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Experiencing the NFL on Regent Street

The day before the world watched Buffalo and Jacksonville battle at Wembley, NFL fans from around the globe took over Regent Street in London for a huge fan event.

With the entire street pedestrianised, one of London’s busiest shopping venues played host to the travelling showmanship of the NFL. Virtually every team was represented by the swarm of fans, with newer Nike jerseys mingling with throwbacks and old Reebok editions.

The opening act was the famous marching band of the Ohio State Buckeyes, who brought the pomp and pageantry of college football to the centre of London. The band marched up and down the whole of Regent’s Street, just inches away from the crowd of fans. Being so close, the sound was incredible, reverberating between the old Victorian townhouses-turned-shops.

Throughout the day on the main stage, there were several high profile appearances. Core players and coaches from both teams took to the stage first, greeted by their fans. As the players emerged, they tossed mini footballs into the crowd and Jaguars defensive end Jared Odrick took a selfie with the mass of fans, getting the fans involved.

The Buffalo Bills were particularly well-received, as a hard-core cadre of fans had travelled well. Chants from Bills fans echoed down the street whenever their heroes took to the stage. Rex Ryan and the team took a selfie with the crowd, while guard Richie Incognito showed off his cockney guvnor accent.

But Bills fans were treated to more than just an appearance by Rex Ryan and his team. Bills legends Thurman Thomas and Jim Kelly were also in attendance, making individual appearances as well as hosting a Buffalo wings eating contest.

The appearances were interspersed with live music and acts, as well as appearances by the ‘Roar of the Jaguars’; Jacksonville’s cheerleaders.

Aside from the events on the main stage, several opportunities were also scattered up and down Regent Street on various stalls. There was NFL Lab, where fans could test their skills with a throwing accuracy test, a tackling dummy, the vertical jump used at the NFL Combine, and kicking nets.

An NFL Shop stall was also tucked away down one of the side streets, and fans could have their photo taken with the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the Jaguars’ rig. Meanwhile, kids could also test their skills on an NFL Play60 pitch set up with various training drills, as well as an inflatable bouncy castle fashioned into a tackling dummy obstacle course.

Passers-by who were in Regent Street for the shopping were also pulled into the spectacle. The NFL estimates over 500,000 fans attended the event, showing just how well received the NFL is here in the UK. With the event being free, and with so much to do, I urge any fans who haven’t yet been to go along next season.

I will certainly be back next year.

Q&A with Alex Cassidy, author of a new book about the London Monarchs

After the initial boom of American Football in this country, and after the success of NFL Preseason games, or American Bowl games to give them their International title, along came the World League and NFL Europe.

For those that were still enamoured by the great sport it was a chance to see regular football through the summer months in the build up to the NFL season. The UK boasted two teams, the Scottish Claymores and the London Monarchs.

Hot off the heels of the Wembley NFL experience fans soon lapped up the Monarchs, and the early run of wins soon had the fan base swelling. Eventually though attendances started to dwindle and the league eventually folded.

Alex Cassidy has managed to go back in time however and recall the glory days of the Monarchs in a new book that sheds light on what it was like to be part of the game both here and across Europe at that time.

We managed to catch up with Alex as he prepares for the launch of the book to ask him a few questions.

 

1 - Tell us how you first got involved in the game, from being a fan through to writing this book?

Like many of the current generation of British NFL fans my interest was first piqued by Madden —back in 2005—and then was cemented through my own research online. I didn't have Sky Sports at the time, so if it wasn't for the internet the exposure wouldn't have been there for me to get as hooked on the sport as I am now.

Then when I left for University in 2009 I began playing football for the Kent Falcons, and writing for the campus newspaper InQuire. It was after graduating in 2012 that my passions for football and writing merged when I started working on Gridiron Magazine at its conception. After I found out that a professional team had existed in London during the 90s I started researching the London Monarchs, when I realised that there wasn't enough information available about the team I researched more, eventually it made sense just to write about it myself.

 

 2- What problems if any did you have researching the book - i.e. interviews with players/coaches, tracking down match reports?

One of the main problems was that 99% of the Monarchs former players, coaches and executives are American, and so a large amount of my interviews were conducted at extremely antisocial hours (for me) in order to accommodate the time difference.

But once the conversation started I found that (most) of them were more than happy to discuss at length with me their time spent in England. Apart from a select lucky few , most didn't continue a career in professional sports, so any opportunity to discuss their first careers were more than welcome, and often they would pass on details of other players they had kept in contact with, which made my work a lot easier. Match reports were much harder, as was finding footage of the games, eventually I tracked down a former NFL Europe fan from Italy who sold DVDs of the seasons (some with German commentary) so that I could watch them all!

 

3- Why do you think, after the original boom season or two the league started to fail?

This is the question that my book tries to answer! There are many varied and complicated reasons, but I think that an often overlooked one is the 2 years that the World League of American Football took to reassess its value in the European market between 1993 and 1995 (before the league changed to be completely European, it featured 3 teams in Europe and seven in North America).

They had built a strong fan base in London and their other European markets Barcelona and Frankfurt but a combination of financial worries and union unrest in the NFL meant that they had to suspend the league's operations before they brought it back in 1995. Many players and coaches said that they felt fans were bitter towards them pulling out so quickly, and the uncertainty that came with the sudden departure always seemed to tinge the Monarchs subsequent seasons.

But as I say, it certainly wasn't the only reason. Financial mismanagement, losing seasons, the perception of a substandard product and ultimately the difficulty of transposing a foreign sport in what was already a crowded sporting market in London also had their parts to play in the Monarchs' demise.

 

4 - How important a role do you think the Monarchs had from that period in bringing the International Series games each year at Wembley?

It's funny, because there was a 9 year gap between the Monarchs folding and the International Series starting in 2007, and the German teams were still thriving when the league shut down. I can't speak for sure on the inner machinations of the NFL, but one man I spoke to, Joe Bailey, was a member of the WLAF's board of directors in 1989 and by the time that 2007 rolled around, was VP of Football Operations for the Miami Dolphins, so it wasn't a coincidence that the Dolphins played the first International game in 2007. He told me himself he was instrumental in the game coming to England, but it’s clear that a combination of the infrastructure London provides with transport, hotels and stadiums and the fact that the language barrier makes it easier to market and work with sponsors over here made London the natural place for an annual NFL fixture. It would be good to see NFLUK use some of the Monarchs legacy in the build-up to the games, for example I found out during my research that the original World Bowl that London won in 1991 is kept in the basement of the league's New York offices, wouldn't it be great if they brought that out for the fans to see, and to help push a legacy that has, unfortunately, largely been forgotten.

 

5 - What was your favourite memory of the London Monarchs as a fan?

Part of the reason that I wanted to explore the topic of the Monarchs was because I was never a fan of the team, I was too young to be able to take part in the entire movement of the 1990s, I’m a part of the second generation of fans that missed the initial boom that lasted from the 1980s to the Monarchs. But through my research I inevitably became a fan of their history, and so my 'favourite memory' would be when the team won World Bowl I in June 1991, if only because it was the one that elicited the best response from the players that I interviewed.

 

6 - Who was your favourite interviewee in regards to giving you an insight to how the team worked?

Without a doubt Lionel Taylor, who coached the team for two and a half years, taking over from the fired Bobby Hammond midway through 1996. The man has a Hall of Fame resume as a wide receiver for the AFL's Denver Broncos in the 1960s, and is certainly someone that should get Senior Committee nods in the future. He coached Lynn Swann and John Stallworth during the Steelers Super Bowl years, winning two rings in the process, and even at 80 years old he could recall stories and scouting reports of nearly all the Monarchs players from 20 years ago.

He cut through all of the bullshit and said what he thought from his up close and personal experiences with London, football and the entire NFL's European experiment.

 

7 - Do you think there is a place for a similar league in the future (development) or will there be an eventual NFL franchise to stop that potentially happening?

I asked this same question to every person that I interviewed for the book, and was surprised to see the varied responses I got from them. Personally I don't see it happening, I've written about it before and I came to the conclusion that it makes more sense for the NFL to continue following the current, safer, model, to export regular season games rather than creating a full-time franchise with the potential to fail and irrevocably damage the interest here.Whether or not it does end up happening, I think it’s best for fans to enjoy what we have at the moment, because as the Monarchs showed, if the NFL lose interest and decide to pull out, unfortunately they won't have any qualms about leaving a football shaped hole in London where the Wembley games used to be, which would be a real shame for future fans of the game.

Alex Cassidy is the author of American Football's Forgotten Kings: The Rise and Fall of the London Monarchs, which is out on September 16th. Pre-order is available now at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/178531047X and http://www.pitchpublishing.co.uk/shop/american-footballs-forgotten-kings.

NFL & ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE’S TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

ANNOUNCE AGREEMENT FOR NFL GAMES TO BE PLAYED

IN NEW TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR STADIUM

 

TEN-YEAR PARTNERSHIP INCLUDES

PLAYING A MINIMUM OF TWO GAMES PER YEAR AT VENUE

 

 

The NFL and Tottenham Hotspur today announced that they have reached agreement for a minimum of two games per year to be played during a 10-year partnership at the English Premier League team’s new stadium in London.

 

The state-of-the-art stadium, due to open in the summer of 2018, will feature a retractable grass field with an artificial surface underneath that would be used for NFL games.  This innovative field will add greater flexibility in the scheduling of games, with the NFL having its own playing surface for games held at this venue.  This field will be multi-use and capable of hosting other sporting, entertainment and community events.

 

Both sports will have dedicated facilities ensuring that the new stadium, designed with a focus on atmosphere, will deliver the optimum experience for both teams and fans. It will be one of the most environmentally sustainable in the UK and also include a clear focus on accessibility via public transportation. 

 

“With growing enthusiasm for the NFL in the United Kingdom, we are committed to hosting NFL games in world-class venues and are excited to partner with Tottenham Hotspur to play games at their future stadium,” said NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL.  “We share a vision and commitment to creating the best experience for our teams, fans and the local community.”

 

The stadium is part of the Northumberland Development Project that spans more than 20 acres, sits at the heart and is the flagship scheme and catalyst for world-class regeneration in North Tottenham, delivering significant benefits for the local community.

 

Tottenham Hotspur will shortly be releasing images and details of the updated designs it has made to both the stadium and the wider scheme.

 

In addition to the minimum of two games per year at the new Tottenham site, other NFL games may take place at different venues in the UK during the span of the 10-year agreement. The NFL has two seasons remaining on a successful arrangement with Wembley Stadium, where it has so far staged 11 games since 2007, and is optimistic that the relationship will be extended beyond 2016.

 

"We have an opportunity now to deliver one of the most unique sporting and entertainment venues in the world, bringing together the EPL and NFL for the first time,” said DANIEL LEVY, Chairman of Tottenham Hotspur.  “The socio- economic benefits this will bring to the area will be immense and demonstrates our commitment to the regeneration of this priority borough in London.

 

“We have always underlined the importance of public sector support for the long-term regeneration of the area. This support is now clearly in evidence in the masterplans that have been brought forward by the London Borough of Haringey, both through the Northumberland Park project to the east of the stadium and the High Road West scheme. These plans, alongside the commitments made by the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority to infrastructure and public realm investment, and with the support of Central Government, demonstrate that there is now a collective public and private sector desire to deliver lasting change to the area.

 

“This was an important factor for the NFL when they agreed to bring their hugely popular sport to Tottenham. I am delighted that we have succeeded in attracting them. We have a compelling and exciting partnership that will play its part as we begin transforming this area of Tottenham.”

 

BORIS JOHNSON, Mayor of London, welcomed the agreement: “Anyone who has seen American Football at Wembley Stadium cannot fail to have been thrilled by the spectacle, and the wise heads that run the NFL have clearly not missed the fact that Londoners are going absolutely gangbusters for Gridiron.

 

“We are already working very closely with the NFL, including on plans to get more Londoners involved in the sport, and we believe that building on the success of NFL at Wembley by staging more games in an area of the city that has been earmarked for a massive programme of economic regeneration and investment makes perfect sense.

 

“Touchdowns in Tottenham can only add to our reputation as a global sporting powerhouse, and help us take another step towards our goal of having a permanent NFL franchise here in London."

 

CLAIRE KOBER, Leader, Haringey Council, added: “It’s tremendous news that the NFL wants to come to Tottenham, joining Spurs in bolstering our borough’s reputation for world-class sport.

 

“This huge vote of confidence further underlines Tottenham’s future as London’s next great destination, and shows real progress in our dedicated plan to bring economic growth to Haringey – with thousands of fans spending money in local businesses and creating new jobs for our residents.

 

“In addition to bringing thousands more visitors to Tottenham, having millions of viewers from around the world tuning into live sports from the new Spurs stadium will undoubtedly put our borough on the international stage.”

 

The future of the NFL in London

Each year it becomes increasingly obvious the NFL are looking to expand into Europe with London looking the most likely city for a franchise although German football fans may argue they have a bigger fan base over there.

The NFL is very proficient at organising media events to ensure their brand is kept to the fore. To help promote this year’s three games at Wembley, they held a flag football tournament in London last week.

NFL Play 60 originated in the USA and is the league’s campaign to encourage youngsters to be active for 60 minutes a day in order to help reverse the trend of childhood obesity.

NFLUK has been running a pilot Play 60 football and education programme at six London schools, each twinned with one of the International Series teams. July 15 saw the programme’s climax as the teams played each other in a tournament that was open to the media.

Flag football is the ideal way to introduce football to youngsters and generate the interest that is required in this country if our sport is to compete against soccer. During the festival of football last week, the children certainly enjoyed their participation. You could see that it meant more to them than just a day out of the classroom

The education programme culminated in the tournament between the six competing schools on July 15. Each team had a player from one of the NFL teams that will be playing at Wembley this autumn acting as their honorary coaches for the day.

The players were enthusiastic about being here and the children definitely threw everything into the training they were given and the games they played in. There was a lot of love in the air and I’ve no doubt that the youngsters will remember the day for a long time.

It’s what the sport needs and I know some BAFA teams are taking football into the schools and every encouragement should be given to this venture. Football is becoming more popular by the year and the energy needs to be channeled into its survival now or, as in the nineties, the interest will fade.

Any reader not actively involved in the game might consider flag football as a good way of nurturing the interest of youngsters in our game. With little cost and loads of fun, it’s also a good way to keep everyone fit.

2015 NFL International Series Launch with Play60 event in London

You know when the NFL season is drawing near when they organise events to help push the brand and of course the International Series games at Wembley this coming season. Last week we had the visit of Andrew Luck and his father Oliver, both sharing some great insight into playing both now and in the past.

This week saw the League raise their profile further with an official launch of this year’s games, with players present from each of the participating teams. This coincided with the first of this year’s Play60 events, something which is very welcome here to encourage kids to exercise more.

Six schools from around the area have been teamed up with a Wembley-bound side and all those in attendance were enthusiastic and loud, just as everyone expected them to be. They were much disciplined in their play, which helped by having coaches and players from local teams, assisted later in the day by the even more enthusiastic players.

The urban background of a Community Hub in the middle of Vauxhall, a deep ball throw away from the Oval Cricket ground was a more suitable setting from such an event as it perhaps reminded the visiting representatives from the USA of their humble backgrounds.

If the NFL is to eventually succeed in having a franchise here, then these very children and those similar up and down the country will be the real torch bearers. They will be the ones that will be asking to go to games, and eventually pass on their enthusiasm to the next generation.

If last Wednesday is a marker then the League is on to a winner as all those in attendance, even the gathered media left with a smile on their face, and optimism for the future.

Edd Hodsdon, one of our regular feature writers summarised the day:

There’s no question that the NFL’s Wembley International Series is popular here in the UK. Average attendance since 2007 is 82,677, regularly topping the average attendance for England football matches at Wembley over the same span. But what about the reception back in the United States?

“It’s exciting. People are definitely intrigued by it,” says Nick Mangold, six–time Pro Bowl centre for the New York Jets. “We played in Toronto versus the Bills [but] there’s something different about flying across the ocean and coming over.”

The opportunity to explore a different country seems to be the main draw for players and fans alike. “All of us are jealous [of] the teams that get to go overseas and play and explore a new culture,” says Cairo Santos, kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs. “As much as we like to play at home, I think coming to Wembley could be our favourite away trip.”

After the NFL’s first attempt to expand internationally in the 1980s failed, the International Series has rebooted the league’s push for a global fan base.

“[People have] gotten used to the idea of the NFL expanding, and all I hear is all positive. The fans love they can come here to London and watch us play and also see the city,” explains Joique Bell, running back for the Detroit Lions. “The first time I ever came to London was last year, and I was able to experience something I probably wouldn’t have been able to if we didn’t play here.”

The format of the International Series seems to have been the project’s biggest advantage. Staging one game a year between 2007 and 2012, then expanding to two games in 2013 and three games last season, there has been clear growth. Three more games are scheduled for this season, including the first International Series divisional game when the Jets take on the Miami Dolphins in Week 4.

Olivier Vernon, a defensive end for Miami, knows just how important divisional games are. “This is a big game, so the fans are in for a treat.”

The intense atmosphere of a divisional game can only add to the appeal of Wembley’s own atmosphere. “[People] don’t realise how crazy and electric it is once you’re in that stadium. It felt like a playoff game, and I haven’t even made it to the playoffs yet!” laughs Olivier.

The International Series has clearly captured the hearts and minds of fans back in the States. “They like it,” explains Sergio Brown, a safety for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Wembley’s de-facto home team.

“It’s always a question of are you going to play in London? It’s something cool to do, come over here and play and actually get to experience it. It has a unique niche in the game of football right now.”

Judging from the reactions of the players coming to Wembley this season, it’s safe to say that all three games will be highly anticipated on both sides of the Atlantic.

Dean Wright also was on hand to grab some time with the players:

Wednesdays don't usually hold much excitement for most people but on Wednesday 15th July, 2015 excitement was at its highest as the NFL rolled into town. Into The Black Prince Community Hub, Vauxhall, London to be exact.

An NFL Play60 event was taking place with local schools and it was also the platform for the launch of the NFL International Series to take part here at Wembley starting this coming October.

 

With player representation from all six teams playing here this year, the realization that the new season is literally around the corner affected not only the ardent fan amongst us, but was breathing life into children who were discovering this beautiful game for the very first time.

Various small football pitches became small Gridirons and very animated games of Flag Football took place with all roles being taken very seriously as one of the NFL players became their teams Head Coach.

The NFL teams and players in attendance were:

Buffalo Bills-Cordy Glenn, Tackle. Detroit Lions-Joique Bell, Running Back. Jacksonville Jaguars-Sergio Brown, Safety. Kansas City Chiefs-Cairo Santos, Kicker. Miami Dolphins-Oliver Vernon, Defensive End & New York Jets-Nick Mangold, Center.

The media were given a small amount of time with the players who you could clearly see were having a real blast working with local kids in the sport that they love so much.

Cordy Glenn reflected on last season for the Buffalo Bills. “I think we did good as far as improving, I think there’s a couple of games we wish we had back last year because we’d  probably be in the playoffs. I think we were almost turning a corner but just didn’t quite make it, but were feeling optimistic for the season coming”.

Cordy seemed upbeat and excited about playing at Wembley this season as did Jags Safety Sergio Brown who joined from Indianapolis Colts in March. “I am looking forward to coming over here to play a lot. After I came the excitement definitely built and probably by the end of the trip I’ll be scratching myself!”

Sergio also let slip a wish of his, “I can’t wait to play in Wembley, but my owner has a wonderful soccer club and I’d actually love to play there too, but you know whatever happens, happens right?”

The question of the deal between Tottenham Hotspurs recent 10 year agreement with the NFL to host a minimum of 2 NFL games a year from 2018 was raised and Kansas City Chiefs Kicker, Cairo Santos commented “This just shows the commitment of the NFL to come to London. It would be really cool to see a couple of teams here”

Santos also admitted that he was in turn a huge fan of the English Premier League and was in turn a huge Chelsea fan, claiming Frank Lampard as his favourite player. Cairo made a point also of saying that to play in Wembley is going to be a dream come true after watching a lot of iconic football games there.

With the flurry of cameras, questions and children screaming, you couldn’t help but feel the player’s anticipation for the coming season. Even though the same questions were asked every player was upbeat and feeding on the enthusiasm that surrounded them.

What we can take from this brief moment is that the NFL is here for the long haul and London is set to become a major player in the sport of American Football plus the teams are excited about it. Then with the kids introduced through the Play60 initiative they are priming the next generation of NFL Fans.

We have two photographers among our ranks that were able to shoot some great images of the day.

You can view Ree Dawes work here -  https://www.flickr.com/photos/footballree/sets/72157655513880198

And Gordon Dedman has work on show here -  https://www.flickr.com/photos/107007642@N02/sets/72157655919133881

 

NFL Fan Forum - Andrew and Oliver Luck

Photos courtesy of Roger Goodgroves

 

Once again the good people at NFL and NFLUK spoiled the fans as another Fan Forum left those assembled inside the welcoming spaces of Club Wembley fulfilled.

On the evening of Monday July 6th it was the turn of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, accompanied by his father, himself a former NFL QB and now heavily involved in the NCAA, Oliver Luck. This was a representation of the evening as it was aimed to bring a more family feel to the forum with those fortunate enough to attend encouraged to bring a younger, or older, family member to introduce them to the sport.

As is the case with the majority of these events the evening was hosted by Sky Sports presenter, and columnist Neil Reynolds. It’s no secret that Neil is a big fan of Luck and indeed his father as Oliver was very influential in NFL Europe during its short history. After the introductions it was clear that Andrew Luck could hold his own when telling a story and informing us of what it takes to be a top level high profile QB in today’s league. So much so that Reynolds was more than happy to take a back seat for a while and let Luck do his thing.

As is now customary at these events fans get to ask questions. To his credit Luck fielded these with ease and even managed to avoid getting dragged into what could have been an uncomfortable moment when asked about – whisper it quietly – Deflategate.

We learned that he did not feel any pressure in taking over from Peyton Manning at the Colts, saying that if he tried to step into his shoes it would just be too much pressure, his father said they had a great relationship with the Manning family and that knowing them helped them in the process, and even placed them as good role models to aspire to.

Andrew Luck sees himself as a Tight End if he wasn’t the great QB that he is, adding that he has huge respect for that position and what it involves, but also has a healthy respect for the “two freaks of nature” that are the pass rushers coming at him every down. After all he does face JJ Watt twice every year!

Both father and son agreed that the best part of being a QB was that you’re always learning. Every time you step into the film room, and study a defence, or watch where you went wrong on a certain play, is so good and integral to being a better player and teammate.

Times have changed e and the 20 years or so since Oliver was playing when smoking in the locker rooms was a gimme, the game day rituals of breakfast with your teammates, listening to the same music (Andrew prefers a rock option), warm-up and stretching, have by and large stayed the same. One ritual Andrew doesn’t like however is that of being Mic’d up, but admits that it does bring the fans closer to the game and this was something the his father had introduced as a full time event in NFL Europe to help the casual fan what really goes on inside the huddle.

With Social Media being a powerful tool in today’s world Andrew Luck revealed that he has never had a twitter account, this was his personal decision which is two-fold. The distraction would be there and even more so if he were to read anything negative thrown his way.

In between the interview time and questions asked, both Lucks took part in some activities with the younger set of the audience. Again you could see that teaching the game and addressing the kids was something that was quite natural to Luck and if any of those that played catch with him in those few moments go on to play and support the game the main objective of the evening will have proved to be a success.

School participation growing, but how can we expand on that

The following is an article by Suzie Wallace, a PE teacher at St.Mary's CofE Junior School in Oxted, Surrey

 

It is unsurprising, with the interest of American Football in the UK at an all time high, that the directors of NFLUK are looking for ways to encourage the growth of the sport at grassroots level - but how open are opportunities for young people to get involved?

 

Speak to any teacher about the 2014 changes to the National Curriculum and you are likely to get met with an icy stare or a raised eyebrow. However, speak to a PE teacher and you might get a more welcome debate. The new National Curriculum, for all its faults (and believe me, there are many), has opened up opportunities to teach new sports in schools, as the curriculum focuses on teaching sporting skills, which does not necessarily have to be through specified sports. This has not been with unanimous applause; a report out this week states that youth team sport participation is falling, with more youngsters preferring to take up solo sports. Pressure is on coaches and teachers to promote team sports at grassroots level.

 

The sport governing bodies have been instrumental helping schools with this. The England Cricket Board (ECB) offers free coaching sessions, a national pathway competition and free tickets to county matches. Surrey Cricket Club even host a 'school's day', whereby schoolchilden can meet players, watch a county game and take part in coaching activities.

 

England Rugby offer similar incentives. Tag Rugby is hugely popular at primary level. England Rugby provides free lesson plans for Years 2-6, a national pathway competition and free specialised coaching sessions to any school which asks for it.

 

The FA (well known for being last when it comes to grassroots interest) have realised they need to up their game. Schools can now sign up to belong to local FA groups, and participate in national pathways. The Premier League for Schools initiative has offered more - with lesson plans and team kit giveaways on the table.

 

But what about the NFL? Despite being a 'new' sport in this country, Alistair Kirkwood has already shown commitment to getting American Football a seat at the table. Back in October, NFL UK offered to run the 'Play 60' scheme to six London primary schools, with an aim to extend if successful.

 

Alistair Kirkwood said: “This is the first time the NFL has trialled a scheme such as this in Britain and we see it as an important stage in the development and growth of the sport here. As well as providing practical support with kit and equipment, we can offer training expertise and even interaction with the six teams playing in London later this year, including visits from players.”

 

There have been other signs of American Football branching out. The Wembley Learning Zone offers a half day American Football coaching session to any primary school that requests it. Raj and Nick, who run the learning zone, have developed a series of lesson plans that are given to teachers after the session. I took 30 of my Year 5 and 6 pupils on this day, and it was a truly fantastic experience, a real mixture of practical and theory, but overall very fun!

 

Even with all of the above, you would be hard pressed to find a primary school that teaches American Football. The biggest barrier? Confidence. Teachers need to feel confident in a sport for fear of their pupils knowing more than them. Unlike traditional UK sports, there aren't as many sport coaching professionals who can come into school to deliver training sessions, or paid for after school clubs. However, there are positive signs emerging. Flag football requires similar resources to Tag Rugby, so schools don't have to purchase a brand new set of expensive resources. The plethora of sport catalogues that land on my desk now often feature an American Football section, which two or three years ago didn't exist.

 

So how can things develop further? With more UK American Football teams emerging, especially at University level, there will naturally be a trickle down effect. Clubs are looking to expand, and know that this only works with a strong colt’s level group. Club involvement in schools is crucial in developing teacher CPD, and also being able to recruit and capture young enthusiasts. It is an exciting time in the sport, for sure. Hopefully in another few years, there will be a national pathway Flag Football competition, which could display the next young UK talents.

 

Jaguars and Cowboys strengthen ties with the UK

Two big stories that make connections with the NFL and the UK even stronger emerged on Wednesday. The links already forged between the Jacksonville Jaguars and their growing fan base here got tighter, and the well supported Dallas Cowboys UK base got some news as a London based player signed on the dotted line.

You could have been forgiven thinking it was all a big hoax given that the timing of the announcements fell on April 1st, traditionally April Fool’s Day can leave us looking silly, but as both press releases were after the Midday mark we could all breathe a sigh of relief that these news stories were in fact real.

Jacksonville have been pushed as “London’s Team” for the past couple of years, their commitment to play games in the UK’s capital for 4 years meant that had to gain a foothold with fans and get them onside. They have done this with a decent amount of publicity and events for the general public to get to know them and the sport better.

The “You make the Pick” call generated a buzz, as the NFL Draft is now a landmark event on the calendar, for some it’s the start of the season. The Jaguars are offering one lucky fan the chance to announce the teams 6th and 7th round picks on Saturday May 2nd, during a live broadcast on Sky Sports that will also be covered by NFL Network, from a studio in London.

http://www.nfluk.com/events/you-make-the-pick.html

Mark Lamping, President of the Jaguars said, “We are so excited to provide our fans in the US, and abroad with an exciting opportunity to be part of the NFL Draft and introduce everyone to our newest Jacksonville Jaguars, Additionally, we are also equally thrilled to be the first team in the league to bring the NFL Draft to the International market in London.”

If hard work and the will to succeed is anything to go by then Efe Obada has already made the Dallas Cowboys roster for the 2015 season. The 22 year old has become the talk of the British NFL community as it was announced he had signed on with Americas Team and will report to rookie camp next month.

It really is a rise from poverty and relative obscurity to possible NFL stardom. Having only played a handful of games with the two-time back-to-back BAFA Champion London Warriors, he had a personal tryout with the Cowboys and clearly did enough to impress his peers. “This is a dream. It’s amazing and life changing. It’s a major turning point in my life and feels like a movie” Obada said when asked about his move, “I just want to make the team. And then I want to get my first Super Bowl ring. I believe I can do it and I’m working hard.”

Like fellow NFL compatriot Menelik Watson, Obada had a rough time growing up. He was left abandoned on the streets and had to fend for himself as he grew up on the streets. Like so many others he has found an escape from a life of gang culture and crime by finding sports, “It’s definitely important to be a role model. You need role models to inspire you.”

London Warrior teammate Vernon Kay was full of praise, “He’s everything. Strong, fast, great attitude, fantastic dedication.”

Should he succeed and make the team, he could potentially line up with another Brit Jack Crawford, who featured well in the Cowboys late season run into the playoffs in 2014.

Everyone at UKFirstdown wishes Efe well in his quest to make the team.

Brent school wins $10,000 NFL prize

We know the fine job that the Play60 initiative does in the USA in promoting the game and indeed a healthy lifestyle, well now it has made its impact fully known here in the UK too.

Carlton Vale Infants School in Brent, London was chosen from 30 participating schools to win a cheque for $10,000. Carlton Vale was new to the Play60 events in 2014 and was awarded its large prize by Aden Durde, NFLUK’s head of community affairs.

The event which encourages children to be active for at least 60 minutes a day was more than welcome by the schools head teacher Helen Mooney, “We are a very disadvantaged school economically and this will go a long way for us. It’s made our week to hear we’ve won.” Each participating school was given an activity booklet and a classroom scoreboard to keep track of how active they had been during the six week programme which ran between the 2014 International Series games.

In 2015, six schools from the London boroughs of Brent and Lambeth, have been twinned with the teams coming over to play in London later this year. The children involved will participate in flag football tournaments and drills, as well as being coached in vital character development skills.

Durde said, “We are excited to be able to involve the 2015 International Series teams in our Play60 initiative, and we look forward to teaching children the fundamentals of American Football while engaging them in activities that will help develop their social and classroom skills.”

All London games to have early kickoffs

The NFL has confirmed the kick off time for the third and final game to be played in London later this year. Two weeks ago they announced that the first two games would take place in the early afternoon (2.30pm) as this was deemed a success on both sides of the Atlantic.

It was rumoured that the final game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions would revert back to what has become the normal kickoff time of 6pm GMT.

As stated above though the earlier time slot went down so well that the NFL have made all three games early starts. This of course means that on the States’ East coast they will have breakfast football each time there is a game in London. It also brings four TV slots available on each of those occasions. Something which is a win-win for both the NFL and it’s fans.

NFLUK Managing Director Alistair Kirkwood said, “Our fan research has shown overwhelming support for early kickoffs. It has been a complex process to get those agreed for all three games, but we are delighted to have done so. It means the London games will have their own timeslot and also allows the teams to get home a day earlier to begin their bye weeks.”

2015 NFL on Regent Street

We all know the NFL is coming to London again for another three games, we also now know that some events are already in place to supplement the games and help push the fan base further in 2015.

The hugely successful NFL on Regent Street event will once again be an event not to be missed. Closing down the main thoroughfare between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus, so that American Football fans from all over the country can meet with one common goal. To celebrate the game we all love so much. Through interactive games, live music, some historical displays, and of course the chance to see and hear from the participating teams players and coaches.

This time the event, which has attracted approximately 600,000 visitors on each of the first two occasions, will be on Saturday October 24th, the day before the Buffalo Bills play the Jacksonville Jaguars.

2015 kickoff times announced

The kickoff times for the first two NFL International Series games at Wembley Stadium later this year have been announced.

News first broke this past weekend during Sky Sports’ playoff game coverage.

As expected, after the huge success of the lunchtime slot last year for the Lions and Falcons game, the NFL has placed not one, but two of the games with that early time.

The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins will battle it out on October 4th at 2.30pm, and the Buffalo Bills will square off against the Jacksonville Jaguars at 1.30pm.

Both games will have an 8.30am start on the East coast of America. This is due to the clocks changing here in the UK on the day of the second game, October 25th.

The final game of this year’s series between Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs on November 1st, has yet to be given a time, but it is widely expected to be a 6pm start.

NFL International Series 2015

The National Football League has once again placed three regular season games in London for the second straight year. In 2015 we will see three new teams grace our shores as the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs make their International Series debut.

Also for the first time two games will be played on consecutive weekends, to test the fanbase further and also to see if the Wembley pitch can hold up to the rigours of back to back games in light of any possible future franchise in the nation’s capital.

Kickoff times are yet to be announced but the NFL is keen for at least one of the games to have the successful 1.30pm time which was used for the second game of the three in 2014. This was well received on both sides of the Atlantic.

Week 4 – NEW YORK JETS at MIAMI DOLPHINS – October 4th

Week 7 – BUFFALO BILLS at JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS – October 25th

Week 8 – DETROIT LIONS at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS – November 1st