“It’s been a long and tough trip, but I’m glad I took it, because it was well worth it” – Sage Francis – the Best of Times (slightly adapted).
This past weekend we achieved something amazing. Something that not many players get to experience during their careers, a championship, or a double championship (winning the Western conference and the play-offs). It has been a long journey with its many ups and downs, but I think that a championship season is supposed to be just that; full of ups and downs. Whenever a team wins, it is a story of growth and I feel that it is exactly what our story as a team has been. We have fought adversity for the past three years, playing and training where anyone is willing to give us ice. Thankfully Oxford have been kind to house us for the last two years to give us at least some stability.
During the journey in the past few years, we have won games and lost a few big ones, but they all taught us a lesson on how to pull through and what it takes to seal the deal. Nothing was handed to us on a silver plate. We had to learn to win, we had to learn a lot of things from the start of the season. Most of all, we had to play with a knife on our throat from January onwards. We could not afford to slip-up. To go on a 15 game winning streak is not an easy task, but the way this team pulled together and rallied after Christmas is something that I have not seen in my entire career. In a word, it was unbelievable.
In a way Sunday’s championship is a good indication of the growth I described earlier. Five years ago, I played my first
league game against Slough Jets at the Hanger and we got completely drilled, five years on, and I get to celebrate a league championship at the very same venue, with the same team I signed for five years ago. What’s great is that there were so many guys who have been there approximately the same time as I have.
From a personal point of view, this season was really challenging and mentally difficult. Obviously I had a rather big operation on my shoulder in the off-season and lost a lot of time conditioning wise. It wasn’t until August/September time that I was able to start training properly. Before then, where I was able to keep my fitness up by running, I lacked strength as I had gone back to square one. Admittedly, I needed to have the operation as by the end of last season I could hardly turn the steering wheel of a car, which was a little bit problematic. Then there were other issues, which I have discussed widely here, which added its own flavour to the overall season. On the flipside, I feel that I learnt something new and improved my work ethic because of these challenges and towards the end of the season I had gained back some of my self-confidence, which helped going into the last remaining games.
While the feelings from the win are still very much on the surface and things seem like a blur from the final few seconds of the game to the buzzer. It was difficult to keep emotions in check during those last few seconds, and me and Adi definitely started to celebrate on the bench before the buzzer went off.
It’s funny, because in my head, I had thought I could easily dress it into words what the championship meant to me, but after taking a step back and as I was standing there looking at the crowd and the team celebrate, I had no words to describe the feeling. From looking at Oxford City Stars celebrate the Cup win in the final last year, filled the fire and the hunger to do the same with the team, I was at a loss for words. And to a greater or lesser effect I still am. (This is taking forever to write – and what I have written probably doesn’t even do the occasion justice).
I am humbled by the support that we received throughout the season and what was amazing was that so many supporters followed us across the south of England – and Wales – to watch us play. The championship is every bit yours as it is the teams’. Without the people who follow us and work tirelessly behind the scenes, none of this would be possible. Having seen the joy of the fans’ faces, it was clearly evident that this meant so much to them as well and to have them live every moment vicariously with us was something unbelievable. Out of the championships that I have been fortunate to win in the past, this one is special – well each of them is – but this ranks so high because of the circumstances we played in and because of the people who have followed us through thick and thin, that and I’d say that I’m more ‘mature’ now than I was as opposed to when I was 17 or 25, so I know to appreciate this more.
Looking back on it, I said in my signing announcement did that I wanted to win the triple title (Conference, Cup and Playoffs) To quote Meatloaf “two out of three ain’t bad”. Indeed, not bad at all.
PS. I found my underwear that I lost
PPS. I don’t ever want a hangover of that magnitude again!
PPPS. I definitely want to win some silverware again!