Q&A with NVL Division 3 (South) champs UK Armed Forces Men
22nd April 2021
With the excitement around volleyball’s long-awaited return building, the 2019/20 Men’s and Women’s National Volleyball League (NVL) title winners from each league are taking a trip down memory lane to reminisce on their triumphant season.
After speaking to the players, Al Burdett, Head Coach of Division 3 (South) champions UK Armed Forces Men, touches on standout achievements, club rivalries, and the team’s greatest strength in this throwback to the last full NVL season.
Tell us a bit about your club, its ambitions and history.
The UK Armed Forces team is made up of current serving members of the UK Military. To be eligible to be selected, players must be recommended by their Single Service (British Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Royal Marines). Players are widely spread all over Scotland, Wales, throughout England as well as Europe (Germany and Cyprus). Due to this, the squads only come together to train for a day before a match and, because of the nature of their primary duties, every time the squads assemble the coaching team can expect a different mix of players. The club was formed in 2017 and entered the National Cup and Shield for two seasons before entering the NVL in the 2019/20 season - the ambition being to have a sustainable team with a desire to compete at the highest level possible.
How does your team’s 2020 title win rank against your club’s other major achievements?
As a newly formed club, this was the club’s first title and, arguably, first major achievement. During the 17/18 and 18/19 seasons, both the UK Armed Forces Men’s and Ladies squads beat NVL Division 1 teams in the Cup, so we hope this is the first of many titles and trophies. The UK Armed Forces is also very proud to have had a ladies’ player, Yasmin Kaashoek, selected to represent England in the Novotel Cup in 2020. I was also a finalist in the Coach of the Year category in Volleyball England’s Annual Awards in 2020.
Aside from winning the league, tell us about some of your favourite memories from the 2019/20 season.
The highlight for the season was a weekend in November where, there were four games to play – two on Saturday and two on Sunday. Despite only having a bare six players, due to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines players being in Australia competing in the Australian Defence Volleyball Competition, and with two players making their debut, the men came away with four wins - only dropping two sets all weekend. The matches in London on the Sunday were good fun and saw some great performances. The weekend was fittingly wrapped up with NVL veteran and UK Armed Forces stalwart Phil Crawford jump serving an ace to win the last set against London Giants 25-9!
How would you describe your side’s style of play and greatest strength? Did you have a star player?
As alluded to above, the UK Armed Forces greatest strength is the depth of squad and adaptability to form successful partnerships with new and unknown players. Players regularly report for the weekends fixtures not knowing who else is going to be there and which position they will play. Most of the squad have played in at least two positions this season which demonstrates a great versatility and skill level. Within the squad there is no standout star player and each member brings a strength that is harnessed and utilised to allow success of the team.
Who was your toughest match against and what made them formidable opponents?
Despite being comprehensively beaten in the first meeting, London Giants were the toughest match and most formidable opponents. In the second meeting they had prepared well and started the match fired up and ready for a battle. Despite the UK Armed Forces winning the first set, due to the loss of a key player midway through the second set and the relentless offensive pressure, London Giants went on to control large portions of the match getting ahead in the sets early, defending as a unit, transitioning brilliantly and holding on to secure a victory.
Which club was your favourite to play against, and why?
Through the season the UK Armed Forces had many great experiences playing against lots of old and new friends and making some strong memories. One of the most enjoyable teams to play were Wiltshire Mavericks, they always raised their game and played with great sportsmanship.
If you could pick any player, past or present, to join your team, who would it be and why?
This is a difficult question to answer as each member of the squad has their own personal preference. It would have been great to have had the club formed many years ago as there have been many great volleyball players in the military over the years and it would have been good to have seen some of those fierce rivalries contested in the annual Inter Service Competition partnered up in the UK Armed Forces Squad - as they are now.
What are you most looking forward to about the NVL’s return?
The camaraderie, and social aspects of the game – allowing people with a shared interest to come together to train and compete both within our team and against our opposition. The team is also eager for the challenge of stepping up to the next level and testing the players