Updated: Jul 24, 2020
Being a British American Football Fan in the 1980s
You kids today don’t know how good you have it!
I began following American Football in 1985 ( I was really really young), it was a time before the internet. There were no websites, no podcasts, no Gamepass, no regular season games in London or rumors of a London based franchise. It seems crazy now but you probably wouldn’t even know the scores of games until the Monday or Tuesday after they happened. As a fan you tried to get my hands on anything related to American Football and went to great extremes to listen to games (more of that later).
Channel 4 Coverage of American Football
This is how it started in the UK. There were good times and bad. I only need to say The Vicious Boys to send shivers down the spines of many people. Without the early Channel 4 coverage I’m not sure we would have International Series Games, Gamepass or the Sunday Night Coverage. Yes Mick Luckhurst wasn’t the greatest presenter but we were seeing American Football! NFL Films on Video There was quite a wide range of NFL films videos available if you looked for them. They were actually quite informative and narrated by the late great Steve Sabol. It wasn’t an NFL film but Wildcats (starring Goldie Hawn) was about American Football so it had to be seen. First Down The late great First Down. I loved First Down. It was the bible of American Football as far my friends and I were concerned. We would huddle around the copies in WH Smith when it came out on a Thursday.This was the only way to find out any offseason news, the Draft being a perfect example. To paraphrase the Buggles: Internet killed First Down. I felt that it was ironic that First Down published it last issue not long before the first International Series Game. First Down had done so much to help the popularity of the sport and the knowledge of its fans. There were other magazines I seem to remember such as Touchdown Magazine (I could be wrong on this one) but First Down was the one for me. Max Runager
Who? It is a good question. Max Runager was a punter in the San Francisco 49ers from 1984 to 1988. For some reason of which I have no clue Max Runager visited Brynteg Comprehensive School. All I remember was a shambolic training session and I think he did a talk and signed some autographs. I’m not sure who was more confused by the whole thing him or the majority of the school who had never heard of American Football. I am sure he sits some days and says to no one in particular “Why the hell did I go to Bridgend, South Wales?” Armed Forces Network
On a Sunday after six o’clock if the wind was right and the Gods Old and New (Game of Thrones reference) were smiling you might, just might pick up a bit of coverage from the Armed Forces Network. I have no idea how you got a clear signal from the radio station for American Service People overseas but I sure as hell never did. I went to all sorts of lengths to get a better signal. I was told by someone that hanging my radio out of my bedroom window would help. It did not. World League of American Football
This did not technically happen in the eighties. It was however a direct result of the boom in popularity of the sport in the eighties. A lot of pundits point to Kurt Warner as the most memorable thing to come out of WFAL/NFL Europe. I disagree; the most memorable thing to come out of it was some the ugliest jerseys ever seen! British American Football
While I was researching this article I found a fantastic history of British American Football at britballnow.co.uk. I remember going to see the local teams Cardiff (Capital) Tigers, Cardiff Mets, Bridgend Celts and Swansea Dragons. In 1988 the Capital Tigers actually signed former NFL first round draft pick Steve Pisarawicz. It still amazes me to this day how they managed this! Who knows, in a few years Jamarcus Russell could be playing on a local sports ground near you.
The American Bowl games were preseason games that were played from 1986 to 1993. I think this was a bit of an own goal on the part of the NFL. By the early 1990s the level of knowledge and information available to the “proper” NFL fan had grown. A preseason game was an NFL game in London but it was just a preseason game. Any casual fan who saw these games surely would not have been inspired. The myth that American Football was just about hundreds of players constantly going on and off the field would not have been helped. Just to contradict myself, I did attend the LA Raiders New Orleans Saints game in 1990 and had a grand old time. Despite not getting home till 3AM I seem to remember. Although being a fan now is a completely different experience looking back I really enjoyed my development into the Super Fan I am today.