“We’re as strong as we were in the 1980s.” That’s the battle cry of Shakespeare Superteam skipper Mick Hatchard ahead of this weekend’s Angling Times Team Champs semis matches. Then, the nation’s best will by vying for a coveted spot in the big final and the ‘Shakey’ lads will be one team to watch.
Following a painstaking rebuilding over the last decade, absorbing the major switch from big matches on rivers to canals and commercials, the West Midlands aces, famed for being the first ‘professional’ team back in the late 1970s with the likes of Ken Giles and Clive Smith, are now gunning for some big-time silverware.
According to Mick, this year’s Team Champs is the one they desperately want to win, although like many with similar ambitions, one major obstacle stands in their way - Daiwa Dorking. Mick believes his side are equipped to bring down the all-dominant Surrey side, though. Their first task will be qualifying from what on paper is the toughest semi of them all on the Grand Union Canal at Loughborough.
“It’s the hardest semi, and there will be four teams that will threaten - ourselves, Leicester, Trentmen and Tipton,” Mick said.
“The build-up has been tough because the weather has prevented the canal showing what it can do. Saying that, we’re winning the league on the canal so we are in touch with the venue and we’re probably one of the best canal squads in the country. It’d be crazy if we didn’t fancy it.” Qualify and the final awaits where presumably the likes of Dorking, Barnsley and Starlets will lie in wait. However, Shakespeare have been knocking on the door with five final appearances in the last six years, finishing second in 2006. They have the men, but Mick reckons a touch of international class would be that missing ingredient that has so far seen the trophy elude them.
“Breaking into that top three is our next job, but we’ve never been stronger, and each year that passes sees us grow,” he added.
AT Team Champs semi-final line-ups
Saturday, March 7
Northern semi - Hampton Springs
Teams: Chester Tackle Locker, Maver Midlands, Saints, Sam’s Tackle & Bait, Ted Carter Preston, Ted Carter Southport, Tri-Cast Highfield, Western Tackle & Bait
Sunday, March 8
Midlands semi - Grand Union Canal, Loughborough
Teams: Browning Hot Rods, Daiwa Trentmen, Fox Match Stanjay, Fox Match Tipton Van Den Eynde, Leicester Sensas, Shakespeare, Trabucco, Tunnel Barn Bandits
Midlands semi - Grand Union Canal, Milton Keynes
Teams: Chiltern Baits,
Drennan Oxford, Fox Match
Black Horse, Kamasan
Starlets, Sensas A4, Team SPRO
Southern semi ¬ Kennet & Avon Canal, Bathampton
Teams: Bathampton Avon Aquatics, Daiwa Gordon League, Devizes Angling Centre, Fox Match Arun, Garbolino Blackmore Vale MG, Guildford Angling Centre, Preston Innovations Thatcher’s, SPRO Dorset Raiders