As someone who grew up in the peaceful countryside around Castle Donington – the setting of the now truly massive Download festival – the stories and rumours that come with any such event were a yearly reminder of the excitement and passion evoked by rebellion and rock music, and the colourful memories of those at school lucky enough to afford tickets were invariably the topic of envious discussions come the return to school after the summer holidays.
As an inevitable festival rain started falling on the determined troop of fighters on the morning of the second day of the event proper – and the début day of the new Demolition Download Competition – it struck me that I’d never could have imagined that in a million years I’d one day be standing in that amazing field on that emotional, wild, momentous weekend – as a performer.
The potential of the spectacle of knights fighting a serious, determined motivated fight for victory seemed and continues to seem immeasurable- a few weeks before we’d been welcomed into the genteel country town of Ludlow, more accustomed to friendly farmers’ markets than hardcore full contact combat, and at Download as then, the sport we are privileged enough to be a part of became a wildly popular part of the day’s itinerary.
Joined by a characteristically strong team from Germany, lending the mini tournament the ever-popular international (warm-hearted) rivalry element- the event was keenly anticipated by many of those dedicated rockers who encountered a similar display at the comparatively modest Bloodstock festival in 2013 – they seemed as pleased as us that our sport had levelled up the in the rankings of the festival calendar – in sheer scale we were putting on a show like never before.
Whereas our reception at Bloodstock had been cheerful and warm, at Download it was clear – we were a part of a programme at an event involving close on a hundred thousand people, a small part of a big, big machine that draws in some of the largest names in music, from all over the globe, and undoubtedly our biggest venue since our team began just two summers ago.
Already the UK has made a strong name for itself in the IMCF – and for a close-knit team in a small country we have been proud to punch well above our weight – for all the challenges posed by the weekend ahead of the drizzly Saturday morning, morale was at an all-time high.
Thoughts of a hard-won victory in Rise of the Knights, and a blistering performance in Belmonte tempers the minds of British fighters before each training and every tournament, and we knew that the visiting Germans, for all their characteristically high spirits on the previous night, were going to leave all their pleasant natures at the entrance to the lists come the battles that afternoon.
The crowd deepened and the atmosphere grew electric as the teams took their places beside the arena – the St George tabards of City Of London – a recently formed chapter from the capital, consisting of national team captain Mark ‘the Khan’ Taylor, and national vice captain, and IMCF silver medal swordsman Lukas ‘The Giant Slayer’ Kowal, as well as a formidable assembly of fit, tough fighters, pumped for the day’s fighting and unready to give an inch in the arena.
The dark red tabards of Northern England joined them, my own team, a plucky region hungry to grow and challenge the proven South, and the Bunker Team – a team collected from the South of England and London area, black-tabarded and equally determined to take home the trophy, joined for this event by fighters from the Republic of Ireland – a new and fast-growing team sure to achieve greatness in the near future.
Finally came the Germans – some new fighters and some experienced veterans, all fit and ready to fight as hard as possible to be the first foreign team win on British soil.
As the fights started to the cacophony of music roaring from the the nearby stages, the crowds grew in size and volume, cutting through the white noise of amplified bands with their cheers and whistles for their favourite teams.
Both days saw hard and difficult fighting, and though the German team acquitted themselves as professionally and vigorously as expected, the experience and physical prowess of the highly polished City Of London eventually won out.
The final day ended on a particularly high note – a free for all that lasted several minutes, in which fighters fit enough could rise after being knocked down and continue the fight. Though more of a game than a tournament, and not part of the overall competition, it was an electrifying contest that the crowed clearly enjoyed. Their thunderous appreciation as each of their new favourite fighters fought, and fell, and rose again, filled our helmets.
Download 2014 was an extraordinary adventure, with many great friendships made, and hard fought but ultimately well deserved victories won, all to the great enjoyment of those who took part.
Between watching amazing bands in the evenings, to being in the middle of some the biggest, most determined fighting Battle Heritage has ever done, it was strikingly clear that we have come a very long way in very little time – and that the coming years will, if, as seems certain, this progress continues, the future looks very bright indeed for the UK and its full contact fighting knights.