Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

“If football wasn’t around, frisbee would’ve filled that void”

Posted on 28 November 2017 by Tomas Meehan

Ultimate Frisbee, otherwise known as Ultimate, is fairly new to most people’s consciousness, but it is not to be taken lightly, argues St Mary’s University men’s team captain, Alex Dickinson.

He explained how this lack of knowledge causes people to underrate Ultimate.

Dickinson explained that people often asked him: “Ultimate Frisbee? Oh like a dog – chase a disk around?”

He then turns to me and says: “You get that a lot.”

“You get that a lot and it’s just like there’s a lot more to it. You can almost guarantee when you teach them about it, they’re like: ‘oh actually I’d struggle with that.’”

He goes on to say that throwing a disc 100 yards is no mean feat and people realise after discovering more about the sport how skilled you have to be to play Ultimate Frisbee.

Stereotypes about Ultimate, however, are on the wane and the sport’s popularity is growing.

While both Dickinson and his teammate Calum Ward agree that Ultimate is not likely to attract big money sponsors or a BT Sport television deal any time soon, more and more people are starting to take notice.

“There was a tournament in London last year that had a lot of people come and watch,” recalls Dickinson.

Visually, Ultimate is no different to any other sport. St Mary’s play their home games on the rugby pitch. It is as simple to play as a game of football in the park.

“If football wasn’t around, I think frisbee would’ve filled that void because you could easily have street frisbee – people putting jumpers down and using that as an end zone,”  says Ward.

“Think of any sport you want to play and then throw all those rules out the window and this is like a concoction of all of them.”

Similar to most other team sports, a point is scored in the seven-a-side game when the frisbee is caught in the opposing team’s end-zone.

St Mary’s are also switching up the rules of Ultimate and they themselves are redefining how the game is played.

Their system has baffled other teams when they have come up against them. Instead of playing man-to-man marking as most other teams do, St Mary’s prefer to play a zone.

“They’re always very surprised when they come up against us.” says Ward. “They’re like, we’ve never come up against a zone like that before. It’s like no, no we kind of just made it up.”

Zonal marking in football is starting to outstrip man-marking as a more efficient way for teams to defend, especially with the iconic 4-4-2 formation. Now St Mary’s are attracting national attention for their innovative way of playing.

“We’ve developed our strategy, we’ve had recognition from GB Under 23 squads and coaches really looking at our zone we’ve developed,” says Ward.

Dickinson adds that this way of playing may have come from the people who started the club who loosely based their style of play on football.

Having discovered their system through trial and error, the team were without a coach until this year “which again other [universities] thought ‘wow that is very impressive’,” beams Dickinson.

As a sport that is still developing, Ultimate don’t have referees. Ward admits that ““it can be a bit controversial at times” when the game is “heated”. Though, while at the grassroots level there are no referees, as the game progresses it is inevitable that referees will be a more permanent fixture in Ultimate.

“In America where you’ve got the American Ultimate Disc League, you’ve actually got umpires and referees officiating play because it’s got to that level of professionalism,” says Ward.

This relaxed approach to officiating is part of the sport’s sportsmanship or “spirit of the game.”

There is a friendly atmosphere at St Mary’s Ultimate Frisbee Club which has attracted people who have previously participated in a wide variety of sports as well as those who have no sporting background. There is also a roughly equal balance of male and female team members.

“I think that’s one of the best selling points about the sport because most sports are very gender split whereas this one regardless of gender you can facilitate an environment that is fair to play and there’s no stigma around,” says Ward.

It certainly will be interesting to see just how far a sport like Ultimate can go. It’s as easy to play as football, but can it ever be a global phenomenon like the beautiful game?

Featured photo: St Mary’s University Ultimate Frisbee team.