Matt Tomlinson's legacy lives on in the Scottish ultimate teams Alba and SCRAM
September 13, 2022 by Jonah Lee-Ash in Profile with 0 comments
Scottish ultimate has undergone a huge shift since it sent two mixed teams to the 2018 World Ultimate Club Championships. The taste of success brought to bear the strength of Scottish ultimate on the international stage and the players decided to split and pursue glory in the Open and Women’s divisions.
While he did not live to see the heights they would achieve, Matt Tomlinson was integral to establishing the Open team Alba and continuously strove to compete at the highest levels. This is the story, told by those who knew him best, about one of the most influential members of the Scottish ultimate community who unfortunately never got to see his dream become a reality.
Water and Oil
Scotland sent two mixed teams to the 2018 World Ultimate Club Championships in Cincinnati: Glasgow Ultimate and Black Eagles.
Lulu Geddy Boyd: Scotland SCRAM captain: I think that was a really good indication of the level of ultimate in the North, that we were able to send two mixed teams to the World Championships.
While Glasgow performed according to expectations, Black Eagles exceeded those and then some, placing 12th at the event and breaking seed by 11 spots. For members of Black Eagles, this success was evidence enough that Scottish ultimate could stand on its own. So, on the last night of the tournament, a decision was made.
Boyd: For us, it became very apparent that we have this really good pool of women up here, [and] we should really be looking to do something with it. That we should, like, stretch ourselves a bit beyond. So it was at Worlds in 2018, probably on one of the last nights, when Shona [Whiteley, another member of Scram] and I sat down and we said, “We can probably do this again, but with a women’s team. Do you think we could get people invested?”
In short: yes, they could. After WUCC, players from all over Scotland banded together to form a women’s team to compete at UK Nationals.
Boyd: A lot of the girls across Black Eagles and Glasgow Ultimate were very good friends because they had previously played for a club team called Swift. So yeah, we all knew each other, we’re all part of the same community, and we all wanted to play with each other!
With the ball rolling to build a new women’s team in Scotland, there were those who wanted to form a Scottish open team as well.
Cameron Agnew: Scotland Alba captain: We played on a team called Black Eagles in the [WUCC] mixed division four years ago. We thought at that time, “Why don’t we play as an open team? Like why don’t we try and see if an open team from Scotland can do well.”
But while there was certainly a desire to form new teams, actually getting them off the ground was no easy task, especially in a country as sparsely populated as Scotland.
Calum Easton: Alba player, best friend of Matt Tomlinson: I think part of the problem is we’re always going to rely on people coming from quite far afield for Scotland to field a good open team. You’re not going to get enough players from the smaller states like Aberdeen and Dundee to field either an open, mixed, or women’s team. So we’re always going to rely on people to come to a central location.
Unlike many teams that run practices on weekdays after work, Scottish players sometimes have to travel up to 4 or 5 hours to reach their practice fields. For teams like Alba and Scram, practices are weekend excursions.
Easton: [Alba practices] have been run very well, in terms of moving training around and having to use different locations to accommodate everyone.
Players will cancel commitments and call in sick to family events just to participate in these two day training sessions.
Boyd: SCRAM train over full weekends once/twice a month, with pod sessions during the week and full trainings on Thursday nights. There is a massive commitment to ultimate and we recognize the huge sacrifice the girls make to make all of our trainings.
Many knew they would have to face some of these challenges to get Scottish ultimate ready to compete against the rest of the UK. Thankfully, members of the community are fanatically passionate about the sport, and the Scottish women’s program got off the ground pretty quickly.
As for the open team, things took a little bit longer to achieve takeoff.
If You Build It, They Will Come
Easton: The open scene in Scotland was quite fragmented and disjointed after Fusion (Fusion West was a Scottish open team that was active from 2007 to 2009) disbanded quite a few years ago … But there’s quite a lot of us who wanted to play at just a slightly higher level.
Many of those who wanted greater competition were members of Black Eagles. So, one person decided to step up and turn idle chatter into something real.
Agnew: The main catalyst was Matt Tomlinson. He basically put a bunch of us from different teams into one chat and was like, “Let’s make this happen.”
Matt played with Chevron at UK Nationals in 2018 and wanted to emulate the experience he had with his fellow countrymen.
Easton: He wanted something closer to home and to play with more of his mates. He saw the kind of success that the guys from Black Eagles and Glasgow had, so he thought, “Why don’t we put them all together?”
For most, a dream of uniting an entire country would seem daunting at best. But Matt was the type of person who could get it done, and those around him trusted him completely.
Easton: Matt was a huge character in Scottish ultimate. He wanted to get involved with everything. He was quite big on developing grassroots players and bringing people together … Matt was always pushing everyone around him. He was the loudest on the sideline, the loudest on the pitch. He was a very good player. He was always striving for more. He lived and breathed frisbee.
Alistair Robb: former Dundee player, BE Ultimate employee: Everyone probably had a story about him, you know, like in a game or at a party or after a tournament. He was definitely the most recognizable guy in the entire sport in the country.
Andrew Dick: Alba player: [Matt was] just an all-around class guy who really wanted Scottish ultimate to build into something … There was a culture of people thinking that to play the best ultimate that we had to go into England or Wales, but [Matt] thought we could do it in Scotland ourselves.
Tomlinson was the type of person who would put everything into the task at hand. When it came to building a men’s program in Scotland, he was certainly eager to get the team off the ground. At times, maybe a little bit too eager.
Robb: My earliest memory of Alba was some Facebook messages from Matt being like, “Yo, I got this idea for a team, we need jerseys.” So like, you know, as with any good ultimate team, people didn’t really care for the logistics of setting up a team and establishing it, it was more just like, what kind of design can we go for.
But while they might have jumped the gun when they sent in the jersey designs, it was clear Tomlinson was serious about building something lasting in Scotland. In the coming months, he was constantly working out the best way to get an open team together to compete in the UK.
One pathway was to learn from other successful programs. When Alistair Robb and Andrew Dick moved to Vancouver and found their way onto Furious George, they relayed plenty of information back to Scotland on how to build a successful ultimate program.
Dick: He used to reach out a lot to me and Alistair when we moved over to Canada, just asking like, how do they do over there? Could we do something like that in Scotland?
Hearing about the thriving Vancouver ultimate scene, Tomlinson and Easton were prepared to head to British Columbia to learn first-hand and see if they could build something similar in Scotland.
But the pair never made the journey to Canada. While they were in the process of planning their trip, Easton received some tragic news.
Easton: We both had our visas ready to go. Unfortunately, Matt was killed in a car accident three and a half years ago, just as the ball was getting rolling.
The news of Matt’s passing was a shock. He was the guy in Scottish ultimate, and had a positive impact on pretty much the entire community.
Robb: Even people who didn’t know him [felt the loss]. The fact that he was so ingrained in the community side of things, in setting up random tournaments, or hosting training sessions, or like setting up the Alba club team. The loss of someone like that is insane because everyone is deeply affected by it.
With all the responsibility Matt had taken on in to build the new open team, the progress might have ground to a halt. But the community rallied and continued building on his legacy to get the team up and practicing.
Easton: The captains here really took it on and ran with it. And they’ve done a really good job at keeping track of Matt’s influence.
Others stepped up. In Glasgow, two brothers have been working for years to get ultimate frisbee into the mainstream, and their efforts to create youth programs and run clinics were instrumental in the formation of SCRAM and Alba.
Easton: There’s also got to be something said for the Webbs — Shaun and Phil1 — really driving Glasgow ultimate, getting it into the schools. They’ve been working hard for a number of years, and they’re holding open days and camps and things like that, and they’ve got a really good youth system in Glasgow now.
Boyd: The growth of ultimate in Glasgow specifically can be attributed to Phil and Shaun Webb. They run a youth/schools program in the Glasgow area, as well as Glasgow Ultimate which over the years has facilitated teams in the open, women’s, and mixed divisions.
All the work from all over the country culminated in Cincinnati, four years after Black Eagles and Glasgow represented Scotland in the same city. Knowing the weight they carry as part of Matt Tomlinson’s legacy, the Alba lads wear a piece of their friend and would-be teammate on them at all times.
Intended to be a small token, the initials MT were incorporated into the polygonal stag logo.
But when the uniforms arrived, there was one extra surprise printed inside the bottom edge of their shirts.
An oft-quoted phrase from the team while celebrating the 2016 European Championships – “let’s get fucking hammered” – has become something of a mantra for the team.
How’d She Go?
Coming to a tournament like WUCC can be intimidating, especially for teams as young as Alba and SCRAM.
Lulu: The only expectations I had of the team were to go out and play good ultimate, and most importantly for us to have fun doing it. We’re a team that feeds off having a good time and that’s how we play well.
Though their placement might not reflect it, SCRAM had a great tournament. They beat two US squads, Florida Tabby Rosa and Minnesota Pop, and proved they can, in fact, hang with international competition.
Alba also had an excellent tournament, breaking seed and winning some key games. In power pools, they were caught in a tiebreaker and charged with the task of beating German powerhouse Bad Skid by at least three points if they wanted to advance to the higher bracket. After Andrew Dick caught a layout and toed the back of the endzone to keep the game alive, they managed to break on the final point to win by a four-goal margin and secure their spot in the top 24.
For teams seeded last in their respective pools, this WUCC was a success for Scottish ultimate through and through.
Four Years the Stronger
So where does the club go next? Was WUCC the culmination of their efforts, or just another tournament for what will hopefully become a legitimate team in UK ultimate?
Agnew: I think we’re here to stay. In the UK we’ve been seen as the third best team that are now challenging Chevy and Clapham. But I don’t want us to just be third or fourth best continually. The team was formed to go and win Nationals, to beat those teams, and I’m really conscious about not wanting to fall into that hole of obscurity. To just be another team that’s alright [at ultimate].
Dick: We want to beat Clapham.
Agnew: I want us to go and win Nationals and do something that hasn’t been done before in Scotland.
While they came up short of their goal this fall — they lost to Clapham in the UK final 15-10 — a second-place finish sets a new high-water mark for the program.
But even in their moments of success, the team still remembers their would-be founder, Matt Tomlinson.
Dick: Unfortunately he never got to suit up for us, but here we are trying to do Matt proud.
Easton: He was my best friend, and he started the Alba drive. I never actually got a chance to play with him on the team, but here we are, living his legacy.
Phil, 43, competed with Alba at WUCC 2022 ↩