Interview, Raymond Stephens, Ultimate Frisbee

Waiting for Irish Ultimate, interview with Raymond Stephens, host of the Glendalough Open

frisbee 2

This player was special. In ’95, he had been waiting for Ultimate Frisbee to come to Ireland since he was a child. He didn’t know there was a game, he just wanted someone to throw with. From TCD, he even wrote to the disc manufacturers, probably a whamo, to ask for the mathematical equation of what happened when the disc was in the air. Naturally they ignored him.

I met him the first week I moved to Ireland, organising an acorn picking day in Wicklow. Something to do with protecting native Irish oaks under the onslaught of invasive species like sycamore. 19 years later, such is the impact of global warming, for some, sycamore is no longer considered a non native tree. From that first trip, with a van load of strangers, came the person who subsequently created and hosted the Glendalough Open for 3 years.

Raymond was the first and only Irish player from the very beginning to make it onto  the pitch in 99 & 2000 when Ireland finally reached Worlds. I was delighted he hung around for so long, even after moving first to Glendalough, and then later to Spiddal. His back finally grew too stiff to play anymore, and after being there for the (r)evolution of Prague 01, he played less and less. If you do ever make it down to his fabulous wooden kit house in Gort he will still happily throw a disc with you to this day, just don’t ask him to run after it anymore.

When did you play from? 95 – 02?

I don’t know but that sounds about right

r2

Your story about always wanting to throw a frisbee as a kid is cool – describe that?

I remember playing Frisbee with my brother on a beach and in a Garden and thinking “there must be loads more things you could do with this than just throw it back and forth.  I was right.  In hindsight, it’s odd that my brother didn’t invent something a bit like ultimate as he invented games with lots of other things including coins and tyres….”

and then about how you wrote to the manufacturers to ask them for the mathematical equation for what it was doing when you threw it?

I don’t remember much about that – I don’t have a copy of the letter I’m afraid.  Some English friend of mine gave me  a proper discraft Frisbee for my birthday one year on a holiday to Norway (it came in handy there) and I was so taken by it that I wrote to discraft to ask them for the mathematical equations governing the movement of a Frisbee in the air.  Not surprisingly, I never received an answer.

Came across a couple of good articles that might help to answer these burning questions, 1 & 2 

RaySimon

Who’s that girl? + Raymo

What was it like to play in Dublin in the mid to late 90’s?

Well, I was working for an volunteer organisation where I came across all sorts of off-the-wall people and one of them was this short English bloke who I hit it off with.  It came out that he played a game called ultimate in Herbert park and anyone was welcome and try.  I had always loved Frisbee and could throw alright (forehand only).  Also, I had never really been able to get into mainstream sports like soccer and Gaelic as I just found them (and still do) stupidly aggressive and competitive to a fault.  So the self refereeing and Spirit aspects of Ultimate really appealed to me.

What did you make of the crowd that played it?

I really liked the odd-ball crowd who played it- most weren’t overly athletic so that suited me just fine.  It was a really lovely feeling to cycle in to Herbert park (later Belfield) and see the discs flying from a distance.  It was just the right mix of skill, competitiveness and athleticism for me.

If there had been an ultimate team at TCD when you went there do you think you would have played for them?

If  I’d known about them. I’d have forgiven them for their prod’ie ways. I’m just joking now Simon, you can’t really put that in. I didn’t play for Trinity in any other sport. I played football as a kid, but the gaeilic and all the rest just didn’t appeal to me. I used the sport centre, to play badminton

and to check out the women …?

Stop putting words into my mouth there Simon.

r4

Pookas, Dublin tournament ‘circa 97

You were one of the first regular Irish players to play, what was it like to be the Irish guy among expats?

Well there were other Irish players, Conor, Jimmy, Eoghan . To be honest, the nationality of the players never really meant much to me.  I liked to play in an international atmosphere as there was maybe more accepting of peoples differences as everybody was obviously different.

 and perhaps the only one to make it to our first worlds – what was it like to play for your country?

I got a great laugh out of playing for my country.  There was some pride but mostly I just thought it was hilarious.  I still now get a kick of telling people I represented my country at the highest level.  Even more hilariously, I got paid leave from my civil service job to represent my country abroad!!  If only they knew!!  I remember I brought earplugs and the big plastic ear defenders so I could sleep at night.  Worked a treat.

I remember writing the letters, as ‘head’ of the national sporting organisation, to several civil servants on our team, who then qualified for a week’s paid holiday as they were representing their country on official business. It tickled me at the time, boy did you owe me a pint for that. But I’m pretty sure you got me one along the way, so it’s all good.

Tell us about the wobbly disc you threw for the winning point against South Africa – for Ireland’s first ever win in the Open Division

It was to some young Irish guy. Not Brian MacDevitt, god, who,  maybe John Lynham, some young Irish fella. I don’t think we actually had that many young Irish guys on the team. Especially after Declan Breslin broke his foot the week before in a final in Germany, and spent the week getting pushed round in a shopping trolly. That was funny! The doctor to be, drinking LIDL beer and forgetting his crutches all the time.

r5

His house in the Glendalough valley, home of the Wicklow open for 3 years

Then you moved to Wicklow – but you brought the frisbee to your back door, literally! Tell us about the numerous Wicklow open events you ran – and the 30 or 40 people sleeping in your house and garden.

I’ll take it as a good sign that I cannot remember too much about these get togethers.  But yes, 15 tents beside a river and great Frisbee golf and ultimate was  a real pleasure.  Great post  match parties too. I remember two things – the traditional “last hole” on the Frisbee golf course around Camderry (the mountain opposite my house), it was from the top of the slope THROUGH my front door! Fantastic.  And Brian Goode’s incredible “hole-in-one” when he hit a scot’s pine half way up the trunk from about 100m away, downhill. Jaw-dropping.

[I even named one of my kids after the guy whose land Raymond’s little converted cabin was on. ‘Zeph’.]

How did ultimate change in Ireland during your time?

Well, lots of new younger players got involved and a few more teams were set up around the country, but I think the bigger changes came after I left Ireland in 2002

You were one of the first to stop playing? Why?

I left Ireland in 2002 to travel in Latin America and then I lived in Spain for 3 years.  I played a couple of evenings with a team in Girona, but I then had a double disc hernia in my back and I’ve never played Ultimate again really.

Do / did you miss it?

I do miss it.  Not actively as I am quite busy with other things.  But I do realise that it was a wonderful part of my life and I’m very happy to have played for so long and to have met all the great people I met.  I play Frisbee with my children now and enjoy that.  And I play Frisbee golf when I get the chance,  I still have my Pooka shirt and sometimes I put it on and stand in front of the mirror with a disc making feints left and right…………

He’s not joking either!

Frisbee 1

Favourite game?

I think I scored a good point against Spain in Heilebron and I think we won that game so I’ll go with that (I didn’t score many points….)

Too modest. He also threw the winning pass to beat South Africa in 2000 for Ireland’s first ever win at Open level. That said, it was a really crappy, floaty, wobbly flick. Standing behind him at the time I was amazed it got to the endzone to be caught by one of our players. But, it did the trick and we’d won our first game at Worlds.

Favourite players played with?

Ah now, has to be that short English bloke….but also Conor,  Jimmy, Mikey,  Eoghan, Ryan, Jo, BrianMcD, Brian Goode, Pete, Gareth, Chris, Jamie…who did I forget?

Far too diplomatic, I didn’t say list the whole f@@king team.

Memorable incident, on and off the pitch?

I loved the Swan attacking you at Ross on Wye.

Yes that was good

Watching Eoghan and someone else (Chris?) jumping onto the luggage belt at (Dublin?) airport after a Ross-on-Wye.  Some drink had been taken.  I just thought it hilarious watching them disappear from view as they went under those big plastic curtains…..

On the pitch

Seeing Brian Goode actually do the GREATEST in a match- only time I’ve ever seen it done properly.

We did also do it at Worlds in 2000, though to be fair it was 10 yards outside our own endzone, which of course suggests that the thrower was just crap, rather than the receiver being particularly amazing.

What did your family / folks think? 

That’s a funny one. They didn’t take it seriously, they thought it was a joke, but now that my nephew, who is on the Cork and Irish under 23 team (ed Irish Juniors), plays, he is given a lot of respect for what he does. It is taken seriously now by the family, which is a great change from when I was playing.

With my nephew too, it’s an interesting one. He was a very talented player for GAA, soccer and then ultimate too. Thing was he had less than stellar experiences with other sports. He was strung along a bit. He was the reserve goalie, young, but very good for his age. So they kept picking him, and promising he would get a game, time and again, and then not get played. This is not a hard luck story, just a common experience in GAA and soccer. For this reason lots of talented players quit those sports. This is Ultimate’s gain, their loss, because, ultimate is fundamentally about giving all the players as much of a playing experience as possible. O and D lines, mean if you can make the squad, you will get pitch time. It may be more or less than some others, but you won’t spend the whole game unused on the bench, as happens every match in soccer / rugby / gaa for some of the squad. It isn’t a smart strategy for the long term retention of players, and is massive plus in ultimate’s favour.

Back then I got onto the team, because I lived in Ireland, and wanted to play for them. Now there are trials, and you have to be picked. It’s a whole different level. I love it, but I might not have made the team a few years later on.

Is it weird even trying to tell your own kids, about what you did ?

I do try, they’re not cynical yet, they’re still a bit young yet. I loved the sport though because it was mixed. I think it changed the dynamic, made it less aggressive. It made people more respectful. I liked it that it was mixed, it really made it for me. I think it’s a great team sport. Tennis and badminton are, but individual sports, for learning how to play well with others I think it’s a great game and I’d love for my kids to be involved when they get bigger.

What about St Andrews, those Dutch guys, beating Tetse fly after the thunder storm … ?

No, I don’t remember any of it.

R1

Prague when they stole Declan’s bed, or covered Jamie + Chris’s front door with porn ? What do you remember, the naked men and the hammers incident? Anything?

I’m very innocent,  I was just there for the disc man, I was already the old man on the team. I didn’t have the energy or the time to be getting up to high jinx as well as playing. A week of ultimate was enough for me.

What would you like to add?

So long and thanks for all the discs. Shame that’s already been taken, I hope everyone realises it’s a ripoff from Douglas Adams in the first place.

Parting words of wisdom?

Enjoy it while you can………

I love Frisbee.

 

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4 thoughts on “Waiting for Irish Ultimate, interview with Raymond Stephens, host of the Glendalough Open

  1. Fiachra Hurley says:

    Raymond got one of his facts wrong, I (his nephew) played for the Junior Irish team, not Under 23s. Not yet anyway. Other than that, fantastic article.

    Like

  2. Pingback: The latest 7 Ultimate interviews, with added girl power | Sarah Paddle Swim

  3. Pingback: Patatas Bravas, Barcelona Ultimate the origins, the growth, and the happy times along the way.   | Sarah Paddle Swim

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