#11 - Operation SandBaggers

Article #11 in the History of Planet Eclipse brings us to our factory team. The SandBaggers.




To many teams and players around the world, the SandBaggers name will be very well known. To some, it'll be from having HUGE nights drinking with the team and regretting it for many, many weeks to follow. To others it will be because of memorable games on the field. And some will have been signed up to the team as they travel, to join in the fun. But to all, the SandBaggers is a very different Factory team, with a good heart at its core. A team that encourages, enables and supports players who can't play competitively any more because life got in the way or whatever. The SandBaggers represents the heart and soul of what it means to play paintball. To play as hard as you can, with the people you want to play with without the pressures or expectations of the modern game.

Rock up. Have fun. Smash teams. Get smashed. Laugh. Go home. Make stories up.

But for a deeper insight into the birth and continued existence of the SandBaggers we interrogated the man behind it all. Ledz.






First up, who and what are the SandBaggers?
The Sandbaggers – or Operation SandBaggers as we started off as – is basically like a drop-in centre for old washed-up Paintballers. We have collected players from all around the World that love the sport but can’t, or don’t want to commit to training but still want to play. We called ourselves the SandBaggers because we wanted to play in the lowest division we possibly could, but it’s wasn’t really about the winning. It was more about the getting together with your mates and having a good time.




Why did you set up the SandBaggers? 
I was captaining Pro team Nexus back in 2005 and Planet was really taking off. I was still playing competitively but there began a conflict of interest between me playing on Nexus and being an owner of Planet Eclipse. We wore and represented Dye at the time for everything except the marker and that wasn’t ideal for me or Jack so I decided to call it a day and hang up my Pro boots. But I still wanted to play so I decided to form the SandBaggers.

What is the Baggers ethos.
It’s funny that the ethos of the team has now become bigger than the team and it’s something that we have to work to keep up. On paper we're supposed to be old, has-been Paintballers that like to party hard and throw a few shapes. Getting together was more of an excuse to see our mates than it was to play Paintball. That’s probably changed a little now but we still like to throw the odd shape here and there.








Where do the Baggers play?
Where don’t we play? In the last CPPS we had 5 teams playing. Two teams in Elite, one in Div 2, one in Div 3 and one in Div 4. We have played the Pro Tour (Woodland) and the UKWM (Woodland). We are known to turn up at big games around Europe as well as UK big games. We have played the UWL in America and World Cup on several occasions. If a Paintball comes out of the end of a barrel then we might attend.

Do you have a preferred format?
Personally I prefer the woods. I can just get down and do my thing. But the squad seems to prefer Supair. We have 30+ players playing at the CPPS and only about 10 or 12 woodland players that will commit to doing events.






Are all these ex pros, old dudes and semi-professional drinkers still competitive on the field?
We sort of beat ourselves up about it sometimes saying that we shouldn’t be and we can’t possibly be as good as we were last year, but we have been saying that for years. We are current reigning 10-man Woodland champions, UKWM international champions, UWL triple crown champions, we have won and hit the podium a LOT at CPPS last season. I think the count is 8 first place finishes at the CPPS in 2018. I believe each and every member of the squad that has played the CPPS this season has at least one Championship Medal. I have 4. And to put a cherry on this season’s cake we won the last leg of the UKWM.

Do the guys still enjoy playing or are they more about hanging out?
I LOVE the hanging out. I was getting annoyed that I couldn’t do it as much as I’d like to. The older we get the longer and harder the hangovers hit us. People have families, lives outside of Paintball and it’s just hard to find the time to get together. So the Sunday after the last CPPS I arranged a 'Baggers end of season get-together. I threw it out to the gang and 28 of us met up straight after the end to take the piss out of each other, tell war stories and have a few beers with good mates. We pretty much had the bar to ourselves which was perfect. We gave out a few awards to some players, drank too much and had a great night out, the perfect way to end the CPPS season.

But we also love the Paintball or we wouldn’t do it. I try and make it simple for the players. Charge a set fee to play, try and sort out sponsorship to make it as affordable as possible for the players, no pressure to win, just make sure you remember why you started playing Paintball in the first place and have fun!






And as paintballers the desire to fight and win never really dies right?
Once you’re on the field of battle then of course we all want to win every game. Some might have the desire a bit more than others for sure but it’s a lot more relaxed outside of the field these days. I think that’s maybe one of our strengths. We fight for each other but I never see our players giving anyone heat for underperforming or being shit (which happens a lot). If anything, we just wind each other up about stuff and that keeps us all very grounded.

As a company how important is it to have a factory team? And one that is kicking ass everywhere they play?
There are currently 7 of the Planet Eclipse UK staff that are players on the Sandbaggers which is great. 8 if you count Jack but he didn't grace us with his presence last year. Pretty much everyone at Planet has played in the past and to still have 8 guys playing is great for honest, player-led product input. They also test stuff for us so it's nice to have a group of test pilots in-house. If only I could get them to clean the pots afterwards, that would be even more amazing.

So you have a large squad of guys, without any of the athletic abilities required for the modern game, but they’re still winning. Is this a bad sign for the game? Or do you think it’s just a UK thing? Or does experience and the ‘winning edge’ really account for a lot? What are your thoughts?
The level of experience on the Baggers squad is massive. There are proper legit Ex Pros on the team who played at the highest levels during paintball's growth period (the golden age, if you like) and I don’t think you can ignore that. Some of the teams we play against are super-fast, athletic and aggressive but their Paintball ‘Smarts’ are often lacking. Each Baggers squad is different but we all play to our strengths. The Div 3 squad on paper looks like some type of AA meeting but they can all shoot their guns and know how to win a gun fight. If you come piling down the field towards them they will thank you for it with a win. They are not going to break to the 50 and smash you up but they will grind out a result and use their smarts. That’s what a lot of teams don’t do. It’s not new. I used to call them DVD players where they would watch the DVD’s of the Pro players, try and copy what the Pros do and think they were just as good. But there's so much more to being a good player than that. Now it’s even easier to watch something like the Go Sports web cast and see how it should be done. But it takes time to be as good as those guys are and a lot of us have put our time in already. We have the debate every year if we should train. The Elite Baggers train but that's usually just the day before the event. The odd player might go and train but generally the first time we see the field layout is the morning of the event and for us to win against players that might have been training on the same field for weeks is a worry for sure. But do they really train? Playing games against each other is OK but it’s not proper training.




How has the SandBaggers team changed over the years? Has the attitude changed at all?
I’d like to think our attitude is the same. We have sponsors to keep happy as well as a much bigger squad these days. I hope we are the same at the core though. We have changed a few things over the years. We formed the Sandbagger Kids squad a couple of years back. We wanted to bring some youth into the sport. There were a lot of ageing players in the UK the same as everywhere and some of those players have kids old enough to play but where? So we formed the kids squad that we ran for a couple of years to help these players get a stepping stone up in other teams. They did OK, some of them went on and now play on other teams which is prefect. Chris Latham, one of our Baggers plays the odd event with his teenage son Jack which is amazing. It’s hard to be able to do that on most squads but we are pretty flexible. Lucy is a young super star playing on the Div 2 squad now and she’s 15, but she is a just one of the team, no special treatment and that makes me so proud of the Baggers. I think the biggest change for me is drinking the day before, I just can’t do it as well as I used to. Darron on the other hand is still drinking... before, during and after the games pretty much.

So I guess you must have some pretty interesting stories from the early days of the Baggers? Care to share any debauchery?
We have been pretty drunk in lots of places around Europe. Paintfest last year after we won the UKWM International 2-day event was pretty high up on the most drunk we have been in a long while. It was a late night and without Chicken Burger Terry I don’t think some of us would have made it through the night. We all stayed in big tent and the next day we had a few randoms in the tent that we'd found freezing to death and must have brought them in for warmth. When you get a camp fire going and the booze flows, the war stories start to creep out and the night can be very, very funny! That’s all you’re getting I'm afraid.

What has been the biggest level of SandBagging over the years? Have you ever felt… we’re way too good to be playing this division? Or, the other way round too?
Almost every time we played for the first few years I thought we were proper SandBagging and should be in a higher division. We never broke any rules we just entered the lowest division we were allowed to enter. Each and every time we were found wanting and never really ‘Dominated’ any division. Just thinking you're good enough isn’t enough. We have done OK at World Cup and the UWL in the states but never quite smashed it. Other teams were just SandBagging more than we were, we just don't hide it.






You have SandBaggers all over the world right? Any big names part of the roll of dishonour?
Now you’re asking. I am bound to forget some big names here aren’t I. ‘Old’ Rab has played a few times, Jacko, Simon Cole, Jim Frencham, The Steenberg Twins, Brad Maughan, Stephan Wildermann, Johan, Butch a bunch of Ex Nexus, Banzai’s and Disruption players. I think the list is up to nearly 100 players that have pulled on the Sandbaggers Jersey.

Let’s see it. List ALL the SandBaggers who have been active since its birth?
No chance… If you want to have a look jump over to the SandBaggers Facebook page. We have a Roll of Dishonour. In fact it needs updating I’ll have to get on that!


While you’re there give us a like and follow!

Other than yourself, who has been the most committed / longest running Bagger to date?
Committed is a funny word to use alongside the Baggers. Some of them should have actually been committed. How Darron Doherty is still alive is amazing. There have been lots of players in and out, some might have had a season out. But here is a picture of the first ever team so 4 of that squad are still playing, Jack Wood, Andy Piper, Bowen Pratt and myself. Mark Toye is in that picture also but he eventually defected to another team.



What next for SandBaggers? Do you have any plans for the team(s)?
Plans. Not sure. Get winter out of the way and see who wants to play again next year. I’m planning on taking a crew over to Germany / Poland next year for the Scenario Big Game in May:


We will put several teams into the CPPS again. We have booked into the 10-Man in the UK (Grand Central Classic) and the 2 day UKWM. Apart from that just whatever, whenever. I plan on taking a few Baggers to play the odd MagFed game this year as we launch our MG100 MagFed marker. I’m looking forward playing Paintball in a different environment that I have in the past.




Tell us about your sponsors.
We only have a few but they are pretty stellar. Planet Eclipse obviously supplying us with the best markers and playing gear on the Planet . GI Sportz hook us up with the best Paint, goggle systems (Grills) and loaders (LVL). Enola Gaye keeps us smoking hot with all different types of smoke, flash bangs, etc (we love the EG18X). The sponsors are amazing. They don’t need to be but they are. They are keeping a pretty big bunch of ageing ballers on the scene and happy, and we love them for all of their support and commitment. Not only to the SandBaggers but also to Paintball.

Two last things… We don’t have many rules… but one rule we have is that you don’t ASK to be a SandBagger. You are ASKED. And no, you can’t have or buy our jerseys. We only get one each.

#BagginAintEasy 

Ledz also managed to get some choice words from a fistful of SandBaggers: 



Piper:
I have played paintball for 20+ years and played for a few teams in my time, most teams take themselves way too serious and want to train every weekend. When you hit a certain age you cannot be arsed with that and just want to sit in the pub talking crap and drinking far too much... Enter the SandBaggers! It's more about the fun we have than the result (although winning is still AWESOME) but winning with your mates is far better. The team is about representing our sponsors and playing some great games of paintball but above all it's about having a laugh and annoying Ledz with silly requests as much as possible! Bagging ain't easy but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.



Rob: 
Being a SandBagger means more than being a Paintball team... it's a family. It's an exclusive club that many want to join. It's drinking buddies. It's paintball without the politics... it's laugh hard, play hard! And WINNING (which happens quite often) is down to the hard work behind the scenes from the Don; Ledz... And all of our sponsors!! BAGGIN' AIN'T EASY!










Pikey:
After 10 years playing paintball across Europe wearing a red planet jersey at the highest level possible and picking up my gun for 25 weekends a year, playing now for the Baggers in the camo and urban camo is the perfect retirement home, one I see myself enjoying for many years to come. I still play with all my best friends that made the last 10 years so much fun  and even a couple of new ones, but now with a relaxed less pressure atmosphere. We still strive to batter everyone we play against and for the most part succeed (2nd place overall series ranking in CPPS Elite says we do + numerous woodland event wins and pro patches) but there is a certain air of fun and enjoyment that a lot of people seem to miss when playing paintball.  When I was officially asked to join the baggers I was a little sad that Disruption had run its course but incredibly proud to have been asked. Whichever Baggers team you play for across the CPPS divisions or woodland fields we all have one thing in common, You Can’t ask to play on the baggers, you don’t ask to try out and wow Ledz, Lacey or Stoney with your silky playing skills or how many players you can run down and bunker (because if you have seen some of the guys play there isn't much of that).  You get invited to be a Bagger based on your love for the sport, for your love of all things Planet Eclipse and for the friendship and camaraderie with everyone. Oh and for your ability to drink beer and tell war stories. I am very proud to still be representing Planet Eclipse and be part of the Disruption retirement home program that Ledz has set up to let Myself, Baffy and Dicky join up with Stoney, Tomo and Jamie and continue to play … and win!!!!




Tommy 'Gun' Pemberton:
Being a SandBagger to me is about playing for fun but with heart. We all have a real love of smashing teams, winning (then drinking!) with life long friends. The SandBaggers as a team embody what competitive, fun Paintball should be all about, and I’m honoured to be a part of it.











Al Woods:
It's very easy to watch these young, athletic players run around like maniacs and make you feel old. Past it. It's easy to feel sad about your previous life as a player and how you just can't keep up anymore. It really hurts your ego. I mean, I was once called the fastest player in Europe (maybe) but now, that is far, far from the truth. I struggled with it for a long time. Mentally. Emotionally. Physically. But then I got the call (nothing to do with me working at Eclipse). The SandBaggers call. And suddenly I started to believe in my own hype once again and actually thought I was young, fast weapon. Unfortunately the reality soon hit and you can't beat time in a 1-on-1, but when you join the Baggers it doesn't matter. Nobody cares. So you can pretend to be as awesome as you once thought you were. And win! It's great!

In all seriousness though, to play alongside the players that you spent your early years battling AGAINST is pretty special. The banter, the war stories, the reminiscing... it's all pretty great. And to come together as one, to kick ass on the same team... that's awesome! Shooting people in the face, bunkering them, taking wins you really shouldn't be taking never gets old. Medals. Trophies. They're all good to have but sat in the car journey home, chatting shit about your over-inflated accounts of your personal performance, totting up your G count, how much fun you had and how you really think you've still got it... this is what it's all about. And being part of the SandBaggers family helps us keep that, and our egos, alive.

William 'Fish' Haddock:
What does it mean to be a SandBagger? If it wasn’t for Operation Sandbaggers I don’t know that Paintballers, relevant to their ‘time’ would still be playing. It’s a pasture for relics and ‘names’ to still get together. We’re a tight group and the largest Team of Legends going. Being a SandBagger let me remember what I always loved about Paintball... and play with the Paintballers I love. SandBaggers won’t let old legends disappear. Just reappear and ruin people’s day. You can shoot a SandBagger but it won’t beat the SandBaggers.







So that's the SandBaggers. A factory team like no other. Playing hard on the field, playing hard off the field and playing hard in between fields. Keeping the old guys playing until their knees say otherwise.

If you see any of them at your local event just pop over and say hi. They shouldn't be too drunk, grumpy or confused.

Comments

  1. Reading after a long day at the UKWM - Great team who fit well together - I've seen it, had a video made which shows it - Check it out on the UK Woodland Masters FB Page.

    See you in May!

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