This is England. Football, cricket, rugby…American Football? Now I know it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue when defining what sport means to an Englishman, but open your eyes sport fans. This is the 21st Century. Whether you are incensed by America’s seemingly global sporting domination or you’re one of those who grew up playing NFL Madden on the Playstation and now regularly stay up for 2am Sunday Night Football, one thing which we can all agree on is that American Football is now very much not just American.
American Football is gradually becoming a British phenomenon. For the past two years, Wembley Stadium has been the venue for one-off NFL season matches, and in both cases the 80,000 capacity sold out. Indeed, for the 2009 scheduled game between the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 70,000 tickets have already been sold – 20,000 in the first seven minutes of going on sale. Since the creation of the Wembley NFL spectacle, British viewing of the sport has risen by 40%. Furthermore, one NFL senior official recently commented that he expected London to have its own team within 10 years.
It would be an extraordinary success for the NFL in its efforts to consolidate American Football as an international sport. Of course, we’re now talking about playing, not just watching, which leads us to ask the question: are years of playing American Football computer games enough to lay the foundations for an actual English NFL team? The answer is nearer than we think.
Nottingham University has had its own American Football team now for over ten years, and Impact Sport spoke to Nottingham Outlaws fullback Toby Majekodunmi:
“We’re playing at a fairly good level considering many of the guys had not played before coming to Uni, which definitely shows you don’t have to have played since you were a kid to grasp the game. Having the NFL come to Wembley is only ever going to help the game in England, so it’s obviously a massive positive for the Outlaws.”
The Outlaws have qualified for the national playoffs in each of the last three years, and one of the main things helping them is the fact that no players are turned away. The need for such a large squad (over 40) means the Outlaws can afford to be less elitist than many other sports, trying to maximise their numbers instead of cutting them down.
So will we see our fellow students making it to the big time when London has its own NFL team? American Football in England has seen big sporting names grace the grid-iron gang before. England Rugby head coach Martin Johnson played for the Leicester Panthers, whilst Scotland Rugby hero Gavin Hastings and GB sprinter Dwain Chambers have also donned the famous helmets and pads.
American Football is now a sporting force to be reckoned with in the UK. With millions watching on TV, thousands buying tickets for games, and with certain fans and players becoming disillusioned with soccer, British fans are increasingly referring to their adopted sport as ‘football’, a sign more than anything that the game is no longer simply American.