American Football in the US over the Christmas period is just as busy, if not more so, than our yearly festival of football during the much-loved Christmas schedule. The NFL (National Football League in America) fixtures list puts on games on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. It’s a three-day binge of food, freezing temperatures and football.
In late October, the UK played host to the last of three NFL regular season games that took place this year. To put this into context, that is like a Premier League game being played in New York. If this were to be announced, the decision would be undoubtedly met with discontent. Especially if the season was potentially only sixteen games a year, as it is in the NFL. However, what this does tell us is that the NFL is growing in popularity here in the UK, and the US can see its value. With murmurs of a UK-based franchise being set up one day, the sport is truly on the up. Sky Sports show games every weekend and even the BBC now have two highlights shows a week to help fans keep up with the games state-side.
It will come as no surprise to most that our American Football League, the British American Football Association (BAFA), doesn’t demand quite the same of their players over the festive period. Instead, trials up and down the country begin with teams all gearing up for another brutal season. Our American Football season involves 11 divisions, with teams representing cities from all over the country.
The Yorkshire Rams was established in 1986, during what some describe as the pinnacle of the UK league’s existence. The league had a major sponsor in the form of Coca-Cola, resulting in many of the teams running as semi-professional organisations. We spoke to the Yorkshire Rams’ Head Coach, David Pawson and their General Manager, Adam Cowley to find out more the club, how they prepare over the winter period and the current state of the UK league.
David Pawson joined the team in 1992, playing until the 2006/07 season. He has seen the league at its zenith and endured the harder times too. After returning to the Rams in February 2015 as Head Coach after a seven-year absence from his beloved club, David now balances running two martial arts academies with his American Football duties.
Adam Cowley, who is into his fourth year as the Yorkshire Rams’ General Manager, is a joiner by trade, but told us that most of his spare time is spent ensuring the smooth running of the club he also still plays for. With a history in Rugby League, Adam discovered the Yorkshire Rams by a chance encounter at a wedding. After coming out of his Rugby League contract, he saw the Rams as a new and exciting challenge.
David Pawson was involved in the British league during its heyday and today remains positive when discussing the current state of the league. He believes that the UK league possesses players that are, ‘very capable of playing at the highest standard’. This sentiment is echoed by Adam Cowley who suggests that most teams have three or four players in their squads that could play at international level. When asked if players within our league could make the move over to the NFL, he is quick to point out that US scouts are definitely keeping an eye on our teams. He also mentioned the UK born Jack Crawford who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys (although Jack moved to the US in 2005 and started playing for his high school, so he wasn’t strictly scouted from our league).
Both David and Adam acknowledge the importance of the university leagues in the UK, as it’s often the first chance people have of playing the sport here. However, the Rams’ philosophy is not to solely rely on students, and instead build a team around a core of non-university players.
After the disappointment of going out in the first playoff round last season, David is confident that they can build on last year’s performance and stake a claim to get back into the top UK division, the Premier North. With an average age of 21, the squad is youthful but full of potential. David urges, ‘We’ve got the talent to get there, we were just missing a few little pieces last year’.
With a couple of trials being held before Christmas, the Rams are on the look-out for more players to join the ranks. This could be where David finds his missing pieces. Pair this with a return to the South Leeds Stadium and it’s an exciting time in an area that is less known for this version of football.
To get involved go to www.yorkshirerams.co.uk, like their Facebook page @yorkshireramsfootball or follow them on Twitter @Yorkshire_Rams