#07 - Plastic tubes and attitudes.

Great title right?

Post number #07 in our series of most memorable moments over the past 25 yeas of Planet Eclipse zooms in on the shop team – before there was a shop actually – the Banzai Bandits. In fact, this is about one event in particular, the 1997 Hyperball Championships. An event that sticks with them to this day, and for very good reason.

But before we get to the event itself we need to give you a little history lesson about the team.

How did the Banzai Bandits first start?
This could be a really long story. I started playing back in 1986; I was invited by a friend. I was hooked so started to look for more venues. A few of my friends and I started playing at a Paintball site in Worsley. We didn't have a team name or anything, we just attended normal customer days using Splatmasters. One of my friends (Chris Morden) had been to London and bought a couple of Samurai style headbands and we wore them the next time we played (I know, proper 80s right?). The Worsley venue was pretty thick in places and if we heard someone in the bushes we would run away – to fight another day – so the Ref’s started calling us the ‘Chicken Shit Ninjas’ but we didn’t really like the name so we came up with the Banzai Bandits.

Who were the original members?
Now you’re asking… Chris Morden, Colin Egan, Dave Frost, Steve Horan and we did start to call ourselves a team but still just played local parks. It wasn’t for a long time after that we formed a proper team. If you came along with us you were a Banzai.

A very young Banzai Bandits crew

Flat-top - check! Bomber jacket - check!

Camo, headbands, haircuts... Banzais had it all

Did you end up having a stomping ground?
Our first home was a place called Ball Busters in Lyme Park. Great venue. Great woodlands, great CQB farm buildings and it was run by a great character. He told us all that he used to be in the SAS, which is amazing when you're into it, but looking back it probably wasn't true.

What gear did you start out with?
Splatmaster to start with but then we started to buy the new, next generation of pump markers. What we considered to be old school players were all shooting either Phantoms or Bushmasters, but we were the new kids on the block so we went for Reblines and Grey Ghosts, all Pumps. Semis were not invented back then. Yet.

Was gear easier to come by because you ran a shop?
God no… between 1986 and 1991 getting anything was hard. There were lots of shops around back then but you had no idea who would have what and you didn’t know what was good or bad. It was a great time discovering it all for yourselves. Companies were bringing out solutions to problems you didn’t even know you had. One of the main reasons we took over Manchester Paintball was because we wanted ALL of the new / latest gear and that was a big part that drove us to search out and stock what WE WANTED. We knew that if we wanted it then a lot of the other ballers would want it too.

When the Banzais started travelling to the States to play we would always use the players to mule stuff back for us that we had found on a random booth in the trade area. It scared some people back then when you said can you ship to the UK.

How quickly did the Banzai’s make a name for yourselves?
We were OK to start with but always lived in the shadows of the Terminators and Worsley Warriors. But we were a lot younger than them and knew no different. We would play events that the Terminators would run so never really had the chance to play against them. It took time and effort. Years and years, but we eventually became top dogs in Manchester. The Banzais did pretty well over the years. We were probably most ‘Famous’ down at Kooh Doow, an amazing woodland venue where the Banzais played in-your-face paintball. Something that put us in good standing for our future.

What did the rest of the teams think of you lot when you started to become competitive?
We were Northern. We were young and we didn’t really care too much about what other teams thought of us. We weren’t scared of anyone and if we lost it wasn’t the end of the World. To be honest I’m not sure what they thought of us, I’m sure there was a lot of “who are these punks”. It’s a world where you needed to earn respect, even if you beat a team that maybe you shouldn’t have they might say you cheated or whatever. So it was a long battle, one I think we won in the end.

How big a deal was it for you guys to make loads of effort with your sponsors?
Super important. We made a lot of effort to make sure we represented well. WDP were probably the biggest sponsor the team had. We were the team that tested Hyperball out before it was even Hyperball. I was the first person to shoot an Angel in a Paintball event (2nd ever Hyperball). We also represented Forest Paintball in the UK and around the World. I guess we were doing something right?

Team photos with sponsor banners were a HUGE deal back then

As were boy band poses

What kind of things did you do to keep them happy? It’s not always about simply turning up and winning events is it?
We made ourselves available for reffing duties at tournaments and even rental days for WDP. We tested equipment and gave them top-secret feedback as well as looking the part wearing ONLY sponsors gear.

Who was the best player on the team when you started out? There’s always one who stands out isn’t there? Why?
Hard to answer this without sounding like a dick. I think back then the best player tended to be the Captain, I was the Captain (Ledz). As for why or even if that’s true I think you had better ask the others and see if they come back with the same answers, maybe they can tell you why.

Who still plays now?
Of the old Banzais: Jack Wood, Steve ‘Flash’ Monks, Darron Doherty, Eddie Lowe, Sam and Colby Keats, Dave Elliott, Speedy and Pailey have just started again, Chris Morden played for the first time in years the other week. Even Jacko gets out and plays a little with his son.

What was the Banzai way? Some teams were well known for being animals, what was your vibe?
I like to think we were an up-and-at-em team. We were always looking to push ourselves. We travelled around Europe and America playing events to see how good we were and to make us better. We were not very good at quitting that’s for sure and we liked to have a drink. Or 10. Sometimes 11.

So, on to the event itself.

When and where was this Hyperball event you speak of?
The year is 1997 in a field in Birmingham and WDP had the balls to host a concept bringing the game out of the woods. There were 40 10-man teams.  It now feels like it was JUST a Hyperball event but it was played in the woods as well. Finals were all on the Hyperball field. In the past there had been some Arena ball type fields that were cool but nothing like Hyperball. This is what brought us out of the woods and was the precursor for Supair ball.

A playground of plastic tubes

10 men, one goal

What was the set up?
Rules were no different to what they are these days. The Hyperball event invented the reffing hand signals. So Clean, Out, 1-4-1, etc were all started at the Hyperball event, back then they kindly asked players to run off the field. They were trying to change things, to make the game more understandable and interesting to watch for TV. But the rules have not really changed. Fields have gotten a lot smaller and games faster but that’s progression, or so I keep getting told.

Everyone needs to play Hyperball at least once right?
A lot more than once. Hyperball is great. It doesn’t have solid straight edges to the bunkers so it plays differently. The noise and splatter coming off the Hyperball tubes is amazing. I don’t know why we don’t still play it. Why? Anybody?

Hyperball... AWESOME!

Who was the main competition? 
Bad Company and Image had come over from the States. There were teams from France, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Ukraine & Germany, so the field was pretty strong and because it was a brand new format it certainly was a leveller. When you put teams like Image, Bad Company, Predators, Shockwave, Shades of Grey and Banzais into the predictor I bet there were not many people thinking the Banzais would win it.

Did any teams scare you? Either through being terrifying or just being incredible?
Banzais always had a never-give-in, fear-nobody mentality. When you’re the underdogs what do you have to lose? If you win happy days and if you lose, well you were supposed to lose anyway. The games that always gave me the biggest butterflies were the local rivalry games such as the one against the Manchester Lions. We won that one so that’s always nice to settle the nerves.

Going toe-to-toe with the yanks

Where you guys on other teams radars? 
I doubt it. Teams knew we would not be a push-over but how big a threat I don’t know.

What gear were you guys using at this point?
Mainly Eclipse Cockers, slide frame nothing electro at that point. Brian was the only one using an Automag. We used Govnair air system. 1.9 Litre (116 Ci) Tanks. Massive! VL Revolution loaders with the soft shells and Smartparts Barrels.

Letting rip with an early Eclipse Autococker

Did you smash your way to the finals or was it a grind?
It’s funny when you think about it. Back then you would have smashed a team if you had managed to beat them in 5 or 6 minutes for one point. More like sub 30 seconds these days. The game that stands out for me was the game against Bad Company. We pushed them back quite quickly and at least 2 of them retreated behind the wide start game - which was made up of banners. Nobody had done this before and it wasn’t against the rules (at that point). I can remember trying to shoot them in this new bunker and also screaming at the ref that they couldn’t do that. The ref’s were as confused as we were - remember this is a brand new format out of the woods so why couldn’t you do it? We beat them anyway and a new rule was born for the next match. Beating Bad Company gave the whole team the confidence that we could beat anyone.

So let’s talk finals. Who did you play and how did the matches play out?
We beat Shockwave in the Semi Finals, we always had the advantage being on their side of the field for a good portion of the game. Mike ‘Spanner’ Snape broke the game open with a double mug over the top of the big centre Hyperball tube for good measure. Robbo from Shockwave, after watching the video back after the event, was adamant that the Ref who went in to check Spanner just before he jumped up told him that there were two players on the other side of his bunker and to go and mug them. I’ve played with Spanner for years and he’s not the best at following instructions from his own team mates, never mind from an outside influence.

The finals match-up was against Shades of Grey. Again we had taken control early on with Pailey making it to the left 50 bunker (which would be like being the only person in the snake). We had a pretty well balanced skill-level across the team so as our front line whittled them down the back line moved up and finished off the game to give us the victory.

Always something emotional about running the flag in

Ledz on the mic after the win

It had a real BIG event feel with a great crowd

Was it a real team effort or was it down to some stand out individual performances?
Proper team effort. Everyone has good and bad games but we were all solid; we did our jobs and communicated well to get the job done. The Banzais wasn’t a team made up of talent, we were friends and winning with your friends is a pretty amazing feeling.

The Banzais weren't expected to win it. So how did they?
I believe that’s because we came out of the woods in front of a big crowd and a film crew that could see players getting hit and wiping hits for the first time which worked in the Banzais' favour. The Banzais were not cheats and I believe we lost more games because we were cheated out of them in the woods, so when we came out to into the Hyperball field everyone else was scared to lose that hit or play on. We didn’t have that problem because we were not doing it anyway so suddenly we had the chance to prove that we were good enough, and we took that chance.

Do you still have the trophy?
Errmmmm... good Question. I don’t have it. When we moved from Deansgate we threw away a boat load of trophies but some were taken away by some of the players from that time. Maybe one of them still has it. If you do let us know I’d love to know where it lives.

Will the Banzai’s ever grace the field again? As in the team name, not necessarily the actual team?
Never say never but the spirit of the Banzais lives on in Operation Sandbaggers. A lot of the old Banzais that are still playing roll out for the Sandbaggers now. There are 6 Banzais playing on the same squad at the next CPPS (Jack Wood, Pailey, Speedy, Darron, Eddie and Ledz) so you could say that’s a Banzai team. But in terms of an actual squad, called the Banzais to compete at the highest levels... who knows. The world is full of remakes and reboots but sometimes things are better left as a moment in history to reminisce about and share stories around a camp fire. With beer.

This event happened 20 years ago. That seems a long time ago,  but time flies when you're having fun and it's crazy to see how much change has happened to the game since then.

Thanks to the wonder of YouTube and those who uploaded it you can also watch the action from the event here:

And if you haven't played Hyperball yet...put in on your list. You won't regret it.