Veterans Fencing in Scotland (by Mike McEwan)
My own role is a result of just getting involved. In June 2008 I agreed to be the latest in a series of volunteers to act as a point of coordination for Scotland’s entries to the Celtic Challenge 2008 in Wales (an event open to nations with a Celtic heritage). I had competed in the Celtic Challenge 2006, taken the Gold at Foil, so was keen to go back, and felt that it was only fair that I shoulder some of the burden that I had left to others since re-entering competitive fencing in 2005. I didn’t know it at the time, but that became a turning point for me, and for Scotland’s achievements at Veteran’s level. We had a reasonably good turnout, and I picked what I felt were the best teams – and we fenced well, winning several medals. The one and only thing that stopped us winning the team trophy was that we didn’t have the numbers to field two of the 6 teams. If we had simply entered the teams – and even if they lost to everyone else – the allocation of points would have given us the overall victory.
Turning it Round
The overall result for the Celtic Challenge 2008 was the latest in a series of patchy results for Scotland at Veterans level. In the 4 Nations (Scotland, England, All-Ireland, Wales), I think we took the wooden spoon in 2005, we didn’t turn up in 2007, and I realised we were not in a good place for the 2009 event planned for Belfast. Nobody wants to be part of a losing team, but I decided we can and should do better. The individual results from the Celtic Challenge 2008 showed we have what it takes to be the best – but it would need someone to take responsibility for organising the team if we were to realise our potential as a nation. I volunteered to be Team Manager and Scottish Fencing was quite happy to delegate this responsibility to me. The next few months were a whirlwind of activity, but we arrived in Belfast with full teams in all weapons – and also proudly kitted out in Scotland tracksuits, paid for by one of the team who wanted to do their bit, but remain anonymous. We then had a fantastic weekend, one of the highlights being when I learned we were in first equal position to England at the end of Saturday. This prompted England to pull out all the stops on Sunday, and they narrowly nudged ahead by 2 matches, pushing us into 2nd place. Although we hadn’t won, the huge change in our fortunes – from wooden spoon, to no-show to 2nd place – left us euphoric, and in that mood, I agreed to host the 2010 4 Nations in Scotland, subject to agreement with Scottish Fencing.
The euphoria and the enjoyment continued into our squad for the Commonwealth Veterans Fencing Championships held in Jersey, which was now officially endorsed by the Commonwealth Fencing Federation and held to FIE rules, and where we had a great time, winning a good tally of medals (the official Commonwealth variety!).
A few weeks later, after discussion with Scottish Fencing about the 4 Nations, I got a better sense about what I had agreed. However, I was once told that commitment is all about doing what you said you’d do, long after the mood you said it in has left you. So – a few more months of the whirlwind, and Scotland hosted the 2010 4 Nations in Edinburgh, with a gala dinner on the Saturday night in the centre of the city, attended by over 80 fencers and partners. There is normally a fun raffle held at these events. I used the opportunity – with the agreement of the other nations – to make it a charity fund-raiser. We all had a fantastic time, and raised £250 for a charity I support – Missing People. The results were not quite as good as Belfast – England took first place again, Scotland 2nd, this time by 3 matches. However, we were comforted by the knowledge that the England organisers had got a fright from Belfast. Where previously they just asked who wanted to go, for Edinburgh they applied selection criteria and picked the best team they could. So, with a stronger team and ours being weaker (I was not at 100% after recovering from a hand operation, and a couple of the team from Belfast couldn’t make it due to injury or ill-health), coming 2nd by 3 matches wasn’t too bad. We had some really great results from individual weapons – from memory, Men’s Sabre and Epee wiped the floor all round.
Now that we were routinely doing well, with a fantastic social scene around each event which includes partners, more people have started to get involved, and I have had to apply the selection criteria several times to pick the teams from the available candidates.
However, I have only focussed on a few key events – the Celtic Challenge, the 4 Nations and the Commonwealth Championships. I don’t have the capacity to do much more – while at the same time the world-wide Veterans scene itself is getting bigger. I was one of the 1300 individuals who entered the European Veterans Fencing Championships held in France. People entered more than one weapon, so the number of competitors’ entries was over 2000. This was a huge event, with an incredible atmosphere, and it was a brilliant experience.
There is lots more to come – see the British Veterans Fencing (BVF – formerly National Veterans Association) website at http://www.veterans-fencing.co.uk for details.
What can you do?
Firstly – if you don’t already fence, start fencing! One of our brightest stars – Viv Frith – started fencing a few years ago, qualified for the GB team and took Bronze in the 2009 Veterans World Championship. The next big events are the 4 Nations in April 2012, the Celtic Challenge in Galicia, northern Spain on 16-17 June 2012 (many of us will make a holiday of it) and the Commonwealth Championships – probably Singapore in September 2012
If you’re the partner of someone who fences and is in the Veteran age group, you may have already decided it’s not for you, but encourage your partner to get involved and come along. There are a growing number of WAGs and HAMs going to the events to enjoy the social side.
If you fence and want to be considered for the team, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org including which weapons you prefer.
Last – but not least – if you want to help in the organisation of the Veterans, or want to get us into a more formal Association structure (which is what the Welsh and English have done to great effect) then please let me know.