From B-Tour to Worlds: The Glasgow Ultimate Story Part I


Part I: Origins

Written by Shaun Webb.

When we started this team I thought it would be my retirement plan. I didn’t think that 5 years down the line, soon to be 37, I’d be training harder than ever and preparing for a world championship.

I titled this mini series “The Glasgow Ultimate Story” for dramatic effect. Actually, it’s just my story, one of many that makes up our club and our team, but I feel I have a good perspective to describe the passage from inception to our current form. Yes it’s laced with nostalgia, self proclaimed wisdom and hazy memories but maybe you’ll get a mention or even find it informative or entertaining.  

2010 was a big year for Ultimate in Glasgow with a wealth of burgeoning talent beginning to emerge from the shadow of Edinburgh’s well established club scene. Our pool of local players were developing beyond the university level and starting to experience success playing with a number of teams under several different guises. Glasgow was BIG on indoors. Farflung won university indoor mixed nationals, NBD medalled in women’s club indoors and Discmen went on their infamous undefeated run. Outdoors, we put together a mixed team (representing the proud nation of Sealand) which garnered minor success, creeping our way up the UK Tour rankings and bursting into the top 8 on a few occasions. But the real focus for the top players at that time were the Scottish open and women’s club teams, Fusion and Swift, both based on the other side of the M8.

NBD (top left), Discmen (bottom right) and the official Ultimate team of The Principality of Sealand.

At this point I was into my 6th season at Fusion having joined in 2005 when the club opened their doors to an earlier group of rising Glaswegian talent in order to form a competitive squad for the European Championships in Germany. I had managed to resist the draw of playing a lot of club ultimate thus far, I had other friends, a girlfriend, uni exams and it all seemed a little time consuming and expensive. But I distinctly remember changing my mind when I saw Fusion play at a Tour event in Edinburgh. They were energetic, passionate, athletic and genuinely excited as they competed against the top teams in the UK. My brother Phil was on the team as well as our ex university captain Jon Leach and it didn’t take much persuasion when they asked me to join the squad the following season. For the next six years we competed at the top of the UK Open Tour and consistently finished in the top 10 at European events. Derryk Boyd, another ex Farflung compatriot was also a Fusion stalwart and every season a group of us would regularly travel across to Edinburgh 2 or 3 times a week to make training.

Fusion at Euros 2009. Derryk Boyd (top row, 2nd from right), Phil Webb (bottom row, 2nd from left), Shaun Webb (bottom row, 5th from left).

Towards the end of 2010 Phil, Derryk and I started bouncing around the idea of Glasgow Ultimate. We wanted to create a club based in Glasgow with a sense of identity and a focus on development for local players. It was becoming more and more difficult for new players to break into the Fusion squad and other playing options were limited outside of university. We saw plenty of promising graduates drop the sport altogether when they no longer had a team to regularly train with. The idea was to have everyone compete under the same banner for all events, build some team unity and save on kit costs in the process. We would also take responsibility for our local scene by running pick up, getting more involved with the uni clubs, setting up tournaments and leagues, and generally organising and overseeing all things Ultimate in the city.

Contemplating the future of Glasgow Ultimate. Shaun Webb, Conor (Dirt) Docherty and Derryk Boyd.

So we set up an AGM, brought together all the movers and shakers and put together a plan to form a club. To be honest most of the discussion revolved around the name and the kit design. We came pretty close to having a giant blood stained midge as our logo and at one point it looked like our new team might be called Raptor Attack. The bores prevailed though and we stuck with the name Glasgow Ultimate, semi inspired by a similar movement in Brighton whose model we were attempting to emulate. It made sense for our long term vision as well, where GU would be more of an umbrella organisation with several teams existing within.

The original entries to the club logo competition (winner top left).

At that point Phil, Derryk and I weren’t ready to give up Fusion. We were still playing semi finals at Tour, finishing high at Euros and in 2010 we had formed a hybrid team with Emo (Emosion) to go the World Club Championships in Prague. So for the next two seasons we played indoors as GU, a couple of beach tournaments, attended a few of the Mixed Tours and played a lot of local Ultimate; but our competitive focus was still competing and training with Fusion.

Our first outdoor game as GU vs Dundee uni in 2011. Still a traditional pre-season fixture today.

However, those final 2 years with Fusion didn’t exactly go to plan. We had a poor showing at Euros in 2011 and failed to qualify in 2012. Training shifted to monthly sessions and it felt more like a good pick up team than the cohesive, driven squad of previous seasons. My personal priorities changed as well; my son Noah was born in 2011 and my time became more limited. I wanted to spend less time and money travelling to train and play and instead focus on building up a local scene. I was still playing football regularly; being able to play and train in Glasgow and only use a couple of hours of my weekend for competitive sport was an ideal situation and this helped to shape our long term vision for an Ultimate community. For me, a decisive moment came when I was demoted to Fusion 2 having missed a few training sessions due to family commitments. I ended up playing in the C-Tour and although I had a fun weekend getting lots of blocks and leading the youths it wasn’t really where I wanted to be. I will make a bold claim however that I’m the only player to have featured in A, B, C and Mixed Tour finals. I’d be interested to know if there’s anyone else out there, I only wish I’d won more of them. I committed to training for Nationals that year but I was already pretty certain that it would be my last with Fusion. It was a fairly tragic end as we came within a point of defeating Chevron to make semis and then lost the game to go against Emo.

GU at CUBE 2011 – Noah’s first tournament

By the time Autumn rolled around I was looking forward to another fun season of indoors and my only outdoor plans were to try to set up a proper summer league and join in some local friendlies. That year we decided to host trials for our indoor team to try to win the Scottish regional event and possibly push on to Nationals. The bulk of the Discmen were there as well as some promising university players and a few experienced newcomers to Glasgow. It was a high quality session with around 15 guys. At the end we looked around and thought, hold on, we’ve got an outdoor team here. That was a defining moment in the inception of Glasgow Ultimate as a competitive team. It also aligned well with our AGM and within a few weeks we had organised trials, put together a schedule for the year ahead and even ordered a new green kit.

The updated and current club branding.

Phil and I took charge of the team as captains, it wasn’t our first attempt at running an open squad in Glasgow. We had trialled a dry run of this experiment in 2008, along with Derryk, when we formed a Glasgow based branch of Fusion, titled Fusion West, for the Tour season. We had a similar aim, to get local players involved in high quality Ultimate, but we had the failsafe of being able to return to the Fusion squad for Nationals/Euros. We did pretty well, working our way up from B-Tour to a season high 11th at A-Tour over just a few tournaments. Derryk had since emigrated to Canada but Phil and I were pretty confident we could replicate this in our first year with GU and set ourselves the goal of finishing the season in the A-tour.

Fusion West, the Glasgow Ultimate prototype.

We put a lot of effort into training and developing talent. Fitness was a big part of it, we started early in pre-season and by the time we showed up to Siege of Limerick (where we finished 6th) in March it was clear that we had a head start on all the other teams. Phil and I also put an emphasis on knowledge transfer, trying to pass on what we’d learned so far and documenting all of our training sessions, plays, and conditioning regimes. We spent several late nights going over systems and strategies and many of those early training sessions were focussed on teaching rather than drilling. We were adamant about forming a team around a set of principles rather than a prescribed set of plays. We wanted to breed smart, skilful, adaptable players that would grow and develop out with the confines of an individual season. We used an offense that constantly cycled players through handler and cutting positions to give everyone opportunities to play each position and gain that experience. We had seen too many uni players run deep for 4 years and only learn how to throw a dump pass and we knew that wasn’t going to work for us long term. It was also key to getting buy in from the rest of the squad, making sure everyone was involved and playing a fun style of ultimate, rather than being extras in a Phil and Shaun show. We didn’t want to be a team of overachievers based on the ability of a few individuals, we were building a squad for the future. Our second outing was a one day tournament in Liverpool (Not The Grand National) where we got a chance to drill our plays and systems and learned a thing or two about fighting hard and grinding out results. We managed to defeat all the local clubs but lost heavily to a pick up team in the final, many of whom were rumoured to be playing with a new Manchester based club team.

Preseason training and outings to Liverpool and Limerick.

Tour 1 was the primary focus for us, London Calling was going to be a huge tournament with teams coming from all around Europe and it sat nicely in the period between the end of exams and students disappearing for the summer. We had recruited well and managed to draft in a few out of towners thanks to our connections with St Andrews and Dundee, which meant we were able to field a first and second team. The firsts were seeded towards the bottom of the B-Tour and although we had eyes on promotion we had a very tough pool in front of us. As fate would have it, we faced up against Fusion in our very first game. Their squad was barely recognisable from the previous season (many of the Fusion regulars were now focussing on mixed with Black Eagles) but full of talented youngsters. We couldn’t have been more hyped for this game and we managed to take an early lead and maintain it to the end. It was a big result for our untested team, many of whom were playing their first ever Tour event. My memory of the game is that we were just a bit more organised and in sync, no doubt down to the preparation we had put in over the last 5 months. We moved on confidently to face the top seed in our pool. Zimmer were favourites to win the B-Tour, a newly formed masters squad comprised of the previous generation of Clapham, Chevron and GB open players, preparing for a World’s club event. We came out fighting, did the hard work with our legs and played an aggressive deep game which they struggled to keep up with. We won in sudden death in the end. Phil and I had spent years losing to many of these guys and it was great to get a bit of revenge but also to receive praise from a bunch of players we really respected. Our final group game was against Emo 2 which we won pretty comfortably, I don’t remember the exact score just the emotion and pride at having topped our group at the end of day one.

The Tour 1 team, our first big tournament.

I sometimes wonder where we would be now if that day hadn’t gone so well, if we had ended up languishing in the B-Tour for a few seasons. The experience gained on that first day of Tour was invaluable and whet everyone’s appetites for more success. We were perhaps a little over confident going into our quarter final on day 2 and went down early to another new team on the block, Reading Ultimate. We made several mistakes in a bit of wind and underestimated their deep throwers even though our team were more athletic. Eventually we clicked and dragged it back in the second half to take a 15-10 win. We were facing Manchester next up in the semi final and I must admit that I was convinced our run was about to come to an end. Many of their players had thrashed us earlier pre-season, in addition they had a few ex Chevy players and a large squad of athletic looking guys. I watched them warm up next our team and remember thinking “we’re in for a doing here”. The first point of the game did little to dissuade my thoughts as we succumbed to the immense pressure they applied with man to man defense, then got ripped apart by an upwind huck to the endzone from a split-stack formation that we had no idea how to defend. I half expected our team to crumble, to lie down in the foetal position and start weeping. But our response was immaculate and defiant, each and every one of us rose to the challenge. Rory Curran delivered his own killer throws, Neil Henderson puffed out his chest and shredded through the Manchester zone, Harry Glasspool announced himself as the fastest man on the field, Jonny Ferry got off his feet to get blocks and Tim Kelman ruled in all corners of the endzone. They all taught me a lesson, to never doubt my team, to believe we can win in any situation and that we belonged at this level, fighting for a place in the elite division. From 8-5 down at half we went on a big D-roll to get back in contention. The game got scrappy in the end with quite a few contested calls but we remained the calmer of the two teams and came away with a sudden death win, a place in the final and automatic qualification for A-Tour! It was the start of a long standing rivalry with Manchester and a game that instilled belief in our team and defined our battling characteristics.

The final was a rematch against Zimmer and we started by going 3-0 down, partly punch drunk from the previous bout. They obviously put thought into this game and managed to curtail our offense with some wily defense and clever deep poaching. With our long game hampered we ended up having to make a lot of passes which eventually led to execution errors. Determined, we clung on to take the game to 13-13, but the mistakes continued and fatigued legs failed us on defense. Zimmer took victory but our sense of achievement remained in tact. We had earned one of the qualification spots, beaten some big names and played some mouth watering Ultimate in the process. Our seconds had also performed admirably getting some good wins further down the bracket. There aren’t many Frisbee weekends that I can remember in such detail, this was definitely one of the best.

The Tour 2 & 3 teams.

Phil and I were overseas for my wedding during Tour 2 but we spent that weekend poolside with phones in close proximity waiting for score updates. Some of the second team players had made the leap to the firsts and we also included a few new additions. It felt a bit odd not being with the team for their first foray into the big time and a bit scary leaving someone else in charge.  But they held their own, played some tight games and managed to avoid relegation by clinching 14th place. We returned for T3 in Cardiff and came close to earning a top 8 crossover but lost out in a three way tie. We eventually wound up back in 14th but once again held our own in the A-Tour and importantly managed to survive a season in the top division.

We hosted Scottish regionals that year at our new home at Hillhead Sports Club where we took on Fusion in the final. It was a well spirited game but again we were well prepared and a little too strong for them physically and strategically. I think our opponents took note that day that if they wanted to challenge us in future they’d need to get themselves organised.

First and second teams at Scottish Championships 2013.


Glasgow vs Fusion 2013 Scottish Championship Final

At Nationals we started with a comfortable win against Reading but suffered a lethargic loss to a Ltd. Release team that we probably should have beaten. That game effectively locked us out of the top 12 and we went on to comfortably take 13th. Our squad was a little depleted at the back end of the season due to finances, injuries and the summer student exodus. We had struggled to find numbers for training and this was reflected in our performances. It was a sad end to a brilliant breakthrough season but another valuable lesson learned. After all, that’s what this year had all been about, setting foundations, gaining experience and educating ourselves for the seasons ahead.  

Coming Soon:

PART 2 – The difficult second season, the rise and fall of NEO and the girls get in on the action!



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