It seems to be the Chimera’s lot to never be satisfied. Winning the first ever tournaments in the UK, they set their sights on the first British Quidditch Cup. With a victory there, visions of conquest turned towards the continent. The announcement of the European Regional Championship, which was to be both a regional qualifier for the seventh World Cup and a prestigious competition in its own right, took OUQC by surprise, but there was never any doubt that the British Champions would seek to make their mark, and the mark of all UK Quidditch, on the rest of Europe.
Setting off into the unknown, with only scant video footage of a few teams to inform them of their adversaries, and with what had become a rare feeling of being comparatively unknown and with limited expectations of them, the Chimeras endured a hellish journey, wracked by delays, sea-sickness, and exhaustion to reach Parc du Woluwe and extend their grasp towards a title that many were apprehensive to see if they could claim.
Group Game 1: Paris Phenix 30 – 80* Radcliffe Chimeras
True to form, the Chimeras could never have it easy. The group draw, broadcast to the teams the previous weekend, had seen the British Champions drawn with both the European Champions and runners-up in a bona fide “group of death”. Thus, in the second set of matches on the first day of the tournament, the Radcliffe Chimeras exhibited themselves to Europe against the inaugural European champions, Paris Phenix. Wary of the slow starts they had made in all of their tournaments to date, the Chimeras were careful to respect their lauded opposition, and settled quickly into their trademark defensive playing style. The Phenix squad, notable for their exceptional chasers, moved the ball swiftly around the pitch as they came at the English team, making the interceptions and steals to which the Chimeras were used to very difficult. Nevertheless, their ironclad defence held strong, and as their more experienced beaters exerted dominance the Oxford team punished their opponents on the counter-attack, pulling gradually up to a fifty point lead.
The Parisians, however, were not deterred. A lapse in concentration and a loss of bludger control saw thirty points pegged back in quick succession, and whilst the European Champions’ nerve was clearly holding, the Chimeras began to look rattled. A carefully-chosen series of substitutions saw defensive players in the vein of beater Rix Dishington and captain-chaser Ash Cooper take their places at the heart of the defence, and the Chimeras were able to stem the Phenix recovery. Yet a twenty point lead was not a secure one, and as two whistle-blasts signalled to the teams that the snitch had been caught off-pitch, everyone held their breath. To the Chimeras’ relief, it was their own Angus Barry who held the yellow ball, and although they had much to work on, they could go on in the knowledge that they had beaten one of the strongest teams they would face in Brussels.
Group Game 2: Paris Frog 70* – 40 Radcliffe Chimeras
Paris Phenix may have been the title holders, but only a close game had separated them in 2013 from their fierce local rivals, Paris Frog. After a short break, the Chimeras had the second of these two to take on; a team with a reputation for intense competitiveness and a physically formidable line-up. Blue-haired Chimeras keeper Luke Twist, normally standing head and shoulders above the players on a pitch, was overshadowed by the many gigantic Frog chasers with whom Oxford had now to contend. Team strategists had determined that an aggressive beater momentum was the only means of unlocking a defence of pure muscle, and so a fast contingent of chasers spearheaded by Jan Mikolajczak took to the field with offensive bludger support from Angus Barry and Steffan Danino.
The Chimeras nevertheless found the Frog defence unwilling to give, and struggled to keep out the French onslaught as they quickly conceded two hoops to their opponents. Put in the unfamiliar position of being on the back foot on-pitch, the Chimeras elected to try to play on Frog’s terms, swapping speed and aggression for strength and solidarity. Their recovery was hard-won, and although the score settled at twenty-all, Frog again pulled ahead before the Chimeras were able to level. As the snitch returned to the pitch, the beleaguered Chimera defence was torn between resisting the chasers and protecting the snitch. A moment of indecision led to a hoop which left the score forty-thirty in Frog’s favour, and although the Chimeras fought back with every ounce of determination, Frog were resolutely unwilling to give. At the last, a heroic push saw the momentum swing back towards Oxford with another leveller, but the game was beyond either team’s capacity to win with the quaffle and, with the Chimeras missing their more experienced seekers, it was Frog who took the catch, and the win, to leave the Chimeras tired, battered, and feeling the effects of undoubtedly the most difficult game of their lives so far.
Group Game 3: Lille Black Snitches 40* – 150 Radcliffe Chimeras
Frog represented the Chimeras’ second defeat, and it was different to their first in two crucial ways. Bangor’s Broken Broomsticks, who had inflicted their first defeat at Whiteknights, were a team whom the Chimeras had previously defeated, which meant the loss, whilst demoralizing, had no sense of inevitability to it. Not only that, but it was a growth of complacency after establishing a solid lead which had allowed a few swift hoops and a snitch-grab to snatch victory out of the Chimeras’ grasp against the Welsh team. Frog were the first team against whom Oxford’s finest had not been able to work out any sort of on-pitch control, and the first team who had really established a lead over them, albeit a small one. In Frog, murmurs began to surface that the Chimeras had found a team they simply were not good enough to beat. To those who knew the Chimeras’ history, not least the Chimeras themselves, the real question at hand was how this team, so accustomed to being in control, would react to such a defeat. The Chimera had been challenged, it had been stunned, and it had been threatened with subdual. Would it cower and capitulate?
Never. Disappointing though defeat was, the Chimeras responded with poise and dignity As the team went into its third match against the Lille Black Snitches, widely seen as the group’s underdogs, it was all about proving a point. The Radcliffe Chimeras were still a team to be feared. Lacking in the physicality of the English team and with only one substitute after their seeker succumbed to a recurring injury, Lille’s valiance and determination could only do them credit, but they were simply outmatched. Power-players Luke Twist and Ash Cooper ran in hoop after hoop, and ensured that the Chimeras ended day one on an emphatic high, only bolstered by the return to the pitch of chaser Priya Shah, who had been subdued since Whiteknights with a lingering knee injury.
Round of Sixteen: Lille Black Snitches 50* – 80 Radcliffe Chimeras
As the first day of the competition drew to a close, the rankings from the group stages were formally announced, allowing teams to see who they would face in the elimination bracket on day two. The Chimeras had placed fifth – somewhat disappointing, but they knew it to be the result of a difficult group, and it still gave them a very realistic chance of fighting their way to the final. Their placing meant that their first opponents on day two were to be the twelfth seed, their last opponents, Lille’s Black Snitches. The Black Snitches were down yet another player since the day before, leaving them only able to manage six. Wanting to keep the match a fair contest, the Chimeras elected to also forfeit one of their chasers.
Lille, once again, fought tooth-and-nail to get past the Chimera defence, and although they continued to struggle against the larger, stronger, and more capable Chimeras, they succeeded in stealing two hoops as their opponents scored seven. With the Chimeras fifty points ahead, an able display of defensive beating from James Burnett and Rix Dishington dismantled an all-out Black Snitches attack, and put the quaffle in the hands of Ash Cooper. As he broke down the pitch, Lille’s Laura Desquiens shot to the defence, and flung herself between the Chimeras captain and the hoop. As the quaffle passed through, Desquiens was knocked against the hoop itself, and play was quickly drawn to a halt as Black Snitches and Chimeras alike rushed to ensure she was okay. It later transpired that it was nothing more than a minor concussion, but it was more than enough to earn the heartfelt admiration of the Chimeras, and there was a sincere melancholy about the pitch as, with a sixty-point lead, the Oxford team agreed to let their opponents catch the snitch as a mark of respect as soon as play restarted.
Quarter-Final: Radcliffe Chimeras 140* – 20 Barcelona Eagles
Although they had finished second in their group due to an overtime defeat at the hands of the Belgian Qwaffles, the Chimeras knew that their quarter-final opposition, the Barcelona Eagles, were also amongst the strongest teams at the competition. Managing to seed fourth from the first day, they had inflicted heavy defeats on both Nantes and NTNUI, former team of Chimera Elisabeth Jorstadt, in the group stages, exhibiting a powerful and physical style of play. The Eagles came on strong, winning the initial tussle for the quaffle and taking an early ten-point lead, albeit one the Chimeras quickly responded to. The Spaniards remained relentless in their attacks, with strong players pressing forward quickly when the chance arose, but the Chimera was now fully awoken, and the team simply refused to let their opponents play.
Swift and brutal counter-attacks from Jorstadt alongside Jan Mikolajczak and Charis Horn racked up the points for the Chimeras, whilst Abby Whiteley and Ben Dawes threw crucial tackles deep into the Barcelona half, ensuring that the quick reactions of the Spanish could not hit the Chimeras before their defences were rallied. When they did come, the impenetrable Luke Twist at the hoops, aided by an outstanding defensive performance from beater Rix Dishington, prevented any serious threats from pressing on the Oxford defences. Although one more slipped through later into the game, the Chimeras were ninety points clear when Ash Cooper, donning the yellow headband, overpowered and caught the snitch to end the quarter-final fairly quickly and give the Chimeras another comfortable victory.
Semi-Final: Belgian Qwaffles 30* – 100 Radcliffe Chimeras
The Chimeras went into their semi-final feeling oddly both relieved and disappointed to know that Paris Phenix had beaten their rivals Frog in another quarter-final. The Oxford team would not have to face Frog again in order to take home the trophy, but it also meant that the French team would remain the only team the Chimeras had ever faced and not beaten. Nevertheless, there was still a single game to win before the final, and Phenix or Brindisi Lunatica, awaited; the semi-final against hosts, the Belgian Qwaffles. The Qwaffles played with incredible spirit and a warm, friendly on-pitch attitude, making this one of the most enjoyable and entertaining games for the Chimeras. The Belgian team simply could not undo the Chimera defence, which at this point had been grizzled and gnarled by a weekend of attacks. With the final in their sights, the British Champions’ counter-attacks, once again led by the lightning-paced Jan Mikolajczak, were savage.
Long passes and swift flanking runs defined the Chimeras’ approach to this game, and although the Qwaffles never gave up, with their beaters David Danos and Damien Leclaire ever-present to harass the Oxford players’ bludger control, they never really threatened to pull their way back into it. The game drew itself to a swift conclusion when the snitch burst back into view, hotly pursued by both seekers. It took very little time for the Qwaffles seeker to burst out in front and take a clean, early snatch to end the game on the Qwaffles’ terms but send the Chimeras through to the final: a repeat of their first game of the competition against Paris Phenix.
Final: Paris Phenix 30 – 100* Radcliffe Chimeras
Having seen Phenix fight their way past Frog and Lunatica to reach the final, no Chimera was under any delusions about this being an easy game. That they had defeated their opponents the previous day was encouraging, but the win was an extremely close one, and nothing could be taken for granted. Captain Ash Cooper marshalled a strong, defensively-solid starting line-up, with James Burnett and Angus Barry wearing the black, Luke Twist as ever in the green headband, and Elisabeth Jorstadt and Jan Mikolajczak also chasing. Losing out on bludgers in the initial rush, the Chimeras were able to quickly establish control but their first quaffle assault could not penetrate the Phenix defence. Attacks passed back and forth a few times before a co-ordinated team press broke through to put the Oxford team ten points ahead. Swift retaliation from the Parisians saw them leading twenty-ten within a few minutes, before a dauntless effort from beater Angus Barry utterly neutralized the Phenix bludger defence, leaving one of their beaters locked on the ground in a tussle with the tenacious Barry and the other stranded, a pitch’s length from the other bludger over which Burnett stood guard. This advantage gained, the Chimeras pressed hard, and the advantage swung to them again, with hoops from Twist and Jorstadt putting them once again into a slender lead whilst the huge, encircling crowd, overwhelmingly in the Chimeras’ favour, alternated chanting Barry and Cooper’s names.
Another three hoops saw the Chimeras sixty-twenty ahead as the seekers were released, but the loss of bludger control slowed their onslaught considerably. Momentum now lay squarely with the Phenix, as Barry and Danino alternated in tireless attempts to regain a bludger whilst Burnett, wielding the one remaining Chimera bludger, relentlessly defended the final third of the Chimeras’ pitch. Strong charges from the Phenix keeper Albert Bregeault, assisted by swift flanking runs led by captain Valentin Farese, continued to threaten, and only inch-perfect defensive play commanded by keeper Twist kept the score unchanged as time elapsed.
When Twist received a yellow card for an illegal tackle, however, true Chimera spirit began to show. Hard-tackling chaser Ben Dawes received the green headband, sharing it with the equally resilient Ash Cooper, and the Chimeras pressed a slow and cautious attack as they tried to prevent risks whilst their defensive lynchpin was kept out of the game. As it transpired, however, it was shortly after Twist’s return to the pitch that the Phenix persistence finally paid off, and a missed beat allowed the French team to pull the score back to sixty-thirty.
With the lesson learned and their security regained, the Chimeras would not give ground again. Although bludger control still eluded them, key tacklers in Jorstadt, Cooper, Dawes, and Charis Horn held any offensive firmly at bay, with Burnett’s bludger never ceasing to threaten any chaser who passed the half-way line. The British Champions remained undaunted, even when the worst conceivable calamity struck them: sole keeper and defensive rock Luke Twist was sent off for a second yellow card due to another illegal tackle. Keeping their composure, the Chimeras rallied around their captain Cooper, now wearing Twist’s green headband, and resolved themselves upon two minutes of weathering a Parisian storm. This they did, emphatically, and when the French keeper in turn received a yellow card for manipulation of a bludger, the resurgent Chimeras charged en masse, seeking the forty point lead that would secure victory.
With the snitch looming, and over twenty minutes gone, the Chimeras were reminded of the value of a captain who leads by example. After collecting the loose ball in his keeper zone following a solid tackle against the Parisian chaser by Ben Dawes, Cooper roared with defiance before driving single-handedly into the sea of red that was the Parisian defence. Dodging one bludger before blocking another, the Chimeras captain forced his way into the centre and rocketed the quaffle through the Phenix centre hoop to score a captain’s goal that invigorated the Chimeras and once again gave them the safety of a forty-point lead.
There was barely a moment to celebrate Cooper’s spectacular hoop, however, before a roar arose from the crowd, and Chimeras seeker Steffan Danino picked himself triumphantly from the floor, snitch in hand.
One-hundred to thirty. The Chimeras were champions of Europe.
When sixteen Chimeras lifted the British Quidditch Cup in November 2013, they were considered a small squad, honed and pruned to remain elite and synchronised. A mere twelve, taking on the best of Europe on three hours’ sleep and a variety of illnesses and injuries, was nothing short of heroic. Words failed most of the team as they turned to one another, to their captain, and to the crowd encircling the pitch, including their beloved friends and team-mates the Quidlings. This was, truly, beyond the dreams even of the BQC. As their captain had told them before the tournament, this was a single moment that would be immortalized in history. British winners of the European Regional Championships, in the last year before Britain itself would become its own IQA region. Alas, it would be impossible for the Chimeras to accept the resulting offer of a place in the World Cup in April 2014, but they had nevertheless sent a signal that the world could not fail to see, and had gone from being outsiders and rumours to the talking point of Quidditch throughout the continent. In the midst of hundreds of burgeoning friendships, other teams adorned their faces with Chimera and Quidling stripes. In spite of both competition and the language barrier, teams Oxford squads had eliminated earlier in the day shouted Chimera names from the sidelines. Newly-made friends swapped shirts from all teams in the aftermath of the final. Most of all, however, twelve incredibly lucky individuals felt the glowing rush of having risen higher in the space of a year than anyone would have dreamed possible, and the realization that what they had achieved really was immortal. The first ever British Quidditch Champions, and the first ever British team to be champions of Europe. That was something they would keep for their lifetimes.