Rookies and Pros Vie for UK and Ireland Freestyle Titles at AFFO

The Atlantic Freestyle Football Open takes place in several coastal cities throughout the UK. Now in its second year, the competition offers a chance for both beginners and pros to compete on picturesque beachside locations, while its second leg also doubles as the official, F3-sanctioned UK & Ireland Freestyle Football Championship.

Following the successful first leg of the Atlantic Freestyle Football tour last month, AFFO was back once again on Saturday, May 20, in yet another beautiful coastal location in the UK—this time to host the 2017 UK & Ireland Freestyle Football Championship (UKIFFC). Bosombe Pier on the south coast of Bournemouth served as the venue for an even bigger turnout than the previous AFFO event in Newquay.

Although I would have much rather been competing, I had the privilege of being one of the judges for this competition—the first ever British judge for UKIFFC, in fact. It was my first time judging a freestyle competition, and I enjoyed it thoroughly alongside my fellow judges and freestylers Caitlyn Schrepfer (USA) and Gunther Celli (Head Judge, Italy). Being on the other side of that table allowed me to observe some of the rising stars in the freestyle scene, including a substantial group of newcomers battling in the Rookies bracket.

“All things considered it was extremely successful,” said Jason Heaton, the organizing force behind the event. “First ever British judge, first ever female judge, first ever Rookies Championship, and more players than last year’s [AFFO event].”

As in previous AFFO competitions, the stage was set on the sand, this time with the addition of an extra structure that served as a warm-up area and spectators’ section. This was particularly handy as we experienced not the kindest weather conditions throughout the day. At times, heavy rain and strong winds became an obstacle for competitors to perform their best. However, with this group, it goes without saying that the spirit of the community prevailed through this test. The Battles, Sick 3, and Challenge events all ran their course while being surrounded by a wave of encouragement and support from all those involved.

Perhaps one of the highlights of the day was witnessing a crop of fresh, young talent have a go at the inaugural Rookies Championship title. These 14 eager up-and-comers, many of whom were competing for the first time, spread a contagious energy throughout the crowd. The atmosphere and for a time, even the weather, was at their finest with them.

Thirteen-year-old Jonny Chapman emerged as the overall winner in the Rookies Championship after beating Wan Abdulrahman in the finals.

Griffin Berridge performs in the Battles’ final as his opponent, Andrew Henderson, looks on approvingly.

The rookies were also given the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the best in the Experienced competition. But from the 24 total competitors it was a familiar face who was victorious in the final battle. Andrew Henderson retained his title for an impressive eighth year in a row.

“From the outside it could seem that I was feeling complacent in the lead up to this year’s event having won this competition so many times, but in fact it was quite the opposite” said Henderson. “This year was full of many young, new faces and I had a run to victory that was full of completely new opponents to me. It definitely kept me on my toes and I was once again extremely proud to lift the trophy and be crowned champion of my country … !”

Sixteen-year-old Griffin Berridge proved his worth in salt with solid performances that earned him second place, while Irish freestyler Conor Reynolds edged out Josh Sanders to take third.

Winners of the UK & Ireland Freestyle Football Championship main event celebrate their win in Bournemouth. First place: Andrew Henderson. Second place: Griffin Berridge. Third place: Conor Reynolds.

Adding to the momentum was AFFO’s resident beat master DJ Angel Newquay and the event MC, professional freestyler Jamie MacDonald. Members of local breakdance crew “Break Ya Mind” were also on hand to steal the stage with some of their crazy moves for a freestyle-football-meets-street-dance-mashup-free-for-all extravaganza. Both DJ Angel Newquay and Break Ya Mind will be permanent fixtures at the remaining AFFO events.

After securing first place in the Battles, Henderson went on to sweep the Sick 3 and Challenge events, while Reynolds had to settle for second place, also in both events. There were some surprises, however, as Chapman, the newly crowned Rookie Champion, managed to take third in Sick 3, while fellow rookie Alex Hyland-Cid picked up the trophy for third place in Challenge.

In addition to finishing third overall, Reynolds was awarded the Irish Championship trophy for reaching the furthest in the competition among Irish participants. Similarly, Amelie Robertson was awarded in the women’s category, although she competed in the men’s side as she was the only female competitor present. Both awards were introduced to the national championships this year for the first time.

Schrepfer, who is no stranger to the global freestyle community, remarked, “It’s always a real pleasure to connect with the UK freestyle scene and this was no exception. The scene here has a unique mixture of strengths that makes it one of my favorites to watch, judge, and to be around in general.”

“The future holds many possibilities, all unbelievably exciting,” added Heaton. “At the final event of the tour, there will be an app free to download and the grand finale will be streamed live through it. It won’t be on the beach. Next year, it will be indoors. We’re working on it right now but we must keep it under wraps. It will break boundaries again you can be sure of that.”

For more information about upcoming Atlantic Freestyle Football Open events, visit their web site.

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