THE FIRST CORMORANTS - WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
by Theodora Kenway
What happened to the first Cormorants?
With none of them still playing professional football after the retirements of Brightley and Fitzmarten, it seems an appropriate time to look back on the Baptism of Fire winning squad. A strange team to look back on it, masterfully balanced between club sides, with Sabrefell Moths, Sabrefell Athletic (back then the two biggest teams in the league), Crisisbless, AFC Treason each having four representatives in the squad. Was it a political move? Gethin Ramsey's always denied this, but with a team representing such a fractured state as New Sideburn used to be, it's a realistic and reasonable assumption that he was at least keeping the placation of the Big Four (and thus Treason, Crisisbless and both west and east Sabrefell) in mind.
The tactics were strange, too. This was back when Gethin Ramsey was a motivator beyond compare, but it took him some hard lessons - 7-0 to Sicoutimont perhaps the hardest - before he learned how to get the best from his squad. The Cormorants won the Baptism of Fire through hard running, muscle, and a mixture of pace on the wings (and with Scabbard up front) and a resolute spine of veterans. It was fluid, often ill-disciplined, and the defence was incredibly leaky at first until the midfield narrowed, Oakwood was trained to join the defence when the fullbacks pushed up and the defence gained chemistry. But there was an exuberant attacking presence in a squad desperate to break upfield and score. They were an exciting team to watch... at both ends.
And, of course, there were many controversial omissions outside of political concerns. A personal spat with Brighton Lovelock, who would surely have walked into this team's midfield after his move to Earent (albeit relegated in his first season) was one factor. But despite that, somehow, this team was good enough.
So for these 23 heroes, some long forgotten but all with a part to play, it's time at last to roll back the years and find out... where are they now?
1 - Goalkeeper - Asger Stubbs - Sabrefell Moths
Won seven caps before retiring internationally just prior to the Cup of Harmony. Finished his club career for the Moths soon afterwards - remains the oldest player in Premiership history at 40. Went into coaching, but his stint as Moths manager was a failure. Yet to re-enter the lead role with any club, but that remains his ambition. Reached just seven modern caps, keeping a solitary clean sheet in Nephara's first match against Saintland, despite being Nephara's undisputed number one for so many years before joining the WCC.
2 - Rightback - Anna Shrike - Crisisbless
Much-maligned in that first year due to a lack of fitness and a suicidally-aggressive nature, Shrike eventually shaped up in the second half of qualifying and fought hard to make the number 2 her own. Improved dramatically with time, eventually winning a transfer to Mâ Âlâmëómë and internationally retiring on a high, with the third Campionato Esportiva victory at the age of 33, with 126 caps and 7 goals.
3 - Centreback - Lukas Strongnesse - Sabrefell Athletic
Inspirational captain at the time, Strongnesse was a sprightly 36 by the time of the tournament, and went on to win 50 caps with four goals. A bulwark at the back and a taciturn, reliable penalty taker, but most of all an inspiration who united a fractious squad. Retired a couple of years later, still an Athletic regular. Now a Senator for the Progressive Democrats, explosively popular in his East Sabrefell seat.
4 - Centreback - Olga Nihil - Maximum City
Third-choice centreback, Nihil was solid and dependable. She made an ill-advised move to Vermillion just in time for them to go bankrupt and relegated, and she was frozen out of the squad midway through the season when she made public comments about the shady finances in the club. Moved back to Maximum City afterwards. Won 15 caps.
5 - Centreback - Rook Harm - Crisisbless
An unstoppable juggernaut of destruction, Harm kept playing well into his thirties - eventually picked up by Egloskerry in the ANL, which while not the greatest league in the world back then was still reasonably prominent. Now an extremely popular commentator and pundit. Everpresent in the early years, Harm ultimately won 67 caps, scoring once.
6 - Defensive Midfielder - Lucia Oakwood - AFC Treason
Started the first 80 WCC-era games Nephara played. Eventually, to nobody's surprise, became captain. Moved to Crisisbless just before Treason surprised everyone by actually winning the title (yes, back then that was a shock. They finished 7th the season before becoming champions for the first time, having just sold their captain) and became a stalwart for them before eventually internationally retiring and moving to Kingsgrove, where she closed out her career. In her last match, Kingsgrove won the Campionato Esportiviano di Campeones. Fitting for such a big-game player, whose injury-time-in-extra-time direct free kick was the winner for the Campionato Esportiva 6. Won 93 caps, scoring nine goals.
7 - Striker - Gerhard Thunder - Sabrefell Moths
Everyone knows his story. An incredibly prolific scorer for the national team (and his club), eventually winning a transfer to Astograth University. Scored 57 goals over 108 caps, including the only goal in a 1-0 win over Antoletia, Nephara's second World Cup goal and first World Cup win. He was 33 then, and went on to play in the next World Cup (although in a diminished role) before being released by Astograth University and ending his career back with the Moths.
8 - Right Midfielder - Grant Beardsley - Parrhesia United
Variously adored, maligned and overlooked, Beardsley was a surprise addition to the national team and an inconsistent performer. But he scored the goal that won the Baptism of Fire - and that one won't be forgotten. That was one of eleven he scored for the national team without contributing a whole lot else, but he still got 51 caps.
9 - Striker - Alicia Scabbard - Crisisbless
The quick lass to Thunder's big lad, Scabbard was dynamic early on before eventually fading a little. Still scored 22 times for the national team over 49 matches, even if she did eventually wane in prominence. A Crisisbless mainstay for years before ending her career with Ritter Town.
10 - Attacking Midfielder - Dale Brightley - Basin Plain
His massive talent was evident early on for Southfell United, so evident that Basin Plain was quick to pick him up. He became a mainstay for what was, then, one of the best clubs in the world - as well as for the national team, winning 116 caps and scoring 42 goals, including Nephara's first ever goal in a World Cup (against the Polar Islandstates). Fell out of favour with Plain in his early thirties as Plain itself fell out of favour with UICA, and returned to Southfell a hero. He's been their inspiration ever since, and has only just retired after three seasons as the keystone of the team.
11 - Left Midfielder - Cheney Rosewood - Sabrefell Moths
The flamboyant but effective winger was a mainstay for the early Cormorants, arguably its best player. Surprisingly, though, he never played club football abroad, spending his peak years in the Moths before ending his career with the Coret Hawks. With 79 caps, he was an iconic figure back then, scoring 14 times.
12 - Goalkeeper - Portia Thrift - Crisisbless
Another iconic figure, and Nephara's most-capped goalkeeper with 78 caps. Keeping 28 clean sheets over that time, Thrift might have been aging by the time of the Baptism of Fire, but she made up for fading reflexes with a positioning sense bordering on the supernatural. Finished her career for Riverside, winning her last three caps in Campionato Esportiva 8 at the age of 38. That age seems like a strange glass ceiling of sorts for the national team, given that Stubbs and Strongnesse also reached it but none have been capped at 39. Currently the Nepharim goalkeeping coach.
13 - Leftback - Leila Corvette - Sabrefell Moths
The lean, chain-smoking leftback was a regular sight in the early squad, her more attack-minded style appealing to Ramsey's early tactics. Guaranteed you electrifying pace in a pinch, and a good cross. Joined Maximum City as the Moths lost their lustre, and ended her career there thanks largely to an incredibly short stamina. Won 56 caps, without scoring - the most capped outfielder without a goal to their name.
14 - Striker - Leyland Stallion - Southfell United
Has had a strange career. His form with Southfell (not so much with the national team - he only ever scored one goal in his seven caps, in a friendly) eventually took him to Sabrefell Athletic, where he eventually had one of the most disappointing seasons for any centre-forward in Nepharim history as defending champions Athletic managed an 11th-placed finish. Their form didn't improve, and neither did his, eventually culminating in a move back to Southfell. Enjoyed a resurgence there despite his age before finishing his career in the fledgeling league of Electrum.
15 - Striker - Bruce Payne - Vermillion Rage
Impact substitute supreme for the national team at first, with two crucial goals in the Baptism, he transferred to AFC Treason but never really entered the national frame again. Retired after a final injury-hit season for Maximum Rovers, notable chiefly for then-20-year old Reinhard Drake excelling in the match time he got. Capped 11 times, scored three.
16 - Defensive Midfielder - Pavel Ironclad - Sabrefell Athletic
A holding, playmaking midfielder, Ironclad suffered from Oakwood's uncanny reliability. That said, he won two caps, one coming on as a crucial substitute in the Baptism of Fire final. Transferred to Coret Hawks at 31, ended his career with them.
17 - Rightback - Maria Stout - Maximum City
Thirty-five years old at the time of the Baptism of Fire, Stout ultimately won nine caps for the national team, but retired soon afterwards. Went into refereeing, but has only just announced her retirement due to her age - still a distinguished player and a distinguished referee, and not many could claim both those honours. Has refereed at World Cups, and is perhaps ruing that she didn't get the chance to play in one.
18 - Defensive Midfielder - Dacia Mountain - AFC Treason
Won two caps in all, given her cover role. Retired a year later at 31 after an injury-wracked career, and went into property development. Easily the least exciting player here.
19 - Attacking Midfielder - Karelline Charmwell - Sabrefell Athletic
Spent her entire career with Athletic, getting some more chances for the national team and ultimately winning 38 caps and 10 goals in the green and black. Might not have held the talent or club Dale Brightley did, but her drive and desire took her far, and she held down her place in the whole throughout the early years.
20 - Goalkeeper - Kurtis Fitzmarten - Sabrefell Athletic
The promising but occasionally slightly ropey goalkeeper for Athletic, Fitzmarten was meant to be the man of the future but that never quite panned out for him. Eventually sold to Raven River, where he enjoyed his best form throughout his late 20s and early 30s and was eventually called up (though not capped) again. Had a season with Chenoworth Harriers before moving to Mareibat to close out his career for Halholzer Spitfires. Capped twice, once as a substitute.
21 - Striker - Tara Lockdown - AFC Treason
A surprisingly prolific striker for the national team, the lanky Lockdown (known chiefly for her blue-dyed hair) managed seven goals from 14. She continued as a consistent scorer for Treason before eventually moving to Northern Union, retiring there after two seasons at the age of 34.
22 - Leftback - Cathy Stokes - AFC Treason
Well, this is the story nobody's going to have trouble remembering. She did struggle to get onto the team at first, with the more aggressive Corvette favoured at first. But once she was the favoured option on the left, she never looked back. Never left Treason, eventually captained both club and country, with her workrate, ethic and tireless stamina multiplying her often-underestimated talent so, so far. Retired at 34, her legs simply unable to keep up with the pace of Premiership or UICA football - and she was never going to leave Treason to take a step down, either. Currently the most-capped player for the national team with 137 caps, though it's likely that Tosca Marlowe will shade it. Scored five times.
23 - Right Midfielder - Chase Wingett - Newrook Democracy
Dropped off the national team radar until a move to AFC Treason. That fizzled out in time too, despite a re-invention as an incisive left midfielder. He got twenty-four caps in the end along with four goals, but fell out of favour for the Stags and finished his career in Jeckland. A solid career. Oh, and 'Democracy' was the old name for what is now Newrook City, by the way.