If the Chimeras arrived at Whiteknights with something to prove, that was nothing compared to the weight of expectation placed upon them at the BQC. Not only were they being called upon to earn their unofficial title as the top UK team, but they were to do so on their home turf, hosting Quidditch teams from across the British Isles. Opening the games, all eyes were on the Chimeras right from the first ‘Brooms Up!’ to see if they could hold their mettle at a tournament where they were clear and uncontested favourites, and to see if they could prove able to conquer a sixteen-team tournament as easily as a four- or five-team affair. That the Chimeras had their eyes on the top of the podium is of course the truth, but it goes without saying that, favourites or not, the trophy seems a long way away with your knees down in the first game of the tournament.
Group Game 1: Radcliffe Chimeras 130 – 50* Nottingham Nargles
The opening match of the BQC was to be a bittersweet affair: hosts the Radcliffe Chimeras taking on the team they had nurtured and coaxed into IQA Quidditch from a local variant, the Nottingham Nargles. With ties of friendship, and even romance, running cross-pitch, all sentimentality had to put aside as the game began. The Chimeras found themselves with little time to get into their stride, with fearsome beating from Nottingham captain Lucy Barrington and the intimidating presence of keeper Adam Jasko putting severe pressure on the hosts from the word go.
The Chimeras, true to form, opened the scoring, but were only twenty points ahead before they saw ten pulled back, and it took the best part of a quarter of an hour for them to really start to look like they were on-track to win the game. This was not, as everyone saw, an easy game for the Chimeras, and although a Nargles snitch-catch did end the game for an Oxford victory, the game could not prevent murmurings that perhaps the pre-tournament favourites were not destined for the trophy after all.
Group Game 2: Radcliffe Chimeras 150 – 30* Derby Union Quidditch Club
In the wake of a shake-up against Nottingham, the Chimeras next faced what was expected to be an easier match in DUQC. Although their orange-clad opponents boasted the likes of Bangor veteran Emily Oughtibridge and Team UK veteran Matt Guenzel, they unfortunately lacked the squad-depth to really push the Chimeras, with exhaustion quickly setting in as substitution opportunities were rare. Nevertheless, even with such an obvious point in their favour the Chimeras failed to exert their trademark dominance on the game, and whilst they left the pitch satisfied with both result and scoreline, players knew that the team that had been out for the past two matches was not the resurgent force which had dismantled Bangor in the final of Whiteknights, nor dominated friendlies over the past months. Could they, indeed, fail to be the team with the calibre to take home the BQC?
Group Game 3: Radcliffe Chimeras 100 – 50* The Unspeakables
On their last game of Day 1, the Chimeras faced an Unspeakables team who knew that they needed victory in order to avoid going back to London without qualifying for Day 2. Against a purple-clad battalion, roused to a Quidditch frenzy by a team-talk from talisman Rob Barringer which has since become a thing of legend, the Chimeras lined up to attempt to secure a repeat of the friendly victories they had won against London in the summer. The game was not an easy one, with the Unspeakables playing a strong game and showing little fear in meeting the Chimeras’ tackles and bodily drives.
The Chimeras once again managed to extend themselves into a lead which was eventually comfortable, but the game was not an easy one and the Unspeakables snitch-catch proved once again that OUQC’s top team were far from infallible.
Quarter-Final: Radcliffe Chimeras 140* – 0 Leeds Griffins
For the Chimeras, at least, Day 2 arguably felt like there was more to prove than ever before. In their quarter-final opponents the Leeds Griffins, the Chimeras faced a team full of players they were familiar with, but had never actually faced before. Lead by towering chaser Travis Manuel, the Griffins were a team the Chimeras had a healthy unease about facing, and nerves ran around the team-huddle that captain Ash Cooper assembled. In typical brusque fashion, the blond northerner reminded his team of the desire they all had for the trophy, and urged them to roar defiance at every hoop scored to make everyone realize that the Chimeras wanted that victory.
It would not be unfair to say that the Chimeras which started the game against Leeds were not the same team who had left it against the Unspeakables. It took mere seconds for the Oxford team to settle into form, with ferocious beater aggression from Matty Murrell and Angus Barry combining with the blue-haired behemoth of keeper Luke Twist to devastate the Griffins’ defence. Although Leeds did not give up on attempting to work their way inside and around the Oxford defence, the Chimeras were adamant that they were not going to give an inch, and succeeded in keeping their opponents out until Twist, swapping the green headband for the yellow, took the Chimeras’ first snitch of the BQC to complete a sound thrashing and propel the favourites into the semi-finals.
Semi-Final: Radcliffe Chimeras 110* – 0 Southampton Pirates
Grudge-match. Vengeance. Retribution. These were the things rushing through Chimera minds as they saw white and red across the pitch from them in the semi-finals. The Southampton Pirates had mercilessly hurled the Oxford Quidlings out of the competition in the previous round, and so it was only fitting that the Chimeras rose with a rising cry of “For the Quidlings!” to take the fight to the southerners. This was a vastly improved Southampton line-up from the team the Chimeras had twice defeated in June, with beater Jordan Styles and keeper Ollie Craig presenting a huge defensive obstacle, and the tireless Dugald Young an ever-present threat to the Oxford defence.
Against this, the Chimeras threw their one-man, all-muscle, human battering ram, the unbendable, unbreakable ‘Bonecruncher’ John Martin. Keeper Martin lead an aggressive game against the Pirates’ defence, whilst a masterful display of defensive beating from Enrica Biasi single-handedly kept out the inevitable counter-attacks, allowing the Chimeras to sneak to a thirty or forty-point advantage whilst keeping Southampton scoreless. Then, sadly, an injury to Southampton keeper Craig proved just how pivotal he was to the team’s defence. Without his formidable tackles and commanding defensive presence, the Chimeras were able to quickly establish a lead from which their opponents were unlikely to recover, and once again were able to end the game without conceding, despite several individual displays of dogged valiance from Dugald. The Radcliffe Chimeras would progress to the final, to play Avada Keeledavra who had overcome the Chimeras’ beloved rivals the Bangor Broken Broomsticks in the semi-finals.
Final: Radcliffe Chimeras 110 – 60* Avada Keeledavra
The final, when it came, had an odd sense of inevitability to it. The Chimeras, hosts, favourites, the team widely-regarded as the UK’s best, defending that claim against Keele, the team from whom they had stripped it in Edinburgh. Keele’s lineup was impressive: experienced beaters in Connor Simpson and Rebecca McLaughlin, fast, lithe chasers in James McCarthy, Ollie Hymers and Jordan Beresford, and a seeker in Wadii Harul who had burst onto the scene in the early stages of the tournament to establish himself as an absurdly reliable snatcher of snitches. The Chimeras, once again, opted for an aggressive start, with Matty Murrell and Angus Barry wearing black headbands, and Luke Twist donning the green to allow John Martin, usually a keeper himself, to spearhead the assault as a chaser. Within the first minute, a titanic clash between Martin and Keele’s imposing keeper Alex Greenhalgh saw the latter felled and a hoop in the Chimeras’ favour. Few dared to breathe the phrase “exactly as planned”, but the hosts sought to repeat their strategy of formidable aggression, working up an unchaseable lead before settling into their usual defensive play to secure it.
As Martin and Twist returned to alternating their pitch presence, the Chimeras worked on building up a midfield chaser dominance, reliant on fast, tenacious players like Charis Horn and Elisabeth Jorstad to fight for every loose ball and throw tackle after tackle. Captain Ash Cooper lead from the fore, running deep into the Keele defences time and again whilst being ever-present in the defence to prevent any ground being lost. Keele were a skilled opposition, however, and the Chimeras could not produce a third clean sheet of the day, with their opponents thrice working their way past the tackles and bludgers to pull points back for Avada Keeledavra. Nevertheless, the Chimeras succeeded in ensuring they were always in the driving seat, and even the prodigious talent of Wadji Harul could not turn the game into Keele’s favour. With time elapsing, players tiring, and the Chimeras seeming more and more in control, Keele elected to end the game on their own terms, nevertheless leaving a scoreline that showed the Chimeras to be firm winners.
Victory: New Heights for the Chimeras!
As the light faded around the awards ceremony, the gold medal clad Chimeras were perhaps justified in feeling more than a little proud of themselves. Not only had they justified their status as favourites in winning the inaugural British Quidditch Cup, but they had turned around what had seemed to be an uncertain mindset from Day 1 into a series of Day 2 performances which were at the top of their game. The visible transformation in the team’s own drive and enthusiasm was as much of a prize to the Chimeras as winning the tournament itself, and they could only believe that anything was possible from here. The privilege of hosting, the enjoyment of meeting so many other Quidditchers, and the honour of winning had made the BQC a truly wonderful weekend for everyone in blue and silver, and the UK Champions could only turn their ambitions to Europe, and perhaps even beyond…