Every year there is a little dose of America at Wembley and the brash, money-driven and plastic-clad world of American Football is opened up to Britain. Its popularity on this side of the pond has been steadily growing and increasing numbers have been applying for tickets and making the journey from all ends of the country as well as abroad. In addition to this the games of the National Football League are bringing crowds of fans to select pubs on Sunday and Monday nights, they become little enclaves for lovers of the drama, the aggression and the passion of the game.
American football, however, is not restricted to the stadiums of the United States. It is Britain’s fastest growing university sport with 72 teams registered with the British Universities American Football League last year. This is a dramatic figure for a sport that began with 4 university teams in 1985 and still only had 39 in 2006. Each team represents a large amount of effort and dedication by it’s members to meet the challenges of establishing a new and expensive sports society in an atmosphere dominated by traditional sports such as rugby, hockey and football.
American Football is not just rugby in padding…
It is all too easy to see such a rise as a sign of the Americanisation of Britain’s youth, a favourite topic of many, but this ignores the benefits of the sport. American Football is not just rugby in padding; it is an immensely technical, fast-paced, high octane sport which offers an opportunity to many who may ordinarily not have considered a university sport. As it requires a far bigger squad, some can exceed 50 players, it offers an alternative to many who don’t make the elite 1st XV of most university rugby teams.
It also offers a chance for players of any physical proportion. No one is excluded because the positions have very specific roles, this promotes exercise and the health benefits of sport to a new group. It also benefits those who did not have the opportunity to try more traditional sports whether that was because of commitments, a lack of money or a lack of school facilities. The majority of teams will train players by starting with the very basics thus making it less intimidating than trying a new sport alongside teammates with 14 years of experience.
…there are many who will not accept American Football…
Naturally there are many who will not accept American Football as an alternative to the purity of rugby or the sanctity of football and they will continue to mock what they do not understand. University football will never become the spectacle that it is in the US where thousands fill stadiums for their local team before going home and playing as their favourite students on video games but it is here to stay.
The influx of new players will filter out into the British American Football Association league and improve the quality of the British game. This in turn will bring in more investment which will continue to fuel the rise of the game. It is not inconceivable that the annual Wembley game may one day see a British team pitted against on old NFL favourite.
Image courtesy of BAFA