NOTE: This is not just a glimpse at England's current position regarding support, it's also relevant to many other teams competing alongside them at international level. Dave Johnson

It’s becoming a worry trend for England… Italy winning a third major international on the trot… as well as knocking us out of the football! So what are they going to do about it?

With quality like this behind them, is it any wonder that Italy are in the ascendancy!With quality like this behind them, is it any wonder that Italy are in the ascendancy!I suppose when you have two world champions plus a world and euro bronze angler running the bank for you, it says much about the strength of that team competing! Italy proved it in devastating fashion on the banks of the River Guadiana in Merida, Spain.

In the two years since England’s win here, Italy have improved greatly and it is with some dismay that the England management are looking for future solutions. The one that stands out, and is mentioned by Mark Downes in his interview with us below, is the backroom support that is required for these high-octane events. Mark, quite rightly, pointed out the differences in support between ourselves and the Italians. In Merida they fielded an 18 strong contingent (including anglers) in the recent Club Champs it was 22. Compare that to this years England 11-man team and Dorkings 12-man contingent in the World Club’s. This is a big gap and, professionally, one which may prove difficult to close up if England are able to retain their No.1 standing in the world. The team needs support from anglers, who are prepared to personally fund trips and back up the existing backroom staff.
It's not hard to see from this informal gathering, just what England and other teams are facing in international angling today. If there is this difference in support between the world's two best teams, what chance do others have?It's not hard to see from this informal gathering, just what England and other teams are facing in international angling today. If there is this difference in support between the world's two best teams, what chance do others have?
But what’s in it for them?
Well shared glory on the podium I suspect, as there always seems to be enough medals available to the Italian ‘Mob’ when they come up! We’ve said it before and will keep on saying it… it’s a lifetime experience to visit these major championships and one which every angler of ability, should try to achieve.
Note: I’m sure the two Mark’s would wish me to point out that anyone who wishes to travel to an international and help with the bank running should have a HIGH level of angling experience. These tasks are not suited to those just wishing to come along for a ‘jolly’ ride…it’s quite intense work, but can be highly rewarding, both to their own angling experiences and their ‘kudos’ back home. To be part of a successful England team is to become one of the select few to trend that ‘hallowed path’. Suitable applicants should contact either of the two Marks... but during sensible hours!

Another point for the future that Mark mentioned, was the pool of talent available. At the moment it seems that the cupboard is a little bare. We understand that cost is a major issue for many, and quite rightly so. Following an England career is not a cheap vocation, as any of the current squad will tell you. But there is a little more to it than simply cost. There was a undeniable void left when the Six Nations Championships were scrapped, I believe after 2006. This could have provided a suitable ‘nursery’ for up-and-coming talent. Even so, there are other available events, which can be used to highlight any angler’s determination and ability.

Take the Sensas Challenges matches, for instance. These apply CIPS rules and can ultimately get you into a final on the continent. Mark Downes has all the details…

  • try taking a leaf out of one of the south’s iconic, yet now a sadly demised angler, Ray Mumford. The stories of his forays into the French match scene in the sixties still linger with me long after, AND he was not without some victories either…
  • the IAM in Germany each October, supports a growing compliment of international anglers each year…
  • look into some of the more localised events across the channel. Information can be gleaned from several contacts…
  • organise your own reciprocal inter-continent event (small scale obviously). There is NO substitute for actual international competition.
Any prospective international angler needs to have abilities in several key areas. Fishing for carp on a fish-filled commercial does not necessarily breed the right abilities, or attitudes, to tackle to intricacies of international fishing with its numerous pitfalls. Although I can think of one major exception to this rule! These key areas, or disciplines are 13 metre fishing… with heavy groundbait feeding, flat floats up to 50/60 gand using a top 5 or 6 as many waters on the continent reach depths of 6/7m. Slider fishing is almost another essential area to focus on, again in depths up to 6/7m, Bolognese fishing, bleak fishing with both short and long lines are other aspects which sometimes come into play.

It’s understandable that many anglers out there have neither the time, money or knowledge, to deal with these areas. England is not looking for a queue of prospective world champs outside either manager’s tents, just those select few who think they are able to make the ‘cut’. Serious applicants should try talking to any of the existing team to find out more of what’s involved before jumping in with both feet!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying the current squad is past it, far from it. They still retain and produce results that are the envy of every country in the world, Italy included. But everything and everyone has a ‘Sell by Date’, nothing is forever. To maintain a standard and position in international events, things must ultimately progress, or wither and die. Success is not a god-given right, it needs to be worked at constantly, never accepting that what you are doing now is good enough for next year. Our current team knows this and so should everyone else who as aspirations for international fame.

It’s not just ability that is essential… commitment to the team, not the individual is the first priority. Skill can be improved, but I doubt that a wrong attitude can be reversed. Food for thought I think!

Finally, as a continuation of this feature, Dave Ewing adds his own, more intense, perspective from his ‘armchair’ below. He raises valid concerns and questions in more depth, then, puts forward some possible solutions.

So what does the future hold?
By Dave Ewing
Following on from Dave’s look at where England’s future lay, here is my view on some of the bigger issues linked to staying at the top in competitive international team fishing. If the last decade has been dominated by England and Italy, is this ‘duopoly’ set to continue for the next ten years? Before I start, let me issue a health warning on the validity of my own opinions! Unlike Dave, I am unable to make every World and European Championship, because I work as a teacher and can’t get time off work outside the normal school holidays (I am not looking for any sympathy here – we get plenty of holidays as it is). But it does mean that I am looking at world angling from more of a distance than him, and I fully accept that my opinions may be viewed more as those of an armchair pundit! Nevertheless, I do have some opinions on the matter, because I fervently believe that international angling is the very summit of our sport and one that we should debate and discuss more than we do here at present in the UK. So, from the comfort of my armchair, here is my view on what it will take for England to dominate world angling for another ten years or so, but let me begin with some seemingly obvious statements:
It is getting harder to win or frame consistently at World and European events

There are several reasons for this.
  • Take the sub-section structure. This is not as punitive as in a full section and means more teams can score better points and penalties for doing just as bad.
  • By limiting pole lengths to 13 metres. This alone has properly democratised the tackle being used in all international events and now every team, without exception, is able to compete on a level playing field, with tackle that performs well.
  • Standards. But perhaps more relevant than anything else is that the standard of all the teams competing has simply got better. No longer can you draw next to a Spaniard or a Serb and write the guy off, far from it! Now, each section has more class anglers in it, making it harder for the top teams to fully dominate matches.
Ironically, the more good anglers you have fishing world matches, the more important a good draw becomes for the top teams. In the past you could draw the poorer end of a section and still do OK, because many of the anglers on the better pegs were not able to take full advantage of them. Not so today. Draw the wrong end of a section and you will get hammered, because there are just too many good anglers around you who will exploit the points that their better draw offers.

Team support and information are more important than ever to any team success
No doubt you are going to tell me that this has always been true, but I think that there is now a gap starting to develop between certain teams, in terms of the support structures that they can put in place. The reason why teams with more (quality) runners and good bankside information networks will do better, is that the job has now become so complex. Gone are the days when you could say to a section runner, “keep your eyes on the Italian”, “watch out for the French and Belgian guys” and (by inference) almost ignore the Dane, Scot, Pole, or South African. As I said before, there are so many good anglers and teams fishing these events that you can’t now afford to overlook anyone. 

Then there is the sub-section complexity. Knowing where you are as a team and what the team needs to try and do during a match, is all part of managing a world-beating side. It’s day two of a major champs and there are three teams still within touching distance of gold. You have an angler in the middle to bottom of the section who’s only catching a few bits. Do you tell him that he needs to sit it out for a couple of bonus fish, or do you keep him catching bits close in? What’s highly relevant to you is how the pendulum of the match is swinging for your team. This has always been hard but now that there are sub-sections, the task is doubly difficult because you need to know how the other teams are doing in the sub-sections where you DON’T have an angler! Teams that arrive with a big squad of experienced and high quality bank runners, are undoubtedly in with an advantage, provided those guys can read the situation on the bank correctly. Dave described the Italians ability to have such talent as Gabba, Fini and Falsini running the bank in the Europeans. If bank runners of this quality do not make a difference to your team’s ability to win, then I don’t know what will.

There are more countries eager to learn and hungry for success
One of the most interesting features of the European match fishing scene is how much importance is placed on international success. I feel that the British angling public, in generally, have neither understood the significance of our international success, or valued the truly exceptional performance of our international anglers enough. An odd report in Angling Times, an article or two in Match Fishing and we walk on, seemingly concerned with just carp-matters! What is even more shocking is the lack of critical assessment of how the England team have performed. There is an expectation that they will make the podium every time, yet if they don’t, the reporting, if anything, becomes less detailed. There seems to be a reluctance to look at WHY our results sometimes fall below expectations. Compare this to say Italy. The Italians have historically struggled with roach and bream fishing, but now with fantastic bream venues like the Ostellato canal, they have improved their bream skills in leaps and bounds. But roach are still a species that they struggle to do well with, south of the Alps. So the Italians organise annual friendly matches against the French and ask them to take them specifically to roach venues, so they can learn how to catch them! One such match, last October, was held near Dunkirk, right in the northern French roach fishing heartland. The result saw a fantastic duel between French speed master, Alain Dewimille, and Italy’s Umberto Ballabeni, with Alain just pipping the Italian to top individual spot. But the whole weekend for the Italians, and the few days practise prior to the match, was run with a view to learning, quite specifically, more about roach. Then you have Belgium, a small country in comparison to Italy, England, France or Germany, but with a record for consistency in world and euro events that is frankly outstanding. Belgians were struggling when it came to carp venues about 10 years ago, so the selection committee started running Inter-A matches, specifically on carpodromes, to force their pool of top anglers to get used to carp fishing. This practice has continued and today the Belgians are as good on carp as they are on bream!

Information is the key to everything
We all know this is true at domestic level. You need to gather information and be talking to anglers who know venues well, constantly, in order to maintain success. Every country has its network of info-gatherers, who are phoning and talking with other anglers from other countries. But top European anglers are also fishing together more and more, often outside of international duties. There is something out there that is the great European information circuit. Dave mentioned the IAM in Germany, but add to this the Iberian and Merida Masters, the big Sensas Challenge Cups, the Milo weekends in Italy and the inevitable inter-country events held before most majors and what do you notice… a revolving core of anglers who are at every event. The ubiquitous Tamas Walter, Falsini & Co, Jan van Schendel with his Dutch squads, Jean Desque handing out his green bags of magic… and some surprisingly familiar faces too. Simon Willsmore and Brad Titmus have one of the best records for UK anglers on the European circuit. Not long ago, the Scandinavian events were being dominated by a certain Mr Klaus Fix. But on the fringes are a young and hungry bunch of up-an-coming anglers from right across Europe. These guys are interacting by immersing themselves in a sort of pan-European fishing network, which is where I think you need to be to maintain a top position in modern international match fishing. From a UK perspective I have read interview after interview with top competitive British anglers saying that their ambition is to fish for England one day. Great, but do you see these guys competing in Spain, France, Belgium or Italy… alongside the best in Europe. It’s getting this kind of European recognition and the contacts needed, to be a modern top-flight international angler. I wonder whether our domestic competition scene has become so all consuming that young UK anglers, hungry for success, simply are not registering the significance of these European events. Just take a second or two to watch some YouTube clips of the Iberian Masters, for example, to get a feel for what these events are about.

So what does it all mean for the future of international scene in Britain, in particular? Are England set to dominate over the next decade, the way they have over the previous one? I think that the great success of Team England, since Dick Clegg took over, has been based around the crucial element of being able to hand pick a squad of fantastically versatile and gifted anglers without the restriction of any selection or qualification process. What has restricted other top nations, from having many years of success, has been a lack of key team members, because they have either not qualified in their Federations process, or because their existing sponsorship arrangements were not compatible with fishing at international level.

Even so, I think that the formula that has served us so well for 20 years needs a bit of a makeover, if England wants to stay at the top of world angling. Why? Well as I have outlined, it is becoming much, much harder to dominate an increasingly competitive World and European circuit. And this is not conjecture either, it is happening right now! England are not in control of world match fishing, Italy are! Based on recent results we are being eclipsed by the size and quality of the Azzurri, and are continually having to resort to jostling for second/third places, or heaven forbid, missing the podium altogether in that mêlée of stronger nations near the top… Hungary, Belgium, Holland, Poland, Russia, Serbia etc.

So what, perhaps, does England have to do to regain their dominant position in the international scene again? The main thing that needs to be looked at is the expansion of the Team England pool for each of the two main championships, to 10 at least, 12 in an ideal world. Then, first and foremost, get them fishing together in the UK before making practise trips to world-class venues, as a coherent squad. This can achieve several positive outcomes:
  • It raise the profile of ‘fishing for England’, by opening the door of the senior squad to more good young anglers, who will start talking about it in the angling press and on the match circuit, especially as this group would change slightly from year to year, again provoking discussion, but still keeping that key core of experienced individuals.
  • Gives selectors a chance to spot talent for the future in a way that is not possible today. The managers can still retain their final squad, based around their core anglers, but a bigger pool opens the door for perhaps position 7 or 8 in the squad, giving the managers the chance to run with anglers for a couple of seasons to see how they perform as part of the team set up, without necessarily having to include them in a selected squad.
  • Solves the bankside information logistic headache. Having a larger group of anglers travelling with you gives you enough manpower to cover more of the sub-sections and get quality information back to the managers. This needs co-ordinating and coaching, as bank running at international level is not as easy a task as in domestic competitions. At least you would have Team England pool anglers running the bank who would have been involved in the tactical discussions beforehand and feel implicated in the teams success. It also gives the managers the opportunity to pull key team anglers off the bank and into running duties, if this is a better use of their talents, like the Italians did in the Europeans (although this was as a direct result of the Italian Federation’s decision to have individual teams for both Euro and World championships). This can be crucial in the future develop of talent, as a wealth of experience lies within the current squad and need to be harnessed, before it becomes lost!
This is the pool system used by Italy and Belgium at the moment. Belgium have a group of international A and B anglers, constantly fishing together at home, who are then available for selection for any major international. Being part of an ‘Inter A’ team is seen as a reaching the pinnacle of Belgian fishing society. By meeting and fishing together, several times a year in championship-style events, manager Roland Marc has created a sort of ‘pool-mentality’ that has brought his country consistent success, on a variety of venues. The Italians now come ‘mob-handed’ to every championship, which in turn gives them a great presence on the bank and, with top class anglers running their sections, they are turning into the superteam of this decade.

The English entourage has a few talented anglers who sometimes come along for the experience. Callum Dicks, Lee Kerry, Cameron Hughes, have all made trips to major events, outside the main selected squad. But I am arguing that our managers need more of them, who can then travel to any event as part of an extended squad, with their expenses covered by Team England. Increasing your pool numbers and creating a wider group of anglers who want to compete at international level, is easy to say and write about, but it actually requires vision and determination to turn it into a reality. Here are the obstacles I envisage:
  • Money: You can’t achieve anything positive without money, as any pool of anglers need to be taken care of within part of the manager’s budget. This undoubtedly and significantly increases the cost of the Team England unit, so seeing where this money is to come from is not clear cut. I think that sponsorship could hold the key and perhaps the way to do it is open up the sponsorship to more than just one sponsor. Peter Drennan has been a fantastic sponsor of the squad, but it is unfair to ask one sponsor to foot the bill for a larger squad, therefore you need to spread the load between two or three key sponsors, in order for this to work. This is the French model of sponsorship, where several large French tackle companies contribute to the running costs of Team France (Rive, Sensas, Rameau, Garbolino and Water Queen). These companies call themselves “Team France Partners” and it gives the French squad enough resources to put together a large travelling contingent of coaches and runners. They have a dedicated coaching staff, with the likes of Jean-Pierre Fougeat and Gerard Trinquier backing up the main managerial team. Each angler travels with a coach for these matches and the squad is a real impressive unit on arrival.
  • Commitment: When you pick a bigger squad you need to be sure that the anglers you pick are ready to commit themselves to the job. The Belgian anglers that I know, plan their whole year round inter-A duties and prepare and practise for every team meeting and selection match. Being part of that squad is your passport to angling status and credibility in Belgium. In the UK, I’m not so sure that you will find a squad of 10 or 12 anglers who are ready to put in the sort of preparation and practise that’s required for international duty, with the knowledge that some of them will not get to fish an international event during that year. Would White Acres festivals, Fisho qualifiers, knock-out cups, or other large events in the domestic match calendar, get in the way of anglers priorities? Or would fishing for your country and being part of the international scene be viewed as being more important? Perhaps part of the answer here is to have more friendly international matches, where the larger squad gets the chance to fish at least once in the year. This is the model used by most top European countries who have a calendar of 5 or 6 international matches a year, including several friendly’s. The 6 Nations used to do part of this role and it was good to see a 4 Nations tournament return this year. But to raise the profile of an international side, more continental matches are needed. There is no European nation that would decline an annual challenge match against Team England! But, of course, it would cost more money.
To conclude
When Dave originally talked to me about the future of international angling and what teams need to do to keep pace with Italy, it instantly occurred to me that it will become more difficult to stay at the top of the international match circuit. It’s now a tougher competitive environment at international level than ever before and rule amendments, like splitting sections, are making it harder for certain teams to dominate. England will undoubtedly remain a top three angling nation over the next ten years, even if they don’t increase their squad size and angling presence at international matches. The quality of our individual anglers and the tactical management of the team are just too good. But I can’t see England dominating the world scene in the way they have done in the past, without a larger squad and more financial resources. The Italians are setting a new benchmark in commitment, talent and bankside support. If England wants to seriously rival them for that top spot over the next ten years, or simply jostle for the minor podium positions, it’s will be affected by what resources are mustered in their favour. It depends on what value we place, as a fishing nation, on future international success.
Could this be an indication of future podiums? England competing for podium scraps? Or are we being too pessimistic?Could this be an indication of future podiums? England competing for podium scraps? Or are we being too pessimistic?The word value is quite apt, because without doubt a larger Team England and a busier international calendar can mean only one thing… more money! But one thing is for sure, England simply cannot continue to pay for just six anglers, a couple of managers and the odd official, to travel off for a few weeks each year with expectations of returning with gold each time. To stay at the top of a continually changing and competitive scene, the team needs to adapt to these tougher competition conditions… and this means more investment. If the Angling Trust, or anyone else, are unable to put extra investment into our international squad, then let’s accept that future results will be less than expected. But please don’t put any blame on the anglers or managers. If Team England does not dominate the international stage over the next ten years, it will be because we haven’t been given enough financial resources to achieve that goal. It also means that we, as an angling nation, place less value on international success that many other nations do, which, for wider world of English angling is a sad and disappointing outcome.

While I’m presently more concerned for our senior squad, I accept that other areas of our international commitments, such as the Ladies, Youths and Disabled squads, are equally blighted by a lack of funding. These matters need addressing. In an ideal world Sport England would provide more funding, for what is after all one of their more successful sports! There are millions thrown at international teams like athletics and synchronised swimming (god help us) with, in some cases, little return, yet we hold one of the most prestigious places in angling history as a nation. So why can’t we get a slice of that market?

Even so, politically, I fear that funding from Sport England to angling will not increase in a way that our sport deserves. The solution, I fear, needs to come from within angling in this country and this will mean a partnership between several sponsors—a sort of Club England arrangement—where we get several key UK companies together to provide a serious level of sponsorship, along with the Angling Trust. Already Preston and Sensas sponsor the Feeder and the Under 18 squads respectively, so couldn’t a bigger sponsorship budget be negotiated, by pooling them and other UK leading wholesalers and manufacturers together? Fox/Matrix? Dynamite Baits? Tricast? As I said earlier, Peter Drennan has been a great benefactor to Team England, but the amount of money needed in the future will simply be too much for one company to bear. If friendly internationals, a squad that works together at home and abroad and a bankside presence, puts England on a level playing field with better resourced nations, then the reality will be that you have to at least double, if not triple, the current level of sponsorship.

England have been at the top of the angling world for the last 15 years. However, (to paraphrase Mr Zimmerman) ‘the times they are a changing’. If simply being a top 5 nation is good enough for English national pride, then nothing needs to be changed. However, if England are to dominate for another 10-15 years, then I fear a slightly different approach may be called for.

England expects... but so does the team!