British American Football History – Part 1

Courtesy of the UK American Football Scene Facebook Group page

**The Start – 1982-84 **

American Football in the UK didn’t take off until Channel 4 began its weekly coverage of the NFL on Sunday evenings in 1982. Suddenly readily viewable, interest in the colourful and vibrant game took off.

Up until this point, the only time you would see the sport on TV in this country would have been on ITV’s Saturday afternoon show World of Sport, and then only with highlights of the Superbowl several weeks after it had actually taken place!

What Channel 4 brought to its audience was a slickly run production and its weekly musical montage caught the imagination of the public in their millions. In SuperBowl XVIII, the Washington Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins at the end of the first season shown on TV in this country. In the Autumn of 1982, many thousands of young men sought to emulate their heroes by taking to the parks of the country.

During 1983, desperate players in the UK started hunting for equipment and information to start their own teams and get a taste of the game. Books and videos were ordered, and Americans living in the UK was called on to give all the knowledge they had on the growing sport.

London was one of the early places of particular interest in American football, along with Manchester. Teams started springing up around areas that had American Air Force bases in the nearby area – teams such as Milton Keynes and Northampton.The London Ravens held training sessions in Hyde Park and attracted a huge number of prospective players. They played the first all-British game against the Northwich (soon to become Manchester) Spartans. The Ravens won 48-0 in October 1983.

This was the first year that games between British sides took place. Here is a list of the games that took place in 1983:

September 1983 – Northwich Spartans 0-28 London Ravens

October 1983 – London Ravens 48-0 Northwich Spartans

November 1983 – London Ravens 6-6 Paris Castors

In February 1984 representatives of 35 teams meet to discuss the formation of an association. 26 teams attended a second meeting, and this saw the formation of two leagues – the British American Football Federation (BAFF) and the American Football League United Kingdom (AFLUK) – and soon there would be over 40 teams competing in fully kitted football.

The various league associations would plan for league competition by 1985.The London Ravens continued to lead with a Big Five group of clubs being picked out as ahead of the rest – the Ravens, the Manchester Spartans, Milton Keynes Bucks, Birmingham Bulls and the Northants Storm. Some of the friendly games in the summer of 84 received some surprisingly high attendances for such a new sport. A Milton Keynes/Northants encounter at the open-air Milton Keynes Bowl on a lovely summers day in June clocked up 7,000 fans. The Birmingham Bulls and the London Ravens also played out a fascinating two-game series, with the Ravens winning both games.

**1985 – A landmark year **

AFL (UK) had retained the top clubs despite a close-season of rumours and their numbers were 35 in the league. BAFF handled 12 clubs, which were all fairly well established. The UKAFA league started with 15 very new clubs and the fourth league, the Amateur American Football Conference (AAFC), had a six team league of brand new clubs from Lancashire and Yorkshire.

In the AFL, crowds of 2,000 were not uncommon as the London Ravens, Birmingham Bulls and the Leicester Panthers emerged unbeaten from the regular season to win conference championships. Other division winners were the Oxford Bulldogs (8-1-1), Streatham Olympians (7-1) and the Manchester Spartans (10-2).

The four favourites made it through to the Semi’s. Birmingham beating Greenwich, Panthers demolishing the Cougars, Olympians defense shining in a 10-0 win v Allstars and the Ravens besting Oxford 20-0.The semi-final line-up of Ravens v Leicester and Streatham v Birmingham were at Saffron Lane in Leicester and Oxford City FC. The Ravens had little trouble in their game, coming out comfortable winners 40-14. Meanwhile, Streatham caused an upset, taking a 13-12 win against the unbeaten Bulls and earning a place in the first SummerBowl final at Villa Park.

Any thoughts of another upset were quickly forgotten as the London Ravens continued their unbeaten start in the UK game, coming out 45-7 winners to become the first National Champions.

**1986-1989**

Budweiser became the major sponsor of the UK domestic scene but this only served to split the league into two. Those teams not wanting association with the sponsor established the British American Football League which attracted 38 teams.

Interestingly, the Ravens and Olympians chose to side with the beer giants.And it was the Ravens and Olympians that contested the first Budweiser Bowl with the Ravens once again going undefeated and taking the title. Over in the BAFL, it was the Birmingham Bulls, playing at the city’s Alexander Stadium, who overcame the Glasgow Lions 23-2 to take Summerbowl II.

1986 Summer Bowl II: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84lzg1UTGC8

In 1987, the BAFL folded and the league was united under Budweiser. Birmingham took the honour of being the first UK club to take part in European competition and surprised many by finishing 3rd in the Euro Bowl. Bud Bowl II though saw the Ravens continue to dominate and took their third title by beating the Manchester Allstars in front of 13,000 at Loftus Road.

1987 Bud Bowl II:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-XriDe7Dq0

1988 saw the league enjoy a whole host of US ‘imports’ and see the pass become more popular as the standard of play improved and most of the big teams boasted the league limit of three Americans per side.

The first big tussle of the year came in week 2 between the still all-time unbeaten Ravens and the Birmingham Bulls. That record did not look in doubt as the Ravens stormed into a 33-14 lead including a 75 yard run by Joe St Louis, but the Bulls came back through TD’s from Logan and Williams to put them just 5 points behind. An offside call prevented a game leading Logan TD, and the Bulls had to settle for a field goal as the Ravens started to teeter on the brink before St Louis’s 25 yard TD run put them 39-31 ahead. A late Bulls TD from Norman Thomas made the score 39-37, but the 2 PAT pass to tie the game was batted down and the Ravens clung on.

Then on the 15th May, In front of 3,000 fans, the Ravens unbeaten record against domestic opponents stretching back to 1983 went down against the close London rivals Olympians. Richard Dunkley ran for 3 TD’s and over 100 yards for the Olympians as they took control after the Ravens took an early 8-0 lead to run out 22-8 victors. As the season came down to the Semi-Finals, it was the Bulls v Ravens and Manchester Spartans v Olympians. The Olympians had hopes of securing a third final berth in a row but had a seemingly tough contest ahead with the previously unbeaten Spartans. They would be in control from the off in an impressive 43-7 victory up at Hyde FC.

In a momentus game and after losing their unbeaten record earlier in the season, the Ravens minds were concentrated on retaining their national title but shockwaves were sent throughout the league as Birmingham blasted 7 touchdowns in a stunning 51-13 victory at Richmond Rugby Club, London and secure their place in Bud Bowl III. It would be the Bulls securing their 2nd title in 3 years as they dispatched the Olympians 30-6.

1988 Bud Bowl III:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfTthzh_fCQ

1989 – Bud Bowl IV will always be remembered for what happened before the game.

Birmingham were there once again, this time against the Manchester Spartans who went one better than in ’88 and defeated the Olympians in a semi-final rematch.

Bulls’ American QB/HC Russ Jensen (who led the team to their 1988 success) walked out in a row over expenses with the Bulls management, leaving the team the day before the game, leaving them with an 18 year old at the helm. Catcher Bob Shoop was declared fit but a knee injury suffered in the semi-final win over Leeds Cougars would seriously hamper his game. Manchester paid no mind to the controversy and with the end of the first quarter approaching, Hazen Choates lofted a TD pass to Brit Steve Marsh for a 7-0 lead. Choates then intercepted Bulls QB Jefferson and Paul Bailey went in on a 19 yard run for the 14-0 lead at halftime.

Birmingham came out hot for the 2nd half, Brit star RB Trevor Carthy taking more snaps at running back and moving the offense down for Pat Loftman’s TD run and a 14-6 scoreline. Manchester iced the title when Choates lofted another TD pass early in the 4th. Birmingham closed the gap to 21-14 when second string passer Lamedica bowled over from the one after a 69 yard kickoff return by Carthy but Manchester held firm and behind MVP Paul Bailey’s 245 rushing yards on 42 carries, the Spartans took the UK crown.

1989 Bud Bowl IV:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2HjipyIe0Q

The Great Britian national side took European honours for the first time, beating Finland 26-0 in Germany.

Part II to follow, if you wish to join the Facegroup group page and over 7,000 members, you can find them here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKAFS

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