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Chapter 1 - The Rise and Fool of UK Paintball ...

Robbo

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Jul 5, 2001
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The History of UK Paintball

I’ve been asked a few times to write something about the UK history of our game and it wasn't till the last request that I seriously ever considered doing it – I’ve always declined the challenge because I knew it would have to include a lot of drama and dark deeds .. if I didn’t include some of that stuff then I’d lose interest but as you will see, this is a very personal account of how UK paintball evolved over the years.
Please forgive me if I offend anyone but I’ll try and remember to give a damn when I hit the ‘post’ button.

Anyway, here is my very own chapter one of …. The Rise and Fool of UK Paintball [And yes I know, it was deliberate]

The history of UK paintball is inextricably linked to that of the Yanks and so it should come as little surprise we need to look at how paintball began over there first.
We like to think of ourselves as being independent from our American cousins but this is an illusion when we look at paintball as a whole.
Our industry owes their existence to the Americans, and also our development as tournament players and teams…
The umbilical cord between us has been somewhat moderated over the years but I doubt we will ever sever our connection entirely.
Without being too unpatriotic, I think that's a.good thing both for our industry and our teams.
The Yanks have always been competitive and whether you like their culture or not, you'd have to concede, they know how to develop their industry and their teams.

And so, we now have to look westward because our history begins across the pond in the land of The Simpsons and McDonald’s … the good ole US and A ….

The sport of paintball has an interesting pedigree, it’s true to say it was created in the US in 1981, if indeed ‘created’ is the right descriptive.
It wasn’t so much created as ‘stumbled upon’ by two guys who found themselves each holding a pistol designed to mark trees … this pistol was called a Nelspot 707 and manufactured by an air-gun company called Crosman.
And it was specifically designed in response to a commission by a local forestry group who wanted a way of marking trees so that each marked tree could be easily identified by forestry guys who either wanted to fell the tree or maintain it in some way at a later date.
The Nelspot gun was made by Crosman and the paint was made by an RP Scherer / Nelson company collaboration.
The commission for a means to mark trees was actually made in the mid-sixties; the first marker and paint were both ready in 1970 but the first time people actually contested with paint and marker in terms of shooting each other was11 years later in 1981.
And so, the hardware for our sport was created long before the game of paintball was rolled out on the unsuspecting US Public …

Two guys, Charles Gaines and Hayes Noel got to wondering if they could combine field-craft with a marking pistol but this time, they weren’t aiming at no big-ass redwood tree, they were aiming to plug each other's butts with a paintball.
Ironically, that first ever paintball game ended when one of the combatants managed to sneak up behind the other and then announced himself, not by blowing a hole in his head at close range ... but with the words ‘got ya’ …..or words to that effect.

Later on in that year, the first ever paintball competition was held with 12 players, 12 flags, each man for himself and a 45 minute game duration.
Paintball’s gestation period of 11 years was over, and finally, the new-born game of paintball entered the American dictionary.

If you consider the cultural backdrop in which the paint and marker were created, you’d have thought the gun-toting, yee hah Yanks would have started whacking people right, left and centre in about 5 minutes of being given those ‘tree-markers’ in 1970 .. after all, we are talking about a country that has a constitutional and arguably anachronistic right to bear arms … like it or hate it, guns are an integral part of American culture.
If I was living there, I’d be all for having a comprehensive gun control with one exception, me, and therein lies the political problem.

However, it seemed that trying to mark another individual with paint was inherently a lot more fun and challenging than shooting at some big old tree that was rooted to the spot.
The dual excitement of both shooting, and being shot at, proved to be irresistible for the male psyche, hardly unexpected I know.
The ‘sport’ of hunting is a huge industry in the US, personally, I can’t see the attraction in creeping up on some poor defenceless animal as it grazes its breakfast and then blowing a frikkin great hole in it or injecting a 2 foot long arrow thru its heart.
I just cannot get my head around how supposedly grown-up people believe it’s ‘fair game’ … Fair???
You gotta be fuhkin kiddin me !!!

Ironically, a lot of hunters took to playing paintball because it included a lot of the skill-sets and adrenaline rush those guys feed off .. the most famous of this ilk is undoubtedly Bob Long – he’s best known for creating one of the greatest teams of all time, the Ironmen, he was a figurehead of all that was tournament paintball ... more of them later, and more of him later ..

Moving on …

I know it took 11 years for the penny to drop in terms of having a paintball marker and then thinking about using it to shoot other people but I find it intriguing why it took so long.
If you gave a couple of kids these ‘tree-marking’ pistols, you can bet your bottom dollar that within a very short time of getting a [tree-marking] gun in their hands they’re gonna be clipping their friends all over the shop.
It certainly wouldn’t take kids 11 years to start thinking about shooting each other, more like 11 minutes these days.

Paintball was eventually born …..

No sooner had that first game been played in 81, than the sport caught hold of the American imagination like a virus spreading through the male population of the US.
Paintball sites then started to proliferate the US as keen-eyed individuals saw the financial potential of this game and so it wasn’t long before the game of paintball inevitably floated across the Atlantic to our rainy shores.

In the US, not only were the sites booming in terms of customers turning up to play but also the necessary supply infrastructures were now developing with companies like RP Scherer, Crosman, Nelson, PMI, NPS and a whole slew of other supply businesses started gaining financial traction in the US paintball market.
It was a growth curve that banks love to see and it seemed it was also a license to print money in those days, and to a certain extent, it was just that.
Reports, or rather speculations had it that over 5 million people were playing paintball at the week-end, I never really subscribed to that figure believing it was more hype than actuality but it didn't stop a lot of people from quoting those numbers, especially to bank mangers when looking for a loan.

For a few criminally minded people, it was also a license to clean money because so much cash was taken by sites at that time but that’s a whole ‘nother story for another time … maybe later, I'll see how brave I feel.
As with most American companies, they looked to expand their business interests internationally and of course, Europe was gonna be their first port of call..

Anyways, these industry guys now looked eastward toward their old muckers, the Brits, they bailed us out in 44, now they wanted to reap the benefit of all that good will - it wasn’t enough for them that they came over before D-Day and shagged all our women while us menfolk were distracted while trying to shoot some Krauts, now they wanna come over and set up paintball franchises, or at least, trading partners in paintball … ‘what a bloody cheek’ is what I say …

If you had a big enough wad of dosh stuffed in your back-pocket, you could relatively easily start a paintball site for about 5 –10 grand; Paintball sites are a cash-driven business but for the most part, the paintball business attracted lower-level entrepreneurs – And just as importantly, if you were a working-man and had spare cash then you would have been ripe for any new experience … once the sites were up and running, the customer was provided with a great day’s fun playing cops and robbers, goodies and baddies etc …. It was a win-win deal with paintball enjoying an associated growth curve that began to steepen as the years rolled by.

Like a lot of areas in Brit life, we eventually take our lead from the US, and paintball was to be no exception.
Even though there was an obvious cultural difference in the sense the US had guns embedded into their constitution and everyday life, we greeted it with open minds and open wallets … and within about 3 years, sites and retail outlets were starting to erupt all over the UK.

The UK Tournament Scene Takes its First Breath ....

I’m in a pretty privileged position in being able to comment upon the way UK paintball has evolved and developed over the years because I played in the very first organised paintball event in the UK in 1988 - it was the Survival Game Championship held at Hatfield just north of London and played host to 16 teams consisting of 15 players per team [as I remember].

The teams who attended that inaugural event back then were basically site teams, groups of friends who had banded together to go and play cowboys and Indians at the week-end.
There were a couple of other events prior to this but they weren’t as well-organised as this one nor as well-attended.

You gained a place into this first event by coming through a series of qualifying games that were held at your local site and so, UK tournament paintball was born …
At that time there were close to 100 sites in the UK, some of them with their own site team.
The sites became the breeding ground for both tourney players and teams, it’s a link we now seem to have lost, or at least, seen it eroded over the years.

All of the teams at that first event used a plastic marker called a SplatMaster, it was of pistol design that was powered by a little canister of CO2 that was shoved up the handle and gave you about 20 shots, if you were lucky.
When you’ve fired off those 20 shots, you then had to do a quick change of your CO2 canister otherwise it went about 10 pathetic feet before arcing to the ground which, as you might imagine, was quite unpleasant if you had some hairy-assed psychopath bearing down on you with his powered-up SplatMaster looking to ram his painbtalls down your frikkin neck.

This new game of paintball had spawned all sorts of individuals taking part over here with the token nut-jobs turning up to exact their own brand of justified killing albeit with a paintball gun.
Oh my, I’ve seen them all … and then some !!
Lord knows what types it attracted in the US at that time when you bear in mind the sheer number of nut-jobs they have over there.
Going on what it was like over here, I dread to think what sort of nut-farm idiots those early days attracted Stateside.

On my team in those late 80’s, we had a player who was a bone-fide 300 pound [136 kg] psychopath who enjoyed nothing more than living out his paintball as if he were in Vietnam …
There were many other ‘interesting’ individuals around at that time but that particular demographic isn’t represented now and I have no good reason as to why we don't see them in the modern game but we should be more than grateful for that fact as you will hear later on …

I suppose the act of playing itself was close enough to the real thing so as to arouse the adrenaline levels just before you shot some poor schmuck in the head or just before facing imminent doom at the hands of a rampaging pack of blood-hungry, wannabee Rambos.
Either way, this new sport of paintball burned deep into the male psyche turning average Joes into Tony Montanas or Rambos ..
I never cared much for that Tony Montana / Rambo role, I was gonna be James Bond with a paintball gun, suave, sophisticated, intelligent, disgustingly good looking and of course, quite delusional.

With those plastic markers, a tube of ten painbtalls was shoved diagonally into the breach of the Splatmaster which was gravity-fed such that after every shot, you had to wait until the next ball dropped into position before you pulled that trigger again; if you did it too early, you cut the ball in half and splattered the breach and barrel so that any subsequent shots were only useful if you were shooting around corners - if you shot too late, you got splattered by your opponent - you trod a fine line playing paintball back then, they probably shot at around 200 fps if you were lucky but people being people, they used to 'tune-up' their guns - Lord only knows what fps they musta been firing but I suppose the fact that they were shooting one shot per COs canister sorta indicated they were firing hot.

Ok, maybe not that bad but some guys were ruthless in the search for their paintballs to break the sound barrier… but boy, was it fun!!!
Back in those early days, there was a guy who shall remain nameless called Doug Setters, he used to get his team, the Rogue Troopers' Splatmasters tuned-up so much so that two of his players suffered dislocated shoulders when firing their markers.
There were no chronos back then in 88 and so the sky was the limit, literally so !!!
He’s a friend of mine now and so I forgive him his little modifications ….

To make matters worse though, we were getting skinned alive when it came to the cost … generally speaking, paintballs were 15p each, which if you had to pay that now in the modern game, you’d end up spending more than the gross national product of a medium-sized African country with the amount of paint players now use … as time went by, the price came down but that wasn’t to happen for a few more years to come ..
Gas canisters cost about 50p each and so a day’s ball back then would sever about 80-90 quid from your wallet which was a fair few quid back then for a day’s paintball.
That first Survival game tournament was won by a team called Bart’s Stud Squad with a team called Bad Company coming in second.
My brother’s team, who I was playing with back then were also there, we were called NWC, I’ll explain what the initials stood for later: my brother and myself had put the team together in 87 and was populated by some the guys we met at our local site.
My brother was the better half of the Robinson siblings – he was actually a great player back then and also wrote some great articles for a magazine called Paintball Adventures [I think it was them anyway] but I wonder what it must have been like for him being saddled with me all his paintball career. I dread to think …


Bad Company were run and captained by a guy called Steve Mattacott who provided sufficient inspiration and common-sense to take his team of odd-looking misfits and organise them into a pretty good team that could compete with anyone back then …
I always thought a lot of them needed a good wash, I seem to remember someone throwing a bar of soap into the middle of their staging area amid cries of, ‘Fire in the hole, fire in the hole’ - We eventually realised that soap was like Kryptonite to those guys and so I did think of dunking our paintballs in some talcum powder to freshen them up a bit but I decided not to on the basis of it being too cruel.

Those people who attended that first event in Hatfield had long since realised this new game was something fundamentally different than most other sports; without articulating anything, most of us there suspected we were gonna get well and truly hooked and so it proved to be … for a lot of us anyway.

It really was a like a drug .. if you weren’t playing the game, you would be thinking about it and looking forward to the next time you played [I suppose it must be that way for some of our modern players] …. As paintball began to course through our veins, we frantically looked for news of any more tournaments for that next adrenaline rush.
Sunday rec-balling was OK but tournament paintball, now, this was something different and much more exciting.

The only other time I had felt that kind of anticipation was when I used to box … it was a curious mix of fear and excitement … it was also a combination that proved positively lethal to a few marriages, and players’ wallets.
It’s fair to say, there was a high casualty rate for marriages that was significantly over and above the national average and that was probably due to the way this game got into your head – criminals didn’t need to sell coke or weed, all they had to do was set up a paintball site and you attracted a shed-load of addicts within weeks of opening … and of course, no police to worry about.

At that first event, 3 teams were born that would go on to become bitter rivals in the decade that followed.
The aforementioned Bart Stud’s Squad was the creation of the four Farmer brothers with Bart self-evidently, providing the eponymous connection to the team – his brothers Rafe, Wayne and Dean played an integral role in the way the team developed over the coming decade.
Some of you may know Shelley Farmer who plays the game now and used to play for the Celtic Banshees before she left.
Without sounding patronising, she’s one of the few girls I know who can play the game as well as any guy … effeminate guys maybe but biologically guys :)
Truth of the matter – she’s got game.
She’s also got brains, I used to teach her mathematics when she had her GCSEs coming up some years back which she passed with flying colours – the girl’s got looks, she’s got brains and to make matters even more infuriating, she’s a thoroughly nice person, it sure does remind me of someone … I’ll get back to you when I can find a mirror.

Chapter two is already written and will be hitting your screens soon enough … come to think of it, so is chapter 3.

If I told you some of the stuff that’s gonna be coming through your video screen in ensuing chapters, you’d honestly think I was indulging myself with the truth .. I’m not, paintball, in some cases is a lot stranger, a lot more far-fetched and more outrageous than any fiction … and more disturbingly, it’s all true.

Some of the stuff, I was involved in, and some not but I know all that went down in those dark days and I’ll tell it all even though I won’t really be doing myself any favours in recounting some of those events.

Chapter two is coming soon ....
 

worldclass

New Member
Dec 18, 2013
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Excellent start to the story Pete although I feel the need to address allegations about running hot Splatmaster pistols. Whilst they may have been lightly tuned to a modest 360fps I have to confess this did cause some alarm in visiting teams camps. Notably the Bart Stud Squad and then the newly formed Predators when they visited us at our Canterbury site. We used to change 12grm after five/seven shots which combined with the light tune gave the shooter the satisfaction of using paintball's version of a .44 magnum.
 

Robbo

Owner of this website
Jul 5, 2001
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London
www.p8ntballer.com
For those people unfamiliar to the above user name, it's Doug Setters whom I mention in Chapter 1 [above] ... I think more and more people will crawl out of the woodwork as my chapters unfurl themselves from my laptop onto p8ntbller.

I might pi$$ some people off but that's the knife-edge of consequence when writing articles like this but 'it's nothing personal, just business' ... I'll let you know when I get personal but maybe you guys will be able to tell for yourselves when I recount some of the darker things about paintball that have happened in the past, and in some cases, it's happening now.
 

Robbo

Owner of this website
Jul 5, 2001
13,048
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448
London
www.p8ntballer.com
Thanks Jay - I'm not really sure yet how many chapters this is gonna involve but I suppose it all depends upon how I feel when writing them, and of course the response as we go along.
I'll post up chapter 2 either tonight or tomorrow, I've just gotta check with my lawyers.

As if .... :)
 
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phil-boy

UK Redskins
May 6, 2004
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Its always good to get others insight to the world of paintball. Whilst I know some bits and pieces about your Paintballing life from your ownership of the shop in Dartford to playing in America and reading stuff from the old PGI, its interesting to get the bear bone facts.

Am awaiting for instalment 2.

This would also be interesting to hear details of other people within the community and their stories, I would love to hear Ledz, although it probably just evolves around food and beer with a little gun making thrown in for good measure !!

(y)
 

Robbo

Owner of this website
Jul 5, 2001
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London
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Bloody hell, so much anticipation, I hope the remaining chapters can live up to it.
Come to think of it, I've just read some of what's coming and so I think your anticipation may be justified :)
I bet there's a few twitchy rectums out there ...