Birmingham Lions

faces their biggest test

Five times Sapphire League winners are heading to new experiences. They have played 5 vs. 5 and 7 vs. 7 versions of American Football before coming to Finland. Lions head coach Jamie Kilby is excited of the challenge to play 11 vs. 11.

– The Birmingham Lions are about to embark on their biggest test. Ever!

– As 5-time national champions we have been used to having things our own way - for the last 2 years we have been playing 7 aside football pretty successfully and whilst we have dipped our toes into Europe, we’ve played just two 9 aside games as a team, but when offered the chance to play the Helsinki Roosters, we jumped at the chance because this time we were suiting up for 11s.

– One proposed game with the Roosters quickly expanded into a four-team tournament, to be played over a long weekend, but our challenge was a complicated one: install an 11 aside play book, including special teams, whilst we were preparing for our British domestic season – where we play 7s. This was always going to be a monster test for the team but it is definitely something we are very hungry for. All good fun in some ways, but this has meant a lot of learning for the players, and especially our rookies, but we are hoping to provide a good account of ourselves come Friday.

– We hold Finnish Women’s American football and the Women’s Maple League as the very best Europe has to offer and so it’s fair to say, as a club, we are setting set our sights high in looking to compete at this level, having never played a game of 11s as a team together, but that’s exciting right. We think we have the personnel to cause teams some trouble and the heart and passion to really give a good account of ourselves.

– The build up to the competition itself has been fraught with challenge as the team has been besieged with injuries, particularly throughout pre-season, but time is the ultimate healer and the Lions are now at their strongest, just in good time.

– The clash with the Roosters has been a long time coming, as a couple of years ago the Lions and the Roosters attempted to get a similar competition off the ground, in the end it was too much for us to get to 11s at that time. We are expecting tough games from all three teams; they are all hard hitting and well coached. The Roosters, 2-time national champions and finalists last year will undoubtedly be a hefty challenge but we look forward to meeting them on the field at last.

– A few years ago, I was fortunate to coach on the GB Lions women’s national team in a qualifying match against the Russian national team, and whilst Great Britain won that day, I was particularly impressed with the Russians physicality and as I understand it that team was made up largely of Valkyries players so we are expecting them be a significant handful, especially since they’ve been plying their trade in the Maple League for several years now. They are our opponents for the opening game of the tournament...nothing like being thrown in at the deep end right!

– The Saints as I believe are making their debut at 11s so we hope this will be a really good battle. Coming off their recent promotion to the Maple League means Tampere are not to be underestimated and we look forward to playing them first on Saturday.

– This competition, an unofficial European Champions League if you will, for me personally has been nearly 3 years in the making, and now that it is finally here we can’t wait get stuck in!

Jo Kilby, Club Captain and General Manager, is also looking forward to the challenge ahead.

– The team is extremely excited to be returning to Finland, this time to play 11-aside football…as the first ever BAFA women’s club side to ever undertake an 11 aside fixture this tournament represents not just a historic step forward for our team but for British women’s American Football as a whole.

– Playing 11s is an epic challenge for the team. A number of our GB internationals have played 11-aside football, but not consistently, nor regularly. The rest of our squad have been training at 7s all season on a reduced size field, so the challenge to pick up an 11s playbook and in 6 weeks’ time ready ourselves for competition against seasoned campaigners and some of the best sides in Europe, is to say the least an enormous undertaking.

– Exposure to this form of the game, against top level opposition, particularly the highly regarded Roosters, will represent an incredible learning experience for the Lions. We intend to be competitive but we will also look to enjoy every minute of this exciting, pioneering event!

BAFA Head of Women's Football Development Jim Messenger is glad to see new breaches of the borders in women’s American football in Great Britain.

– The Birmingham Lions continue to set the pace of development for women's club football in the UK. I am sure they will give a good account of themselves in Helsinki and gain a lot from the experience, and from the tournament, which will then feed in to our own development back home. Best wishes to all the teams participating in this exciting venture.