of play seen in the likes of Iain Keenan, who can be trusted to keep a cool head on pitch. The challenge for this Watch team will be to incorporate all of their players, but especially their female chasers. They are all competent players with confidence with and without a quaffle but on a team with large male drivers, they may be underutilised. The female chasers will need to be loud to make their mark, but, from my perhaps skewed perspective, I firmly believe that they have the talent to make it happen. It would be a damn waste otherwise.
Morgan Ward at the 6th Annual Mercian Cup | Photo Credit: Ben young Photography
Last year’s winners, the West Midlands Revolution, may be the favourites to take the North, but Watch and East Midlands Archers will definitely see their opportunity for victory. Just 13 of the 25 West Midlands players are returning from last year’s victory and although this includes the ever-dangerous Lucy Quidditch and Dan Trick, the team also lost last year’s top two QPL goal scorers, James Thanangadan and Seb Waters. They also lost several other Team UK staples, but doing well in QPL isn’t just a matter of who has the most Team UK players (although it’s a different matter in the South); the squad has an average age closer to the mid-20s than early-20s, reflecting the experience and smart play they are likely to bring with them. The addition of a player such as Ashara Peiris adds intelligence, confidence, and level-headedness that should work well to balance big hitters such as Christopher Scholes-Lawrence. Against younger teams, this could be what gives them an edge.
Beater Lucy Quidditch playing for Velociraptors QC | Photo Credit: Jon Hall
The team I will be watching out for is the East Midlands Archers. Their impressive line-up can be best symbolised in the re-selection of the Orridge brothers: Bill, experienced and on mighty form following his British Quidditch Cup (BQC) win with Velociraptors QC, and Mikey, young and exciting talent representing the next generation of UK quidditch. The return of Bill and the addition of Thanangadan as manager (the second and third most prolific scorers of the 2017 QPL season, it should be noted) should help push new talent in expansion squad players Mikey, Katie Dickens, and Chloe Hemingway amongst others, both in the QPL season and as they aim for national play. The team has a number of Nottingham Nightmares and Loughborough Longshots players but actually draws from several different teams; bringing together the different play styles and personalities will perhaps be the challenge for the Archers, so communication will need to be tight on pitch to prevent gaps being exploited. If they can strike the right balance and produce a style that all players can adapt to, this may be what pushes them to the top in the North.
Katie Dickens at Poetics Lightening Cup 2018 | Photo Credit: Jon Hall
Yorkshire Roses will definitely have a tough time breaking against the Big Three of the North this season, despite having a strong squad on paper. It is certainly a group of talented players from reliable teams such as Sheffield Squids favourites Anke de Leeuw and wily beater Sam Birkitt, and HogYork Horntails playmaker Harry Smith. They have several individually skilled players, but there is a deficit of super-elite that other teams could use against them. Where Archers have picked up top-level coach Thanangadan, Watch have picked up Team Germany’s beater superstar Bürgers, and Revolution have maintained a core of experienced players and coaches, Roses have not matched. They are not an especially large team with the kind of physical presence to intimidate, so they will have to be tactically on point this season. Roses do have a strong non-male line-up, both for beaters and chasers. Manager Joshua Fogg should use this to the team’s advantage and use these players for speed and smart passing around the big hitters of other teams. That’s not to say that Roses won’t be a side to look out for; after a solid win against Northern Watch in last year’s Championship, we know that the unexpected can happen, and this may prove to be a bogey team if they go underestimated.
Chaser Harry Smith | Photo Credit: Chaz Howkins
What will decide the final standings is likely to be the battle of the beaters. Eighteen-year-old Bürgers of Northern Watch has experience and knowledge that belies his young age, but how will this fit together with his teammates? He has played with four of his teammates before, myself included, as part of a winning Valentines Cup team, but compared with the fact that Lucy Quidditch and Bill Orridge have played with several of their teammates with both Raptors and Team UK, it may take Bürgers a little longer to adapt his quick, hyper-aggressive style to the Watch beater line. Lucy Quidditch will certainly be leading the Revolution beater line-up and using her coaching skills to generate cohesion; however, with a team with that much experience, getting them to use their honed, individual styles to complement each other will be her challenge. The team will have to use it to their advantage and use intelligent play to work against opponents’ weaknesses. And for Bill Orridge, managing a team with a range of play styles will give him plenty of room to try new things but he will have to tame it in order to hit the bullseye with the Archers.
Going into our first fixture, I will definitely back my own team and say that Northern Watch will come out on top; after a great influx of young, talented players being selected for their first QPL season, the team is hungry for a great result. In addition, the home advantage cannot be taken lightly (I myself will only have a 20-minute walk to the pitches!). I feel that our greatest competition going into this weekend will be the West Midlands Revolution. They will field a strong team that will play smart and perhaps take a little longer to break down than other sides. While I think that the Archers will take some time to learn how to use each other’s strengths to their advantage, Revolution should pick this up from the get-go and want to take an early lead. I would not go into this fixture underestimating any other team; with the league being so young and the squads so different to last year’s, nothing is certain. The tone will be set this weekend, and perhaps then we can afford ourselves a few more assumptions.