December 9th, 2007. Report By Nick Rockell
What a year. 2007 was really a pinnacle for a lot of people in the program. For others it was a case of repeating history. Either way it is an achievement for everyone concerned and a great base to start a climb up the ability levels of British Football.
Most pleasing to me as the leader of a very good team in 2007 is that no one is showing satisfaction with what was achieved. Sure we’re all happy about it, but there’s a desire to do it all again, against tougher opposition, and everyone is looking forward, not back.
For those in the program the 2007 pre-season is well documented. It wasn’t the best start but what it did was educate individuals about how they take their place in a winning team and the on-going attitude it would take to win. We were fortunate that the new UEA coaching staff are as interested as we are in building a close relationship, and so they helped us out of our pre-season malaise by handing us our only defeat of 2007. We went into that game in late March with minimal offensive plays and one defence, and it showed. In an early indicator of what was to come the team took the defeat positively, learning from it and using it as a motivator to be better.
We went to training Camp at the beginning of April, and the spectre of scrimmaging Div 1 finalists London Blitz, with a paradigm shift in attitude rolling through the team – mainly due to the players themselves.
What occurred was the best Training Camp I have known in 7 years. Everything ran seamlessly, the players attitude to learning showed on the football field and the injuries that dogged the 2006 Camp were not there. Pass Skellys on Saturday showed the difference in talent level but we had players that fed off the competition and just went out and made plays. Special Teams scrimmage in the fog of Sunday morning and the Scrimmage between two bone-tired sets of players on Sunday afternoon followed the same template. Yes we were out-gunned but we worked as hard as we could to make up for that. And it’s that attitude, finally cemented by a weekend of nothing but the team and football, that really counted.
The regular season held a lot of surprises. I had spent the whole of Camp worried about injuries as the following week we opened the season, hosting the Essex Spartans. On my drive to the game I was convinced that all we needed was any sort of win to get this season going. Twenty-four points in the first half saw to that. A poor 2nd half gave us something to keep our feet on the ground.
Second game was on of our biggest challenges, at Cambridgeshire Cats. We stuck with what we did best on that day and twice in the final drive individuals surprised everyone with big plays and we came from behind to win by a point in the last minute.
The rest of the season had it’s moments. Fifty points against Chiltern in game 3 really settled everyone’s nerves after an inconsistent start. Predictable play calling matched with unquestionable execution pulled out a tough win on the road at East Kent. In the return against an under-manned Essex, who were coming off a 60 point defeat, we felt the extra game reps for depth players and work on our weak areas were more important than a big score. So once the game was under control we made the changes and Essex made a great game of it. We also got a couple of long term injured players back for this game, a great thing to see after months of hospital appointments and rehab.
The East Midlands Saxons came to us having beaten Cambridgeshire and were riding their own unbeaten streak. Good Special Teams execution set the base for a solid win over another division leader. It was at this point it became obvious that the spectre of an unbeaten record was having no effect on our team whatsoever.
In 2006 we had wound tighter and tighter through a 4 game win-streak until our own fear of losing paralysed us. In 2007 the approach was strictly one game at a time and the players carried it off well, never fearing a loss but working hard to do what it took to win. Another of those intangible attitude things, dating back to the UEA game, that had made this team better than the sum of it’s parts.
The return match with the Cats went to the wire just as the first had. Two scores in the final 2 minutes, one for each side demonstrated how badly both teams wanted the win. Injuries and absences meant the depth chart had to play for the wins in rematches with Chiltern and East Kent and on a trip to Maidstone.
Going into the playoffs we had secured home field advantage, something that proved vital as our opponents came from Cornwall and Cardiff respectively.
The Cornish Sharks presented the biggest and most physical challenge of the season for our quarter-final. We also had to replace our QB the week before. So this was no guaranteed win. The whole team responded to the QB change and the difference in scheme that required. A burst either side of half-time really won the game but it was a fight to the end.
South Wales Warriors had lost only once all season and defeated Cambridgeshire in the quarter-finals. They carried a big squad and didn’t look phased by the long journey. The first half was tight and we were missing scoring opportunities. Then the 2nd half was a complete and unexpected shoot-out in which we got our noses in front and managed to stay there.
The Bowl game against the Dundee Hurricanes in Sheffield was a great experience. Again the whole team handled the situation in a professional manner, not concerning themselves with the spectacle, focussing on the game instead. A boost came from the number of partners that came to Sheffield to lend their support and it definitely helped keep the atmosphere relaxed. A very fast opening seemed to have put the game out of reach until late in the 3rd quarter when for the first and only time in the season there was some panic about not winning the game. We tightened up, scared of making mistakes, and our play suffered as a result. We refocused, the usual attitude finally taking hold again, and were able to hold off a good Dundee team to win the Division 2 Championship and complete our unbeaten league season.
Finally, in the stands after the Bowl game, watching the Division 1 Bowl game that we aspire to in 2008, were we able to relaxed and look back over the season and the games we had played. It was a feeling you don’t get too often in your life.
Awards Night was held in October and was very well attended by players, coaches, partners and fans which was great to see. Award winners were well deserved and in seasons like this you wish there were more awards to give.
All year we have had good support for our games at Hewetts School, this deserves mention as many of the good teams in this country struggle for support. Sizable, vocal support at home is a massive boost to the team.
From the front of the group that made the 2007 season so successful and special by far the biggest achievement was not the Bowl win but the intangible shift in attitude that started after the UEA loss in March and built and reinforced every week through the final game in September. You can’t teach that sort of thing. It’s intrinsic to the group of people and how they think. From my position, that’s what makes me proud of the 2007 Norwich Devils.
Keeping in tune with what they started in 2007 the preparations have already begun for 2008.
The players have either been refining their skills playing university ball or in the gym building for better play. A strong class of rookies have joined us for sessions through November and, along with graduating youth players from their successful 2007 season and players fresh from the UEA season, will push the incumbents for playing time from the first session.
You never know when a football year like 2007 will come around. All you can do is as much of the right work as you can and hope the team gels. The attitude of everyone is encouraging so far. With a week to go until practice beings again it’s important for everyone to understand that 2008 is it’s own year and season. It has nothing on it’s shoulder from what was achieved in 2007.
I hope that more and more people will get behind the team in 2008, possibly even get involved somehow, and become part of something that is sure to be as special again.
Happy New Year to all.
Norwich Devils Seniors.