European Dodgeball Championships 2019 - Recap
It feels like it’s been years since the last dodgeball European Championships, and that’s because it has. It’s been three years. Horrifying.
Back in 2019, the Euros were hosted up in Newcastle, with British Dodgeball hosting for the first time, having recently replaced UKDBA as the national governing body for dodgeball within the UK. Then, three years passed without dodgeball for some inexplicable reason. And now we’re back, we’re gearing up for a fresh competition down in the Netherlands this summer.
But what went down all those years ago in an unforgettable European tournament?
Whether you’re a new player who wasn’t watching the sport back in 2019, or an older player suffering from slight memory problems as you reach retirement, you might not be aware of the context that we enter the next Euros in.
The two big powerhouses of European dodgeball are England and Austria – across the history of international level dodgeball, the two nations have passed the top spots back and forth between them like a hot potato.
In the run-up to the 2019 Euros, England had a major opportunity in front of them: Newcastle was to be fought on home turf. If there was ever a year to win the treble and come home with the gold in men’s, women’s, and mixed, this was the one for it. There was this kind of feverish excitement at the concept. Play Three Lions on repeat in the background while you read this article, and you’ll be beginning to touch the feeling in the air in the run-up to Newcastle 2019.
Taking advantage of the fact that it was easier than usual to sort player transportation, England brought a huge number of players for their squads in Newcastle, including a number of promising academy players. This gave them a great depth of talent to draw from, but also meant they owed it to their players to give a little playing time to almost everyone, which meant more switches on court. It was that classic trade-off: fresher players on court, but who haven’t necessarily warmed up into the game.
Austria by comparison brought a familiar squad. The club-level scene in Austria is distinctly smaller than the English league system – it was back then, and the gap has, if anything, increased in recent years. Which isn’t to say that this is necessarily an advantage for either side. More clubs mean more players to select from, theoretically generating a greater squad depth. A smaller club scene means the players know each other incredibly well and develop that kind of inter-player intuition and silent communication that can absolutely make or break a match during high-pressure moments. Who needs hundreds and hundreds of players to choose from, when all you need is twenty incredible ones?
You can view all the semi-final games here: Dodgeball European Championships 2019 - Livestream Day 3 (Quarter/Semi Finals) - YouTube
These were the best matches I’ve ever seen in person, not just for the quality of play but for the audience energy. We have to talk about the England Vs N. Ireland men's semi-final. Yes, this was an event happening in England, so yes, most of the non-player spectators were there to support the English. But you would not have been able to tell that over the cacophony of chants for Northern Ireland coming from every single other international player in the room. Everyone loves an underdog, and though Northern Ireland presented an incredibly strong squad, make no mistake, England was the favourite going into these.
Looking back on the matches, Northern Ireland came out of the gates swinging, while England seemed subdued at the start. Maybe they underestimated the Irish, or maybe they were struggling to find their footing quick enough with the little playing time each player got. Maybe they were already thinking ahead to the finals, briefly forgetting that they had to qualify first. But Northern Ireland had fight in them, and in spades at that. By the time England started to match them on court, it was too late, and the Northern Irish were too far gone.
Northern Ireland beating England in the semi-finals meant that, of course, the hopes for an England treble were dashed before they even reached the final hurdle. But not so for the Austrians, who had managed to secure three spots in the finals the chance for a treble was on.
After three days of intense matches, it came down to the finals: in the women’s, England Vs Austria, predictable; but in the men’s and mixed, it was a double bill of Northern Ireland Vs Austria.
Maybe it shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise: Northern Ireland, like Austria, have a small club scene, but fiercely competitive. They brought a team of players who knew each other incredibly well, and it showed in their performances right through the competition.
Women’s finals: England v Austria
The match started with two nail-biting draws, but soon the tides began to turn a distinct shade of red, with Austria taking an early lead. England swung out of the gates with an aggressive tactic that wasn’t working for them and only gave the Austrians possession over and over again. The English line-up was a familiar series of great catchers, but their attempts only seemed to be getting them hit out in this match – going for quick risk over slow reward. In dodgeball, sometimes the best option is to dodge the ball, and the Austrians won set after set by simply staying alive, and waiting for that possession. By halftime, Austria had taken a solid 7-3 lead. And if the problems for England in the first half had been caused by too many risks taken, the pressure of having to make a comeback only exacerbated the problem. They started to find their form near the end of the second half, but it was too little, too late. A tough match, with fantastic plays on either side, but ultimately this match was won by the Austrian’s mental game right from the start.
Final score: Austria 14-8 England
Mixed finals: Northern Ireland v Austria
Austria went up nice and early here, winning the first two sets almost too comfortably – just like in the women’s game, their dodging was impeccable, making them seemingly untouchable. But two sets in and the Northern Irish adapted their tactics accordingly, getting the Austrians out on a system of delayed throws. But by halftime, thanks to some incredibly close sets that came down to the whistle, it was already 8-2 to Austria. The pressure of a second-half comeback seemed to get to them however: more danger, more mistakes, and again, the ice-cool Austrians just sat there and waited, defending, staying alive. Northern Ireland managed to pull back a couple sets but again, it was too late. The Austrian tactics had won them yet another final. Two down, one to go.
Final score: Austria 15-7 N. Ireland
Men’s finals: Northern Ireland v Austria
Hot on the heels of the mixed final, with many players competing in both events, this was going to be a bit of an endurance test. But from the way the men were playing, you’d have no idea that it was the final match after four gruelling days of dodgeball. This was a classic men’s dodgeball game, coming down to rapid singles and quick counters, complete chaos in the centerfield from both teams. Austria went up quickly, but then Northern Ireland responded; then Austria responded; then Northern Ireland responded; constantly on each other’s tails, with Northern Ireland always just a little out of reach, never quite taking the lead. 6-4 to Austria at halftime, the closest of any of the finals at that point. The second half was much the same story, but when it came down to the final minute thirty of the game, Northern Ireland had just lost a set and given Austria a three set lead. Too far to catch up – just. Incredibly close the whole way through.
Final score: Austria 14-8 N. Ireland
After the European Dodgeball Championships
After the disappointment of Euros, England went on to play at the WDA World Cup hosted in New York, where they yet again just fell short of securing a treble, this time taking first place in women’s and mixed but coming away with silver in the men’s category.
This was to be the last World Cup that England and Austria took part in, as the event has now been replaced by the World Championships, a different event run by a different organization with a subtly different name. See, Euros aren’t just a moment for national teams to come together and duke it out on court. It’s also a valuable moment for governing bodies from all across Europe to sit down and discuss what changes they’d like to see, particularly within the actions of the European Dodgeball Federation (EDF).
Over the course of the 2019 Euros, a vote was taken by EDF members to change from the WDA to the WDBF as our global organization. This meant that the WDA World Cup, historically the cloth dodgeball world cup, would no longer be attended by EDF countries, as they entered under the WDBF World Championships instead – historically a foam competition, but now would turn into a hybrid competition. To read more about the history leading up to this moment and an explanation of what it means for the sport, check out our summary of the History of Dodgeball (so far).
This hybrid concept was then tested out at the Atlantic Cup, an invitational competition between England, Austria, the USA and Canada – two cloth powerhouses, two foam powerhouses. The Atlantic Cup, also hosted in England, was a success, and it was determined that the next World Championship would indeed be a hybrid event.
What to expect at Euros 2022 Netherland
So England is the underdog this time; Austria is the defender; and Northern Ireland is back with a taste for gold. And while three years is a long time, and a lot could have changed… has it? We’ve been locked indoors for most of it, unable to play the sport for huge swathes. Team announcements have been quite sparse across most competing nations, so we don’t know the Austrian squad for example (or Northern Ireland); and some other nations, including England and Wales, have only announced their training squads, rather than their competing squads.
There will likely be a handful of highly senior players missing on either side, as players took the opportunity of the three-year mandatory break to retire from the sport. In the case of England, some players will have retired from the English team to focus fully on preparing for Team GB at World Champs at the end of the summer. Tactics will have changed slightly – if there’s one thing we’ve had time to do lately, it’s review footage and try to come up with new techniques to win. And the Netherlands is neutral ground. No home advantage this time.
This next Euros might well be the perfect storm needed for a shock winner: someone that isn’t Austria, isn’t England, for once. With different countries having had wildly different amounts of training time during the pandemic and in the months since it “ended”, it’s anybody’s guess who’s going to make it to the knockout rounds, never mind the finals. It might be more chaotic, with more upsets, as teams try to find their footing after so far away from the court.
Maybe the era of trebles is over. Maybe it’s time for a new dodgeball champion. Only time will tell.
Let us know who you think will win?