Spring is in the air. College Nationals are around the corner, the AUDL is ramping up, and it’s time for club tryouts. Tons of awesome stuff is going on in the world of ultimate — and that’s just in North America.
As the rest of the ultimate world tries to close the gap on the US and Canada, one spot that has a quite developed, but under-reported ultimate scene is Europe. You may have heard of some big name men’s teams like Clapham (London, UK) and Bad Skid (Heilbronn, Germany) or women’s teams like Iceni (London, UK) or FABulous (Bern, Switzerland) whenever big WFDF tournaments like WUCC come around, but what does a typical season look like for these teams?
As our readership continues to expand overseas, Ultiworld is aiming to add to a bit to our international coverage this year. We will start small with tournament recaps from some of the big name events in Europe, but the continent has a rich and developed ultimate scene that we know our readers are eager to follow, so we hope that our coverage there will expand over time.
This piece serves as a primer to help you understand what a European club ultimate season looks like and what you should be paying attention to this year. Let’s start by explaining the club format in Europe.
Nationals –> EUCR –> EUCF
For our American readers, you are probably all familiar with the typical club format of a regular season that then goes into Sectionals -> Regionals -> Nationals. Europe doesn’t work in exactly the same way. The European Ultimate Federation (EUF) organizes a Series that occurs in the late summer to early fall which starts with regional events (European Ultimate Championships Regionals or EUCR) that feeds into the finals (European Ultimate Championships Finals or EUCF). There are five regions that are divided up in the following way:
West – United Kingdom, Ireland1
Central – Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Luxemburg, The Netherlands
South – France, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland
East – Austria, Belarus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hugary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine
North – Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Russia, Sweden
Each region is given a certain number of bids for each division (Open, Women’s, and Mixed) and the EUCR tournaments are played out just like Regionals would be in the US.
Instead of Sectionals, however, countries are awarded a certain number of bids to their respective EUCR event. Some countries use their national championship as a qualifier, while others (Germany for instance) hold a separate qualifying event for EUCR altogether. The notable exception to this is the West region which has, until recently, been made up only of the United Kingdom. UK Ultimate’s National Championships, then, doubles as the EUCR for the West. However, this year, Ireland has been added to the West Region and will be participating in UK Nationals as well.
So once the dust has settled after all the EUCR events and teams have gobbled up their spots at the toughest European tournament of the year, the EUCF takes place.
The EUCF takes in 12 Mixed teams, 12 Women’s teams, and 24 Open teams. In open, the top eight teams based on regional finish start in elite pools of four while the bottom 16 are in challenger pools. If you win your challenger pool, you play in a prequarter against one of the elite teams that finished in the bottom two of their pool. The other four elite teams earn a bye straight to quarters. The prequarter games are doubly important because they essentially decide which regions get elite spots for the following year — they are awarded to regions based on who finishes in the top eight the previous year.
From there, the bracket is played out and a champion is crowned across all three divisions. This is the biggest club achievement you can win in Europe from year to year. However, it is not always the top priority for everyone.
The Four-Year Club Or Country Cycle
Europe is heavily affected by the four-year tournament cycle around big international events. The current cycle looks like this: 2014 was the World Ultimate Club Championship (WUCC), 2015 was the European Ultimate Championship (EUC), 2016 was the World Ultimate and Guts Championship (WUGC), and this year only has the EUCF.
EUCF and WUCC are both club focused events. In these two years, top players mainly focus on their club team. For most countries in Europe, 2017 will be the qualifier for the next WUCC in Cincinnati, so clubs aiming at that event will be preparing for a tough battle in their respective national championships to lock up those spots. These teams also usually look at the previous EUCF as a good warmup to WUCC the following year.
However, EUC and WUGC are national team events. In the USA, the WUGC can disrupt a bit of the club season, but teams are still usually focused on winning at Nationals even if a few of their players are pulling double-duty playing on the national team.
In smaller European countries, this isn’t always the case — national team commitments can completely take over a club season. Many national teams opt to prepare for the EUC or WUGC by going to some of the big tournaments in the spring; since most countries only have between one and four elite club teams, a national team will essentially gut the clubs of significant talent, making it close to impossible for club teams and national teams to attend the same events.
There are some countries actually pushing to keep national teams out of big club tournaments, but this is still a matter of debate in the European ultimate community, with different countries weighing in very differently on this issue. Suffice it to say that the EUC and WUGC years never quite look as club focused on the top level as the WUCC and EUCF years. It creates a bit of discontinuity.
Furthermore, the pool of elite players also play in two large national team beach tournaments — World Championships of Beach Ultimate (WCBU) and the European Championships of Beach Ultimate (ECBU) that each happen every four years and are usually two years apart from each other.
As the number and prominence of WFDF international competitions has risen, the strain between club and country responsibilities has only grown worse.
The Regular Season
Ultimate at the European level doesn’t really have an official regular season. Each individual country usually runs their own league. A lot of countries model themselves after European soccer leagues, with divisions where you have overall league tables that promote and relegate teams between tiers, but the structure can vary from country to country.
However, European ultimate also has a strong international tournament culture; though these tournaments don’t mean anything with regard to national leagues or the EUCR/EUCF series, teams take them very seriously. Two of the largest international European tournaments are Tom’s Tourney in Bruges, Belgium — held this past weekend — and Windmill in Amsterdam on June 9-11. Both of these tournaments are chock full of elite club talent in Europe. Stay tuned for recap coverage of each!
As we work to expand our international coverage, we also hope to provide updates from the major National Championships as well as the EUCR and EUCF Series.
We can’t wait to share the best of what Europe has to offer this season. See you on the pitch.