Kirkcaldy bulls have always had a competitive presence on the European stage and this year was no different as they descended on Walldorf, Germany for their annual pilgrimage – Big Bowl. Big Bowl XI is the biggest, and arguably best, European Flag Football Tournament, hosted by Walldorf Wanderers. The Bulls were drawn against a few unknowns this year. Every team was a potential challenge Kirkcaldy were not able to forecast their Saturday placings. Although deemed a weaker Bulls side than years past, they were certainly not short on fire-power with current GB players Bud McFerren and Julian Holburn-White to call upon, as well as ex-GB players Neil Arnold and Stevie Bramwell. Filling the remaining roster were Bulls stalwarts; Bob Wylie & Dave Pasnik, Carnegie players John Guthrie, Chan Phung, & Stuart Anderson, and Northants Titans regular Steve Podmore.
Game one was at dawn vs the London Barbarians (a squad formed of varying members of the current GB squad) was always going to be one of the hardest games in the group stages and this proved to be the case. Bulls started stronger and closed out the game to win 13-6. Lady Luck was on Bulls side that morning. The Barbarians improved with every game so a match up later in the day may have yielded a different result for the Kirkcaldy side.
Next on the schedule – Uni Wurzburg. Kirkcaldy met this great time last year in their final game last year, scraping a 26-19 victory. The lessons learned from that matchup allowed great playbook choices and Kirkcaldy cruised to a 27-7 victory. The Bulls driving force came unstuck in their next game against a very good side – Maichingen Mustangs. Kirkcaldy tried to force plays leading to three unfortunate interceptions. An inadvertent whistle negated a great interception which killed of any further chance for the Bulls allowing the Mustangs to go away with a deserved 21-14 win.
Based on other game results, a three way play-off was now on the cards between Kirkcaldy, Mustangs and London Barbarians. Kirkcaldy regrouped for their fourth game, and came away with a 26-14 victory against a top Zyuzino Zombies team led by QB and flag fanatic – Lev Petukhov. A very well-mannered and fun game was had by all with the Russians pushing hard right till the very end. Kirkcaldy had to work for every yard!. Saturday’s final game for Kirkcaldy was against Vechta Uni Fighters. This game started very slow for the Bulls and victory was far from assured, however they upped the tempo and closed out the game 28-6. Highlights of this game undoubtedly included a running TD for veteran QB Neil Arnold, and Stuart Anderson running in a 49 yard TD from a simple pop-pass to slot. Bulls finished the day with a 4-1 record and were guaranteed a top-16 finish. The final game between London Barbarians and Maichingen Mustangs would decide who else would join them in the top sixteen. London continued their game-on-game improvement and cruised past Mustangs 26-6 to secure second place in the group. For the first time, Kirkcaldy Bulls secured a first place finish in the group stages.
Kirkcaldy Bulls went into the second day of the tournament knowing that the next win would secure a top eight finish. Kirkcaldy’s previous highest finish in this tournament in previous years was thirteenth, so there was a lot at stake. Kirkcaldy’s next opponents were an excellent Danish side, The Copenhagen Scumbags and the odds did not look to be in favour of the Bulls. However, drawing on the play-calling and execution that had gelled on the previous day the Bulls were able to fend off the Scumbags with an impressive 21-6 victory. Top 8!
Next on the card was Boston Mass Flag. The 2016 winners and a well drilled and talented team. Kirkcaldy surprised almost everyone by taking an early lead and keeping Mass Flag to within one score in a back and forth battle. At the two minute warning, Bulls had the ball, trailing at a 14-21. Kirkcaldy were making in impressive inroads into Mass Flag territory and they could see themselves in a position to win the game with a score and two point PAT. An unfortunate mix up between the QB and receiver handed the easiest interception of the tournament to Mass Flag who then closed out the game 28-14. To run Mass Flag so close would be seen as the best Bulls performance of the tournament and the players will now reflect on what could have been. A highlight of the game was definitely a quick pop route to Centre – Chan Phung who then evaded many tackle attempts to chalk up a 26 yard TD. With injuries and tired legs creeping in, coupled with the loss of Julian Holborn-White (due to having to get early flight home), Bulls were to find final 2 games of the day very taxing.
First up was Novo Mesto Knights, who defeated them in 2016 by 20-7, and this turned out to = a re-run of that game albeit a slightly different score of 19-7. In the final game of the day to play for 7th and 8th position, the Bulls were pitted against the London Ex Pads, and the job was made even harder due to losing Dave Pasnik through injury. Bulls amended their tactics to correspond to personnel, and gave the Ex Pads a decent game, although it did feel at times that Tariq Dag Khan and his fellow Ex Pads were just toying with the Bulls!! That said, towards the end there was a similar scenario as seen in the Mass Flag game where Bulls could have scored and went for two points (this time to tie the game), however the Ex Pads just upped a gear and closed out with a very good 34-20 victory in another very friendly game. A highlight of this game was Bob Wylie returning to WR where he started his career and grabbing 2 TDs.
Bulls Head Coach Neil Arnold said this about the tournament: ‘I am extremely proud of each and every one of my players. To get an 8th place finish is beyond all our wildest expectations and this is unlikely to happen again. I think in all honestly there are far better teams in the top 20 than the Bulls, and it was partly down to the luck of the group draw and scheduling (i.e. playing London in the very first game) that contributed to this 8th place finish. That said I do not want to take away anything from the players, we had very specific game-plans and the guys executed brilliantly and there were fewer errors than I have ever seen playing for the Bulls. This contributed to winning games we may not have won on any other day, and we very nearly had the upset of the tournament if we could have finished off the Mass Flag game to plan.I love playing in this tournament is it superbly run, and all our games were played in excellent spirit, making new friends with Ex Pads and Zyuzino Zombies along the way.I have to mention the 2 Bulls’ rookies from the Carnegie American Football Club umbrella, Chan Phung and Stuart Anderson. These guys never looked out their depth and performed superbly against a level of talent they are not used to. I would not hesitate to use these guys again. Special thanks also to Julian Holborn-White (Glasgow Hornets) who also played with Bulls in his first full competitive games and performed superbly, and I hope we see him back in a Bulls shirt in the future.A special thanks also has to go to Stevie Bramwell for not dropping any gimme TDs in the endzone this year and therefore helping me to not burst any blood vessels in his post-drop tirade!!’
Well that’s it for another year for the Bulls, the game jerseys and kit go into long-term storage, and majority of players return to their respective teams. For players no longer playing under BAFA they can be seen occasionally watching at local games in Dunfermline, or even turning out for other teams at UK tournaments.
Bull stats following this event now read:
British League Record: 121 wins, 1 loss (pesky Broncos!!! LOL). 99% win percentage. 98 game winning streak.
Non-League Record: 84 wins. 34 losses. 71% win percentage.
Total: 205 wins. 35 losses. 85% win percentage.