Stepping it Up – England vs Scotland 2021

“Without a doubt the best England performance in the history of this event”

“The best Scottish and English Performance over the 14 years Land Warrior and Stirling have run this game”

I have never seen such relentless determination from an England team”

Rifle and rig

Some high praise indeed from the organisers as England vs Scotland returned to Catterick this weekend. I’m back and starting to clean and sort kit after an absolutely brutal weekend, ears still ringing from the number of grenades thrown in our direction, hands still adjusting to finer tasks like typing after holding a rifle in freezing, wet and windy conditions, knocking back painkillers, and replying to many messages from the players that were there, and a lot of players wishing they were. I’ve been doing write-ups for this event since I started with England in 2014, and I can’t think of a year where I’ve had so many texts and dm’s from people wanting to step it up from Sunday skirmish to the next level, be it a milsim, battlesim or weekend event. Specifically, what’s it like to be part of the England team?. To answer a lot of the questions as best I can, this will be the first of three blogs on what it takes to go from your average Sunday skirmisher into a full weekend warrior. This first article will be a match report, giving some insight into the England vs Scotland game, the second will be a general look at what sort of kit you need to move up from skirmish, and the final part, once I’ve washed it all, will be a look specifically at my England loadout for this year.

EVENT REPORT

As in previous years, I’ve done this event with the Norvern Monkeys who usually provide a big chunk (25-30 of the 80 England players), however this year the team was only allocated 8 spaces, and I was added quite late on to the squad so preparation time was much less than usual. After two years of covid, which cancelled last years event, I was pretty overweight and out of shape. But, an England call-up is always an honour so there was no way I was going to back out.

The game is played out in December each year, largely to give the guys with NVG’s an opportunity to use them during the long night, which gives an extra challenge of fighting the weather as well as the opposition. We found out in advance that we’d been relegated from our usual, basic barracks rooms (which had a radiator at least) to an external barn…

Home for a few days. And a very cold one. Foreground – Andy, myself and Aiden ready up.

We arrived Friday night in force and started setting up our beds and admin spaces for the weekend. Being the international match that it is, England vs Scotland attracts a vast amount of very expensive and high end kit. It’s actually really interesting seeing what some of the guys unload from the many gun bags and cases. And for a newer player, it’s probably quite intimidating, but I’ll cover that in the next article. Friday night for the Monkeys is traditionally Pizza Night.

Aiden, myself and Taf (Norvern Monkeys)

Arriving in the afternoon, we have a few hours Friday evening to test guns, make final adjustments to kit, set up radio frequencies, and have one last hot meal before the game begins on Saturday morning. It’s also a good time to catch up with friends from previous events, and have some banter with the Scotland team. Land Warrior Airsoft have a shop on site to keep us entertained and our wallets empty. With Covid still rife, we have to test on arrival.

Catching up on the news to pass time on Friday evening

The sleep mat a few people have asked about – it’s wrapped in a big orange crisp packet. This is an emergency bivvy bag which is a sort of foil lined insulated cover. A little bit warmer, but unfortunately not enough to counter the wind that blows through the barn overnight. Despite two layers of thermals and a padded jacket in a 4 season bag, it’s a cold night in a big empty space. Early next morning begins with a Covid test again, although I end up doing 4 because my cold hands keep dropping the kit and making a complete hash of it. A couple of almost frozen energy drinks later, and it’s all systems go. Clothing on, rig on, weapons powered up and mags loaded. Because I was too busy eating pizza the night before.

My loadout for the weekend. Fists clenched for warmth, can of Rockstar in the dump pouch. It’s an alcohol free event.

For those yet to read the previous blogs, the game format largely revolves around capturing buildings in the British Army’s urban training village at Whinny Hill, Catterick.

Here’s our objectives list for the weekend. Basically, to score the points for your team, you had to have total control over the marked objective. The objectives themselves are buildings, numbered 1-51. To have total control, from the England perspective, would require the building to be occupied purely by English players. If one or more Scottish players managed to fight their way in, the building is classed as “contested” when marshals enter on the hour specified, and neither side is able to score the points. What this creates is a relentless assault all weekend long; a race to secure buildings, contest others and push the enemy back long enough to hold out for points on the board. It requires a lot of teamwork and coordination, a lot of stamina and determination to keep up the fight all day and all night, without wanting to stop and sit down, or have lunch, or dive into your sleeping bag early because you’re tired. It’s more aggressive than other games, because of the competitive nature of the match. It is brutal on your body and your kit, especially given the weather conditions it’s played in. It’s certainly not a milsim, although it does have the feel of one. The England vs Scotland game could quite rightly be held up as the toughest event on the calendar, and for many of us on the team, everything we do during the year, from kit purchases to games, is merely considered training for this; the big one.

Norvern Monkeys FOB at Regen 1

Once geared up, we gather near the accommodation blocks at Regen 1 for the safety brief, and a coin toss to decide which team starts where (there are two regen areas, the second of which is the opposite side of the village in some woods, and lacks facilities, but regardless of the toss, Scotland do favour the far side anyway and the coin toss seems a mere formality anyway).

As Scotland shuffle off, England are left to organise themselves into squads and sections, assign radio frequencies and operators, set up a chain of command, and receive a motivational speech ahead of the match. The motivation is clear anyway, we want the trophy, but we’re told we must stay on taskings to score points even though it may involve sitting in the cold for a couple of hours without contact. England’s players are expected to fight hard, contest everything, and not treat this as a casual event where they can enjoy hour-long lunch breaks or tuck up into a sleeping bag early while the game rumbles on. The expectation is to give in and give it everything you have and more, never quitting or giving up when it gets tough. I don’t know if Scotland are given the same speech, but England are on a run – from 6-2 down to 6-6 in the series and looking to take the lead.

A drone flies overhead from the Scotland camp as we organise ourselves into stacks. The Monkeys are joined into a section with players from UK Airsoft site The Gaol (a disused prison, very well worth a visit) Every section is given separate objectives which are marked on the sheet – you have to go for the ones you’re given instead of just wandering off into firefights looking to expend some ammo. If everyone does their job, we succeed.

18 and 20

Game on sparks a race to the centre of the village, to establish a foothold in the buildings that are up first as objectives, and to gain some territory. The Monkeys section has a fairly straightforward run up the main road, through a graveyard and into buildings 18/20. As we near the door to 18, a semi detached house, the field erupts with pyro and gunfire to our left. We sprint through the door, pause for a moment to check that everyone made it, and then immediately start securing doors and windows. Myself and long time sniper buddy Aiden, also on the team, are tasked with securing the front building (20) which is facing the Scottish line. One of the difficulties in moving through the houses are “mouse holes”; square openings a few inches off the floor but just about big enough to crawl through. In the dark, it’s a case of putting the rifle either down or through first, then pulling yourself through and landing in a heap on the floor on the other side, hoping that your buddy has a torch handy and that you don’t crawl through into an occupied room…

18/20

We’re lucky, Scotland haven’t made it this far yet as their mortar teams start thundering down on exposed England positions. Indoors, we push through the rooms and secure the front door, with the Gaol players in our section covering the rear building (18), allowing Monkeys to position themselves at windows and “murder holes”, small openings that cannot be fired through but provide useful spotting opportunities (see pic below), to secure the building and the immediate area around it. The objective time is still two hours away, and we know that although it’s quiet at the moment, it won’t be an easy ride and Scotland will attempt to take the building at some point.

Murder holes – can’t shoot through, but a very useful vantage point from inside buildings

We use our vantage points to relay information on enemy movements through the command net to help other sections to respond and react to enemy threats. Information is constantly exchanged between both parts of our building, from the Monkey end to the Gaol end, and we reinforce each other as needed if anyone gets shot while holding a doorway or window position. As long as there is plenty of coordination and teamwork, these buildings with their darkened rooms and plenty of solid wall cover are very difficult to attack. I might be wrong, but the buildings lost I would think owe more to defensive lapses than the assaults. Unfortunately, while covering a corridor as second man on the door, I lapse while turning to talk to our 1IC and take a bb to the head. As I raise my hand, shout “HIT” and start walking to the rear of the building, a teammate rushes to my vacated position to keep that front door covered. I can hear our perimeter guys outside the front of the door open fire. As I leave the rear of building 18 to head back to respawn, the Gaol section are starting to take casualties too. Outside in the daylight, the graveyard is now peppered with smoke grenades, and through the haze I can see Scotland pouring forward, multiple LMG’s opening up on the single guy watching the doorway behind me. Trudging down the road back to the regen area, Scottish reinforcements are sprinting towards our building too. There are no England players in sight bar the few still holding out in 18/20. My radio is still on, though obviously I don’t answer as I’m dead, and I can hear Monkeys’ 1IC James “Booty” Carroll, still on the first floor observation position, calling out enemy movements, advancing from all directions now. They’re surrounded.

Scotland advancing to the graveyard using smoke. 18/20 to the right of the picture.

Back in Regen 1, the respawn system means that this area is closed to England for the next 15 minutes, but open to Scotland, which is why their team is able to keep spawning back in and reinforcing the assault on 18/20 unopposed. Regen 2 is the reverse, with it open to England and closed to Scotland, and the hope is that the England players there can break through Scotland’s rearguard and provide support onto the objectives. Those of us locked in Regen 1 use the time to reload mags, take on fluids and get ready to rush back in. A trickle of England players in the next few minutes reminds us that they can only hold for so long without help.

The Regen 1 gate closes to Scotland, we move to the gate ready to sprint back in. As soon as the marshal gives us the green light, it’s back into the fight. I sprint up the road as hard as possible, closing in on the graveyard, and with the gun on semi dispatch two Scots taking cover behind a garage. Most of the rest of the Scottish force has gone and I do suspect for a moment that they’ve already broken through and occupied the buildings, requiring a bang and breach next. But the garden I notice is now held by England players, having smashed through the lines from Regen 2. A familiar face from the Gaol team is holding the doorway still, and I jump back inside to reinforce the door again.

England scored maximum points on that objective, and that was the story of just one of many objectives that weekend, the teams constantly fighting for territory, breaching and securing buildings, sprinting back and forth from regens to the action. There’s no let-up, no rest until the weekend is done (a brief sleep overnight does little for the fatigue). In recent years, it has been fairly comfortable for England in securing wins. This year, Scotland pushed us all the way (without seeing score updates, we did start to feel like we might be behind).

Night falls early this time of year, and immediately it would seem those with NVG’s have the upper hand, but any player equipped with a torch and the sense to be careful with it has an equal chance. We fight late into the night, cold and wet, before heading to bed at 11pm. Even the most hardcore players would need a rest after that. Morning comes all too quickly, and I’ve had an awful night without sleep for the second night running, kept awake by the cold and hearing wind and rain battering the outside of the barn. The lights flicker on as players get out of bed and start gearing up again. It’s still dark outside, and I have to pull on cold wet kit again, knocking back an energy drink for caffeine before hauling myself back into the field. The rule is, that you start where you finished the previous night.

The first hour is subdued, as pyro isn’t permitted until after 8am on a Sunday morning. There is an occasional crack of gunfire as the players wearily try to engage the enemy and find the rhythm of the night before. As the sun rises, the bangs begin and we find ourselves immediately back into the action. It doesn’t matter how tired you are, there’s a finish line and you have to make sure you’re across it in the lead.

Final result – England win.

The final spot on the trophy, making the series 7-6 to England and it feels good to have been involved in bringing it from 6-2 down to take the lead. An hour of packing away is followed by a group trip to the local McDonalds for some well needed hot food and a warm place to sit. Though, having had hands gripping an M4 all weekend in freezing wet conditions, I struggle to grip and pick up the fries. Ears still ringing from all the pyro, barely able to hear conversation on the table. Walking is a pain, literally.

Recovery is a few days…

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3 thoughts on “Stepping it Up – England vs Scotland 2021

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