Pro-Cloud Trophy to prove a mighty test
Always looking for another challenge, the Birmingham Lions Women are to host a ground-breaking first for Football in the UK. Over three days at the end of August and early September they will be going head to head with two National Champions, the Helsinki Wolverines from Finland and the New York Sharks from America.
The tournament will be played at the University of Birmingham, starting on the evening of Friday August 31st when the Sharks take on the Wolverines. Saturday will see the Lions play the Wolverines, with the tournament concluding on Sunday with the Lions matching themselves against the Sharks, who will be playing their last ever game, before an ownership change, sees them become the New York Wolves. This will be the first time an American women’s team have made the trip to the UK to play, impressive in itself, but for it to be such a storied franchise as the Sharks is amazing. I spoke with team owner Andra Douglas about this “grand FINale” for her time at the head of the organisation.
“We are all so excited to come over and play in this tournament. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for years and it’s a dream come true and a storybook ending since this is the last year for the New York Sharks. Yes, I’ve had the Sharks for 20 years and as much as I love them I’ve got to do something else with my life. You know how it can take over! There will still be football in New York, but they will be called a different name as I am taking my logo with me. So, it’s the last adventure as the New York Sharks and my “grand FINale” as we call it. What a way to go out!! We are the longest operating and ‘winningest’ team in the sport and have done many firsts in our 20-year span, so what a wonderful one to add to our list by going to this tournament! Can’t thank the Lions enough for making it happen!!!”
Sharks Head Coach Fabien Baez added “…on behalf of the NY Sharks organization, we’re ecstatic and humbled about participating in this tournament. The Sharks obviously hold a pivotal role in the story of women’s football. Led by our team owner Andra Douglas, and record-setting quarterback Karen Mulligan, we have a special group. We look forward to competing against other great teams and furthering the sport. Also, we’re excited about making new friends, enjoying the culture in London and Birmingham.”
The Sharks will be led by legendary quarterback Karen Mulligan, who had this to say, “I’m excited for the tournament in the UK. I think it’s a great experience for the Sharks to travel internationally. I played for Team USA in both 2010 and 2013 and it was one of the best experiences of my football career. To meet players from different countries and be experiencing a different culture is an amazing experience. I’m sure we will see some great football being played and see some exciting games. The host team has already reached out and created a page for us to all communicate with each other, which is great. I’m looking forward to this new experience.”
Don’t forget, this tournament will feature three National Champion teams! Also boarding a plane, with Birmingham as the destination, will be the current Finnish Maple League Champions, the Helsinki Wolverines. I spoke with Head Coach Pekka Lamminsalo about his team’s participation. “We couldn’t be more excited to come and visit Birmingham. Knowing the Lions from their visit to Finland last year, we know they are a quality organisation, and we are lucky to have such great friends in Europe. Looking forward to also get to know the Sharks organisation and competing in a tournament that promises to have the best level of women’s football in Europe outside of national teams. In terms of our football, we have been preparing for the tournament for a while now. We are lucky to have a large and experienced team, so we will be ready to roll by the end of August.”
The Lions are used to winning, and their aim going in will be to continue that tradition. Head coach Jamie Kilby knows it will be a big ask. “Well I have certainly been enjoying the off season, but the break will soon be over. As the lions go into preseason prep for what is yet another bar raising event. With two very tough games against the Sharks and the Wolverine’s. We have a six-week preseason to blow out the cobwebs and the team should be fully returned and back to full fitness. With a number of former players returning for the Transatlantic Trophy we should have the strongest team possible. The Wolverines are currently unbeaten and will definitely have a score to settle. It would be unwise to read too much into our last encounter. They have improved, considerably. I’m expecting a very tough game. The Sharks are unknown to us, but one thing is for certain they are going to be an extremely well drilled and tough opponent. Make no mistake the Lions are going to have to deliver the performance of their lives if we hope to come out on top. I believe we are going to see women’s football at its absolute best, as the two titans of European football take on one of America’s most famous and long-standing women’s football teams…the New York Sharks.”
To get a player’s perspective, I spoke with experienced Lions and GB receiver, Hannah Pye. “This is a fantastic opportunity for the Birmingham Lions. It’s such a privilege to be a part of the Lions programme, where we are provided with next step challenges and such unique opportunities. Our Head Coach, Jamie Kilby, has amazing aspirations which he sets out to make a reality. This then in turn tests us as a club to improve and develop. Jamie has no ceiling on how we can pave the way to develop our Lions programme further, it’s admirable! What’s great about that is that it enables us as players to be faced with exciting challenges and experiences and requires us to really grow our own knowledge and performance within the sport. I think this tournament will test us in new ways. We will face tough opposition that is highly skilled and experienced. Whatever the outcome of the tournament will be, we really will be victorious in all that we will take away and learn from the experience!”
Of course, an event on this scale doesn’t just fall into place. There have been copious days (and nights) of tireless effort put in by the Lions organisation, spear headed by their General Manager (and quarterback) Jo Kilby. “The Lions are super excited ahead of their debut home 11s tournament. Taking on the Sharks and Wolverines is a massive ask of our football team, having only previously played 2 1/2 hours of competitive 11s at a club level, but we’re all about pushing ourselves, so, we’re just eager to get on the field now and get to work!”
Continuing their charitable work, the Lions will be using the event as a vehicle to raise funds for Birmingham Children’s Hospital, check out their “JustGiving” page, and make sure you buy some raffle tickets to have the chance to secure some great prizes.
You need to make sure you don’t miss any of the action, so here are all the timings for your diary!
Friday August 31st – New York Sharks v Helsinki Wolverines – Kick off 7.30pm
Saturday September 1st – Birmingham Lions v Helsinki Wolverines – Kick off 4pm
Sunday September 2nd – Birmingham Lions v New York Sharks – Kick off 2pm
[Review courtesy of Dave Tidswell with thanks]