By Andre Govett
After some time to disconnect in summer, to enjoy the heat and holidays, a new season begins to take shape. For those who went on a break from our sport, it’s time to get our cleats out of the drawers, throw on some sport clothes, and get back on the (newly rectangular) pitch. For the north-western region of the Iberian Peninsula, it is no different. The traditional gunshot that marks the beginning of the season for Catalonia, the Barcelona Moustaches Time tournament, is now in the history books, but with the third edition of the Catalan League about to start, a summer of hopes turns into one more disappointment for the NGB as only three teams will compete to obtain the end-of-season bragging rights accorded to the champions.
After the Reapers, the nickname given to Catalonia’s national team, avoided a narrow no-show at Florence due to financial constraints thoroughly discussed by the Quidditch Post and the quidditch community around the world, the Associació de Quidditch de Catalunya (AQC) was hoping to pull its players for next year’s European Games from five different competing teams this season.
Catalonia’s growth has been slow but steady since the NGB’s inception at the beginning of 2015 (or since 2012, when Barcelona Eagles first began training). Team projects in Manresa (the only one that actually stuck around), Barcelona, and the Balearic Islands have appeared and failed, but there has never been a step back in the number of teams signed up to its NGB. This is the year that pattern changes: Four teams competed in last year’s Catalan League and Catalan Cup: Barcelona Eagles, Nightmare Grims, Autonoma’s Ashwinders, and Bocs Folls. During the summer, another seemingly strong project appeared in Terrassa and hopes were high within the AQC; Catalonia would have five teams for its fifth year of existence, not a bad ratio of growth for a small NGB. So what happened over the summer? And what will Catalonia’s quidditch landscape look like going forward?
What happened is bad blood: internal dissension among the Ashwinders and disagreements within the Terrassa team cut right through the hopes of Catalan growth and stalled the increase of the pool of players and NGB members.
The Terrassa team took a step back within its formation and decided it was not yet time to join the NGB as a competitive team. That decision coupled with some of their projected players joining other teams and the president/coach being ousted from his post forced Terrassa into remaining a developing team, maintaining its two weekly trainings whilst continuing to build their strategies and campaign to recruit new members. Maybe next season they will join the competitive league and cup, but not yet.
Autonoma’s Ashwinders was yet another team that suffered through the summer. Three years into its creation, the team took a hard hit within its numbers and finds itself back at square one: recruitment. It has not been an easy ride for the only Catalan university team in the NGB. One could say that the downfall began last season, when four mainstay players (including the former president and the former coach) left the team — two graduated and two went abroad for a year. During this past summer, the team was the only one within the NGB to halt its weekly training sessions; maybe that was the first sign of problems. Then, players slowly trickled away into other teams until few to none were left to confirm a roster. Yet, the team takes this situation in stride as it has decided to take a sabbatical from competition and focus on recruiting new players and train them to be ready for the 2019-20 season. So don’t give up on them — they certainly have not given up on a comeback.
With those projects slowing down, who’s left to compete? And where are the remaining teams predicted to end up?
Firstly, the Barcelona Eagles, stalwart representative of Catalan quidditch within Europe and the team everyone thinks of when they hear “I play quidditch in Catalonia.” The Eagles are one of two teams benefiting from transfers over the summer. After the departure — or retirement — of some of their best-known players between the two last seasons, Eagles were committed to taking it easy and rebuilding through home-grown talent. The recruiting campaign was certainly successful and brought a good number of rookies into the team’s ranks. But after a summer where they saw not only new players but also promising rookies from Terrassa, veterans from Ashwinders, and a couple of players from Spain and the US join the team, they are once more a contender to take both titles.
Certainly the step back in quality most of Catalonia thought Barcelona had taken has now disappeared; the question is now whether the coaching team can merge everyone (and every playing style) by the time the Catalan Cup arrives, and whether they will be able to have their team firing on all cylinders to represent Catalan quidditch once more in the new two-tiered EQC.
Secondly, we must mention the Nightmare Grims, second–oldest team in Catalonia and eternal silver medalist to the Eagles. They certainly have the player numbers to be able to face any team without running out of oxygen; they even could have created their own second team by now. Yet they cannot seem to overcome their foes and take the championship. Last season finally seemed the one where they would come in first; Eagles had had some key departures, as had Ashwinders, and new teams such as Bocs Folls do not tend to win the league or the cup on their first try. Additionally, a couple of Eagles players had transferred into their ranks — and with them supposedly their experience and know-how. Yet again they came up short of a Catalan Cup, and finished third in the regional league. And so they kept waiting.
This off-season, they have not benefited from transfers of veteran players into the club, yet their roster remains intact. Besides, no new players/playing styles means that everyone is familiar with their teammates, which should in turn mean that they will be first out of the gates and off to the races if they prove their teamwork is as polished as it was last season. Maybe this is truly, finally their season of glory.
And finally we close the article with Bocs Folls, last year’s revelation team and the other club that has benefited from off-season veteran recruitment. They certainly did the unexpected by coming up first in the Catalan League in their first season of existence.
Undeniably, the veteran leadership of players coming from Barcelona Eagles combined with the honed training of the former national team coach was one of the reasons, but this team had one of the strongest recruitment campaigns, and raw diamonds were found in the ranks of freshers. This season they won’t surprise anyone anymore, as the new transfers from Ashwinders and returning players have served to fortify the team’s rotation. They were the club expected to take over the torch from the capital’s team, and they are still a very strong candidate to do so, but their path to victory is no longer as easy as it seemed at the beginning of the summer.
So, even if Catalonia quidditch and its NGB have taken a step backwards in development — not factoring in the possibility of two Valencian teams joining the Catalan League though not the Cup — the competition among the three remaining Catalan teams grows fiercer than ever before. Balanced rosters and experienced players switching teams will only make the Catalan League and the Catalan Cup more enticing to follow. Who knows, we might be crowning a new club once the Cup — Catalonia’s qualifying tournament for the EQC — is over.