I’m going to tell you about one particular rag-tag lacrosse club that did a really cool thing. They carry the moniker Glasgow Clydesiders, but they’re far from pureblood Scottish. To make some sense, first, I need to paint a picture for the accomplishment to have some real context.
Ales Hrebesky Memorial 2017
This one was different. I guess they’re all different, of course, but this Ales Hrebesky Memorial was just a totally different product from last year and the years preceding. The 21 teams were the same 21 teams as last year, with arguably 75-90% of the same guys, but this was just a totally different show. I’m of the opinion that the drastic differences between this year and last are what make this event one of the premier lacrosse events in the world. To say I’m excited to see how 2018 follows suit would just be a dull understatement.
This was my fifth trip to Radotin, and while obviously all of them have their own place in my heart, this one was different and has it’s own little cabin on three and a half acres in my heart.
I’m having trouble starting this article. I’ve actually had trouble for the past four days starting this article. Eight hours of layovers and twelve hours of flights and four hours of trains… too much movement for me to really try to make all the flash memories made in Prague sit still so I could make sense of them.
We’re Gonna Get Wet
We’ll start ‘er out with the undeniable. The one difference this year that EVERYONE in attendance can agree was simply not the norm was the weather. The weather was morose. It was terrible. While it wasn’t excessively cold, the rain was really a factor in a way I’ve never seen in Radotin. It never dumped buckets, but it was a constant rain that would tease you with clear skies and sunshine, only to return and put standing puddles on the turf floor.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a game changer. The game was certainly different and more difficult in certain aspects because of it, but it was far from a game-ruiner. The games would go on, and play adapted to the conditions. There was more of an emphasis on the team passing and cutting game, as it was infinitely more difficult to make a shifty move on a defender and run to the goal. Carrying around an extra five pounds of water in your shorts and jersey made things a little slower as well, giving teams with good offenses a clear advantage… as long as their sticks weren’t totally bagged out.
One could argue that if a player had played strictly box lacrosse his whole life, it’s likely they’ve played very few or no games in the rain prior. I grew up playing in some of the worst weather on earth, but that was field lacrosse and some ¾ inch screw-ins will fix that wagon.
As if the tournament crew had seen this unfortunate weather coming, new to the LCC home arena this year were some permanent steel-beam awnings plated with clear glass over half of the stands. While the weather most definitely changed some numbers on the scoreboards, the awnings made sure there was still the same atmosphere of other teams and friends and family in the stands watching all of the games.
Back to Business
That part wasn’t different. Wasn’t different at all, really. I can’t honestly think of another tournament with ZERO turnover from one year to the next. Maybe Lake Placid or Vail, but honestly to have TWENTY-ONE teams come back is pretty impressive. A betting man might wager that the results would probably be somewhat similar between last year and this year. The betting man would become broke quickly. While a few teams finished in relatively similar areas, there were also some shakeups and some pretty wild changes in placement.
We’ll get into the most surprising team finish in a minute, but first thing’s first. Not so surprisingly, the home team LCC was able to take home the championship hardware this year, and all the congratulations be to the victor. Hard fought wins over the previous two years’ champions, the Ladner Pioneers and the Alberta Warriors, were necessary to even make it to the final.
In a convincing 15-7 victory in the final, the home team was able to bring the cup back to Radotin for the first time since 2013.
Who did they play in the championship game? Was it the Green Gaels? Did one of the Czech teams make the final? Maybe a resurgence from the Boston Megamen or the Privateer boys from Nova Scotia?
None of those would be terrible bets… except that they’re wrong… so I guess they are, in fact, bad bets.
The 2017 Ales Hrebesky Memorial saw a wild ride from a team that had never finished better than fifteenth previously. While the Champion Custodes take home the glory and the hardware, the Glasgow Clydesiders are in fact the upset underdog of the tournament.
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The Ballad of the Glasgow Clydesiders
Full, clear, and honest disclaimer: This is the team I played for, and for me to write about how awesome this story is should tell you a couple things. Firstly, it’s a mild conflict of interest to say how improbable and impressive this run was. Second, and more importantly, who cares. The Glasgow Clydesiders took second place in Ales Hrebesky Memorial!
The kilted clan was a team that was originally based out of Scotland. With virtually no interest in box lacrosse in Scotland, Scottish players who dropped off of the team were replaced with friends of teammates. So we loaded up with pros, Canadians and ringers…
Well, not quite. Nobody was brought into the fold because of how good they were. Zero. It was nice if you could pass and/or catch, but we really were just looking for good people, and hopefully they could play lacrosse.
Five Case Studies
We brought on a seventeen year-old German kid. He wound up being one of our top scorers. We’ve had two other Germans for a couple years now, and it was time to add a third! If you thought that having a young kid was interesting, I should mention he wasn’t our youngest. We had a sixteen year-old Czech as one of our only right handed players on offense. At least he has box lacrosse experience, right?
How about our only player to play Division 1 lacrosse? He was studying at Durham, and we needed a body after an obnoxiously late dropout. He had been drafted by the MLL, but had never seen a minute of box lacrosse. Sure! You’re hired.
Adding on to the international coalition, we had one of the Finnish organizers of the European Box Championships play for us… he even played in a kilt when we played against his countrymen the Turku Titans!
I even got my own brother to come out. Kid’s probably seen ten whole box lacrosse games in his life, and played in no more than 5 that I can recall. It was a pretty awesome experience to have your own flesh and blood out there on the floor with you. We played together in college, couple games in Colorado, and now we’ve gotten to be Clydesiders together. It’s been a pretty cool experience, and I’ll leave it at that.
In addition to the seven nation army, we also did have Scottish representation from a couple guys. Our fearless leader has been living in Scotland for five years now and is arguably the most experiences box lacrosse mind in Scotland. We also had help from one of the Scottish National Team’s attackman for the first two days before he had to go back to university for exams.
Now I’ve thoroughly and effectively conveyed the fact that this was not the kind of team you’d really expect to find in the finals. I’ll hopefully be able to describe how this whole journey from a three seed in a group of three led to a championship game in the best tournament on Earth.
One goal at a time, a little (lot of) luck, and some serious work by our goaltender to bail us out of all the messes we put ourselves in.
We started out in a group pool that initially, we had all been pretty pissed about. We started out as a third seed team, even though our position last year should’ve put us as a second seed team. Oh well. More to laugh about now.
Our first game was against none other than the eventual champions, LCC Radotin. Right after opening ceremonies, under the lights, the entire town and every team in the tournament was in attendance to watch as the sacrificial three-seed was offered up to the home team for consumption.
We didn’t lie down, though. We were down by a score of 2-1 at half, and we really were playing tough with one of the best box lacrosse clubs in the world. Although we would eventually go down 7-2, I was pretty pleased with our performance and I felt confident with how the rest of our games would look.
Here Come the Slovaks
We had the Slovakian National Team in the morning. Big boys. Lots of meat on these bones. They play regularly together in the Czech League and as a result, these guys can play some serious box lacrosse. The implication of this game was above all others. If we won, we moved on to make the actual tournament. A loss in pool play would make us 0-2 and we wouldn’t be able to finish any higher than 17th.
It was a really close game. At full time, we had a score of 6-6, but in real sports, there needs to be a winner, and unfortunately there needs to be a loser. After three shooters each, we were still deadlocked. We were consulting who to send next, when the guy who had just gone picked his own number and sent himself again.
We kinda looked around at each other and it was unspoken and agreed: either this kid is the hero or he’s dick-of-the-week.
And he nailed it. A big stop by our goalie to follow suit put us over the Slovakian Nationals, 7-6, and on to the group of 16 we went. A quick glance at the board made it look like we would see our good buddies the Nova Scotia Privateers in the first round. I’m not joking when I say good buddies. We friggin love these guys, making it that much more fun.
Simple: Check the Czech!
However, the first (of many) monster upsets came in the form of the good ole Helan Gar (SWE) boys knocking off Tj Malesice (CZE), by a score of 8-6, in pool play. Malesice had beaten the Privateers, and the Privateers had beaten Healn Gar, so we had ourselves the only three-way tie of the tournament.
As a result, we would now be playing Malesice instead. I had never played them before, and in my mind, anytime you get to play Czech teams when you’re in the Czech Republic, that’s a bonus.
We came out hard and strong, and gave them as physical a game as we could, given the slippery conditions. As a rule, I’ve seen that the way to counter Czech offense is to really bring a lot of contact to everyone on their offense. Don’t read any further and assume that ANY dirty stuff is implied. The quickest way to lose to a Czech team is to head to the penalty box.
We gave them a good physical game, and we had a couple shooters step up and we eventually came out on top by a score of 5-3. We had kept their offense to a minimum, and allowed our offense to have some more opportunities to gel and get some goals.
Celebrating Like Kings
With this win, we had made top 8. This had been the VERY lofty goal of the tournament. To finish in the ranks of LCC, the Gaels, Turku, and Alberta was the goal, and we had already achieved it… so we celebrated like it.
We celebrated every night. This year we could justify celebrating every night because we were winning. Even when we had lost, we were celebrating the fact that we were there. It was just great to find yourself alive in Radotin with two dozen of your newest best friends. We spent the majority of our time at this absolute dump of a bar that goes by the moniker of THE Chinese Disco. It has a real name, but nobody knows what it is. It’s a hole in the wall out back of a Chinese Restaurant, and there you have it. The Chinese Disco. Even the locals in Radotin refer to it as the “Chinska Diskoteca.”
The Glasgow Clydesiders Do It Right
I won’t go on about this glorious little rat trap. It’s impossible to convey via words what this place is like. All you need to know is that you can literally do whatever you want, and know that we did quite literally whatever we wanted. Also know, that even when we were at the peak of ridiculousness, we still were racking up new fans. If the owner of a Chinese Disco show up to your games in uniform, you’re doing it right. When the entire London Knights team is watching the door to the Chinese Disco and goes nuts with football songs when you walk in the door, you’re doing it right. If the bartender at the clubhouse is wearing your uniform, you’re doing it right. The Glasgow Clydesiders do it right.
Winning has it’s perks. First off, it’s not losing, and is therefore more fun. Second, in tournaments all over the world, whoever keeps winning gets to play the later games the following day. By winning, we were getting to sleep in until we were ready to get up and face the world. In years past, you would go out until some absurd time and you’d have to play at 8:40 in the morning. When there’s only one box for the whole tournament, SOMEONE has to play the early games!
We were on to the top 8, and with that, the competition obviously was going to stiffen. The Gaels and Pioneers had to duke it out in the round of 16, with only one of the Canadian heavyweight contenders being able to move through to the round of 8. West had beaten East, and the Pioneers had gone through.
Also on that top half of the bracket was LCC (CZE), Alberta Warriors (CAN), and a very impressive Goldstar Tel-Aviv (ISR). Our half of the bracket included the Turku Titans (FIN), Jizni Mesto (CZE) and the Megamen (USA).
When I said I always look forward to playing Czech teams, I guess I got my wish. Up next, we would face Jizni Mesto. Looking at the Czech League standings, these guys are one of the better programs, with a number of players on the Czech National team. We had squeaked by Malesice, and I figured if we could do it once, we could do it again.
Seeing as I’ve already told you that we made it to the finals, you can probably deduce that we made it through once again. This was the only game we would win by more than two goals. I think we wound up taking this one home 9-3, with 8 different guys from at least four different countries getting goals. Two hidden ball tricks for goals. Heavily recommend checking it out. We had decisively won a quarter-final game. We were on cloud nine.
Did That Just Happen?
Every win had more and more people at the tournament making screwed up faces to see our team name advancing. When the idea that someone new was going to be heading to the semis, there was a nice nod of recognition that THIS is why 21 teams show up, not just five or six. Everyone has a shot, they’ve just gotta pull the trigger.
The Turku Titans wouldn’t be a team we could roll by six goals. In the conversations I was having leading up to that game, I was openly saying that we were aiming for overtime, or at best a one-goal squeaker at the end.
Finland had taken third at the Euros in GODOLLLLOOOOOO and they have my money as a podium finisher in Finland this summer for the European Box Championships. They’ve got a wall of a goaltender and a three-point trident on offense that will score in a variety of ways.
It poured. That game was an absolute blast. I won’t forget that game for a very long time. Ever, actually. Standing water. Brigades of kids with these wedge type things trying to push water out of the box, but essentially just relocating the puddles to other locations on the turf.
So we start playing, and we get the ball. Neat, just like we drew it up. We go down and play some offense. Yours truly takes a weird shot, just for the sake of trying to get a reset on the shot clock. It hit some pads, it trickled, it spun, and it rolled across the goal line. 1-0 Glasgow.
Something happens, we get the ball again, and we come down. Maybe we were on a power play? Ball comes to me. That top right looks so open, so I try my luck. I think the goalie had been baiting that top right, because that’s where he went the second I shot.
Funny thing is, I suck, and that shot went short-side and right on past him. 2-0, Clydesiders. They would come back, and we would go back out in front by a couple goals. We kept the Turku Titans to a very low score of 3 goals, and we were able to bury 5 total. Before we could clear the floor after the final buzzer, the dj put on ‘Purple Rain’. We stood there on that floor for quite a while. That was something special.
Yeah, It’s Happening
The Glasgow Clydesiders were going to the CHAMPIONSHIP GAME of the Ales Hrebesky Memorial! It took quite a while for the weight of that to really sink in, honestly. We had just gone out, played, and won a lacrosse game. The fact that a bunch of nobodies from around the world who didn’t really know each other would be going to the championship game was beyond belief. No Junior/Senior A players. No NLL experience. Our only DI player had never played box before. We were the Cinderella Story.
And then the clock struck midnight. We collectively turned into a pumpkin, and that was that. We went down 9-0 in the first period to LCC. Although we would eventually fight back to put 7 of our own on the board, we really had never played as poorly as we did in the final… in front of a thousand of our friends and the town of Radotin… on Czech national television… and on YouTube for all of our friends and family back home to see.
But we made it to the championship, and that was all there was to that one. Like I said, all props to LCC on being an amazing team full of amazing players, but the Glasgow Clydesiders making the championship was the story this year.
Because We Earned It
A stroke of luck with the schedule? Absolutely. Did the boys earn it ten times over in sweat equity? Hands down and that’s all there is to that.
I wasn’t happy that we lost. In fact, I was more unhappy with how we lost. I can honestly say that I haven’t played that poorly in a very very long time, and I can say that pretty objectively.
However, I didn’t once hang my head. While it was true that I had sucked out loud in front of an unknown number of spectators, I can say that that was me they were watching. I was out there. WE were out there. In front of all of our friends and family, we were doing what we loved. We were in a small town in the Czech Republic playing lacrosse. We were having beers and sausages with a hundred new friends this year plus the two hundred friends from years past. People from all corners of the globe, brought to a small town in a suburb outside of Prague.
It’s Weird How It Worked Out
This has been the ballad of the Glasgow Clydesiders. We weren’t the biggest or baddest – most certainly not the meanest team on the floor. Someone put up the team picture in our group chat yesterday. Looking over that roster there wasn’t a single player where I can say “oh we would’ve been sunk without him.” At the same time, if any of those faces weren’t in that photograph, I think there would’ve been a different outcome for the Glasgow Clydesiders.
Not a single person was named in this article. Zero persons by name. This wasn’t a story about me, or him, or that guy, or this guy. This was a story about a team of relatively overlooked players. Guys who didn’t make other rosters. The normal guy. The guy who just loves to play, and is willing to run his hardest and fly halfway around the world to do it, because that’s all that keeps him going – knowing that he’s going to get to play again.
The story of the Glasgow Clydesiders is our story. It’s your story. Show up, run hard, laugh twice as hard, and be a good person.
We didn’t have the best guys. We had the right guys.