Lions go 2-1 on Tour of The Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark
Fifteen years ago, in the summer of 2000, the Lions embarked upon our first International Tour and it was the stuff of legends. There’s much made about the shenanigans from that first tour and most of the best stuff can never be told.
But what is less known was the great that was played. As the years roll on, it’s actually stories from those matches that are most often told when fellow tourists commune. That first tour set the pattern by which all tours that followed would adhere to: you’re going to play injured and play out of position, you’re going to get screwed over by the local refs, and – as the Great Dr. Francis “the Mule” Camillo declared before the first game, “you are going play out your ass on tour.”
And we did.
The touring side was a mix. some guys like Nick “Nick the Dick” Worontzoff hadn’t played with the Lions in a number of years, so he was a wildcard. But we mostly knew what we had to work with and built a game planned based on the premise that we had good tacklers. We believed that if we could bring the pain early and often that these Europeans would get hesitant and start kicking away their possession. We’d then play off those counter attack opportunities.
We set this up with Steve Raia at 7, Mitsuru “Yossy” Yoshimura at 10 and Ghetto Ron Guzman – normally a prop up until this time – at 12. The thinking was the opposition would see a short open side, a little Japanese flyhalf and a very round inside center and be deceived into thinking this was a soft channel to attack. Basically, we wanted to fool them into running into three blocks of granite.
To cover the back three, we put Billy McGoldrick at 15, what he lacked in speed he made up for with heart and determination. Nothing got passed Viking Bill. Then we put Mike Steavenson at wing. He was normally a flanker but he had speed, lots of energy, and could run all day. And on the opposite wing we had Duane Leininger, a former cornerback who was a solid cover tackler and steady under the high ball.
Clay was at 13 ready for a line break off Ronnie or to combine with the back 3 on a counter.
And for the most part it worked.
Match 1: NERDS 0, Village Lions 5
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The NERDS guys were a corporate team and hadn’t lost a game in 2 years. They had talent, particularly the backline. But they fell for our trap and we shocked them with our physicality. By the second half they didn’t want to run at us anymore. They started kicking the ball deep and it played right into our game plan.
Our defense was tough across the board and we held them scoreless. Late in the second half Luis Schroeder stole a lineout deep in their zone and after a rumble toward the tryzone we put one over. It would be the only score of the game.
The NERDS were in disbelief. We won 5-0 in one of the most intense games I’ve ever been a part of.
Match 2: Lugi Lions 15, Village Lions 22
We took the bridge-tunnel-bridge that Chris Gunsten had built for a day trip from Copenhagen to Lund, Sweden. On the agenda: a showdown with the top local side, Lugi Lions. When we finally arrived at their grounds we were in awe of this lush patch of grass they called a field. You have to remember that Lions Park at that time was a mess of dust and rocks and broken bottles. We were diving around the grass during warms up like dolphins in the surf and thought there was no way this match wouldn’t go our way.
But these guys had other ideas and surprised us with how good they were. Physical too. They had a real swagger about them and we fell behind in the first half.
We had gotten into trouble but at one point in the 2nd half, Clay got his hands on the ball and made up his mind that he was going to turn the tide. He made a line break from about halfway and kicked in the after burners, cutting through those Europeans like a hot knife through butter. That gave us a shot in the arm and we clawed our way back to a lead on the momentum. Nick the Dick took the cue and put one over, proving that while he didn’t travel well he was still handy to have on the pitch
Late in the 2nd half they were knocking on our goal line. They had camped deep in our half and Lions Captain Andy “Grassy” Jones then went down with an injury. I had my kit on underneath my track suit and stripped immediately and ran on to join at lock. A scrum was just forming and as I bound in I caught this smile on Paul Stimpfle’s face – grinning from ear to ear. It dawned on me that none of these guys had never played with me, they only knew me as their coach. The energy level shot up a few notches more and we all knew we were not going to lose this game.
I put in everything I had, which proved a little too much once or twice. I kept fringing and nailing them at the back of the rucks trying to turn the ball over and gave away a few penalties. But eventually we poached it and I remember the game ending with Steavenson racing up the left sideline and I was inside him calling for the ball. “Cherry! Cherry! Cherry!” But the pass never came and he got bundled into touch and the whistle blew for FT.
Anyone involved in that game surely includes it in their top 5 of all time as a Lion. And it also put us at 2-0 which meant our first ever tour would have a winning record. We ate their roast meats like victorious Barbarians that afternoon and took over a train singing in celebration on the way back to Copenhagen that night.
Match 3: Copenhagen Exiles
The final game of the tour was meant to be the crowning moment. Tim Tuohy and Gunsten joined us from the Exiles – as did Dan “Big Gay Dan” Schwarz later on. So there was a lot at stake.
Unfortunately for us, the Exiles looked at as an obligation to make sure all the best players, past and present, were on the roster and guys flew in from all over the world to have a crack at Tuohy’s touring side. They suited up about 30 guys and used them as rolling subs. Between injuries and guys who had to fly back to the States early, we were down to about 17 players, including a few we picked up from our game in Lund. And we were all beaten up going into our third full match in 7 days while acting like men on parole the whole time.
I don’t remember the final score, but we put in a credible fight for 60-70 mins. Notably, their openside was targeting Yossy and hit him dirty. We were pissed. No one had to say anything, but the next play we ran right at the guy and went at it. The guys looked like they were stomping grapes they gave it to this guy so bad. But even he conceded he had it coming.
But alas, we were not able to overcome the challenge of tour fatigue and we fell.
During the post match ceremony at the John Bull we presented them with the Fiddlesticks sign which had been traveling with since we embarked on our journey from Fiddlesticks and our tour had come to an end. But the tradition had begun and International tours would follow to Italy, Hong Kong, Argentina, Spain & Portugal, as well as a few others by Lions but under a Nom du Tour.