By Sam Carroll
The first NFL International Series game was played at Wembley Stadium in 2007, and since then, America’s most popular sport has gone from strength to strength on this side of the pond.
The prospect of the NFL putting a team in London permanently is looking more and more likely, especially with Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, attempting to buy Wembley off the FA in 2018. While this attempt failed, he subsequently announced that the Jaguars will play two home games in 2020.
With the NFL more popular than ever in the UK, more people are getting onto the gridiron and playing the sport themselves. There are many different aspects of the game that could appeal to people in the UK. Great Britain Ladies player, Caley Parnell said “the biggest thing for me was that it’s got a real mental side to it. We’ve got x number of plays but it changes all the time and it’s very tactical. So much more so than any other sport I’ve played in terms of analysing the opposition.”
Organisations such as the UK Dukes have been set up to get kids into American football at a young age, making the sport fun and accessible for them. Kenny Bello, who works for the Dukes, says “The most appealing part of American football is the team element. There is no other sport like it where there is such a heavy reliance on people with varying skill sets, all needing to complete their jobs successfully for the team to succeed.”
Bello also believes the NFL International Series and games regularly being televised on Sky can only help grow the sport over here. “The NFL being on such a big platform means that more people are able to watch and have access to seeing the sport played. The more people that see American football, the higher the number should be of those wanting to get involved.”
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Former Tottenham Hotspur defender Gary Mabbutt and Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick at Wembley Stadium in London
Despite the British American Football Association (BAFA) being more active than ever before, and the NFL is more popular in the UK than ever before, many people may still be hesitant to get involved in American football due to the concern for head injuries. The raising awareness of head injuries and CTE has impacted pretty much all contact sports over the last few years from football to boxing. American football has been one of the sports which has been affected the most. Multiple high-profile NFL players have retired in the prime of their careers due to these worries, as they can have disastrous effects on the lives of players. Aaron Hernandez, the ex-New England Patriots tight end who was convicted of first-degree murder, was found to have been in stage three of CTE when he was just 27-years-old.
Parnell commented that head injuries are not something that overly concerns those playing it regularly in this country. However, she said “it is something that is in the back of my mind as more research comes out about concussion.”
While American football will probably never be as popular as football or rugby in the UK, thousands of people up and down the country are passionate about it, and those people love to see how it is becoming more and more accessible and popular over here.