In December, Oli Barton and Gilbert Lewis travelled with their local club Ruislip Eagles West London Handball Club to Varna, Bulgaria for the European Challenge Cup.
Following a fourth place finish in the 2012/13 English Super 8 League, Ruislip Eagles qualified for a spot in the opening round of the European Challenge Cup, which included teams such as IK Sävehof, who had reached the Champions’ League group stages the previous year.
The Eagles opposition, Spartak Varna, were a professional team meaning the Eagles were always looking to cause an upset. The opening game, watched by almost 1,500 spectators ended 24-22 to Varna, following a superb fight from Ruislip, including a goal in the final second of the game.
The second leg, played the following day, and broadcast on Bulgarian National Television ended in a 26-20 win for the favourites, the Eagles unable to match the fitness of the home team; however, both Brunel students managed to get onto the score sheet. The 50-42 defeat is by far one of the best results for a British team against the professional teams of the continent, and is proof that the gap between them is closing.
Following Barton’s cup performances, he has also been selected as first reserve for the GB U20s, and will travel to Finland in January for their opening 2014 squad camp and matches, making him the first Brunel Handball player to represent England and Great Britain.