The deep roots of the NFL in the UK

The NFL comes to London once again this weekend so Jamie Allen thought it would be a great time to dive into the history the sport has in the UK.

You may think that the NFL is a recent phenomenon in the UK but you couldn’t be further wrong. The sport has links in the country back to the invention of Rugby when William Webb Ellis decided to pick up the ball during a football match; Rugby was born and it wasn’t long before the game had been adapted to what we now know as American Football.

The recent boom in popularity has dulled the memories of the early 1990s when NFL was very hard to follow in this country because of a lack of coverage, often the only game live a season was the Super Bowl in February.

It was not until Sky Sports picked up the coverage at the turn of the Millennium that the sport got some real exposure in the UK.

Before this Channel 4 had been the torchbearer for coverage in the 1980s with coverage throughout the season, I’m sure a lot of fans now can thank Channel 4 for making them fans of the sport today and they can be considered the fore runners to the level of coverage we are lucky to have now.

During the boom we easily forget the popularity of NFL Europe and the UK based teams like the London Monarchs. The Monarchs played their home games at Wembley and drew crowds as big as 40,000 for games; showing the enthusiasm for the sport in the UK at the time.

Sadly neither NFL Europe or the Monarchs exist anymore but their legacy lives on in the form of the International Series.

The 80s and early 90s did bring American football action to these shores as the NFL started their first attempt at an International series with a series of preseason exhibitions games all over the world; from Berlin to Tokyo and most notably Wembley Stadium.

There were eight games at the old Wembley dubbed ‘The American Bowl’ and fans got to see the likes of the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins.

Sadly these were only exhibition games and the team’s big stars were only playing for a few minutes if they took the field at all.

We have to count ourselves lucky that we get to see meaningful regular season games and we look forward to seeing the players create NFL history in this country.

image: © Matt McGee