Talking British American Football with BAFA Chief Executive - Pete Ackerley
Spring 2020 has driven an unexpected and catastrophic kick into the backside of gridiron dreamers and doers the world over. In the United States the long-anticipated return of the XFL has been thwarted and frankly, destroyed - by the pernicious virus known as Covid 19. European leagues that play their ever improving version of American Football are having to shutdown across the continent while their managers draw up a new game plan to make a return to the field at some point in the future.
Here at the Global Gridiron we are going to view this unprecedented pause in the great game we all love as simply a "half time" with the knowledge and hope that more exciting battles on both sides of the ball are only moments away. Until then - we will speak with many of the innovative and passionate executives around the planet who await the day when their enterprises will be able to kick off once again on the Global Gridiron. We recently had the pleasure of spending a few minutes with Pete Ackerley, BAFA Chief Executive. Please follow their efforts at the online home of the British American Football Association.
GG: When would you say the sport of American Football began to gain a foothold in Britain?
BAFA: Though gridiron football was first introduced to the United Kingdom by US and Canadian servicemen in the early 1900s, the first active British teams didn't start forming until over 70 years later in 1983. At that time, teams played each other in a one-off fashion and there was no structure to create a formalised league. However, the popularity of the sport was evident with 40 teams prepared to compete against each other in the summer of 1984.
Fast-forward to the current day, and the British American Football Association (BAFA) has over 13,500 active members across all formats of the game.
GG: From across the pond it would seem that our uniquely American game is finding increased popularity in England and the rest of the continent. Is that your experience? Can that fact be quantified?
BAFA: Absolutely. The sport is growing all the time in Great Britain and the game is going from strength to strength.
Since 2007, we've had regular season NFL games played in London every year, and according to research from the NFL, there are now more than 15 million UK fans.
GG: Are there any players from the Association who have achieved legendary status on the British Isle?
BAFA: We have a number of players with connections to Great Britain who have gone on to have highly successful NFL careers. Two-time New York Giants Super Bowl champion Osi Umenyiora was born in London, as was recent Super Bowl winner Jay Ajayi.
There are several British players currently involved with NFL teams, including Efe Obada (Carolina Panthers) and Jack Crawford (Tennessee Titans).
GG: Are there any full-time leagues yet in England? Do players get paid to play?
BAFA: Currently the sport in Great Britain is for amateur players only. As American football continues to grow here, we will keep our options open in terms of a professional league, although there are no immediate plans to introduce this.
GG: Do you believe that someday we will see English born or developed players make an impact on American leagues like the NFL or alternative circuits?
BAFA: Definitely. We have huge ambitions for the game, and we want our players to have the opportunity to grow and develop to the highest standard while playing for British teams.
We now have a partnership with the Canadian Football League (CFL), with a commitment to holding a scouting combine in Great Britain annually, giving our best athletes the chance to showcase their abilities and skills. This provides our players with a clear pathway to reach the highest levels of the game, and we're delighted to have two British players heading to Toronto this year for the overall CFL combine.
GG: How important has American support and knowledge of the game from players and coaches been to the growth of your game?
BAFA: It's been vital, and we have great support from the NFL, and also from the Jacksonville Jaguars, who recently committed to playing two regular season games in London in the 2020 season.
GG: Do you believe you've reached the point where American support is no longer needed in order to take your league to the next level?
BAFA: We always welcome support from America to continuing growing our game, although we believe we now have the infrastructure and knowledge in this country to independently take the sport to the next level.
GG: I believe that as the sport of American Football continues to grow in popularity that the cultures of foreign countries will find its way into the game. In your opinion, what nuance, characteristics or qualities of play does the English mindset bring to the field?
BAFA: There is a real love of American sports in Great Britain and American football has been promoted so successfully globally, which has helped build its popularity.
In terms of the qualities of the British mindset, we love physicality in sport and that obviously fits really well with American football. I also believe we have a strong interest in strategy, tactics and complexity within sport (see cricket!) and that characteristic comes into play with British American football.
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