The Blitz returns to London

[from CBC News]

The Blitz returns to London

American football catches on in U.K.

Last Updated: Thursday, May 15, 2008 | 12:35 PM ET

London Blitz and Kent Exiles play 'American football' in London park, May 3, 2008 London Blitz and Kent Exiles play ‘American football’ in London park, May 3, 2008 (Courtesy London Blitz Football Club)Finsbury Park in north London still embodies the best of Victorian era England. Relaxed couples watch their children play on the swings while fussing over baby in the pram.

Boaters on the man-made lagoon effortlessly glide along as Canada geese honk encouragement, only serving to remind one of the former breadth of the British Empire.

Along the path is a Second World War control tower, a reminder of the dark days of the Blitz.

But in this park, on this day, the Blitz is back. The uniforms have changed, the helmets are plastic, not steel, and the enemy are Exiles from Kent.

The London Blitz is one of two American-style football teams in the British capital.

Culture clash

This foreign game raises a few questions. Here in Britain, soccer is called football. So then what is football called when it’s not soccer?

Blitz Chairman and former player Lloyd Edwards clears that up, “I just say American football ‘cuz there’s no point in talking about any other kind of football, ya know they automatically assume it’s with a round ball; Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea that kind of thing.”

In the restrained British culture, what attracts fans to brute force and bone-jarring hits? “It’s a more gentlemanly game,” says Andrew Gill to my surprise, as he supports his son from the sidelines, “the discipline is better within the players, the coaching’s better too. I just think it’s fantastic.” Other dads are not quite so sanguine. Tim Davies noted one difference, “The physical side of it, I mean this is really quite scary. He seems to be bouncing and they seem to be able to scrape him off the turf, but I’m just praying he doesn’t get injured”.

Appeal growing

According to Lloyd Edwards, the Blitz’s conditioning coach, the sport has “been here for 20 years, it’s just that because it’s London and our major game is soccer, nobody believes we play, but we play — there’s quite a few diehard American football fans.”

A polite, if somewhat rambunctious group of 16-20 year olds who have a distinctly uncomfortable middle distance stare, take to the field. Representing a cultural portrait of urban London, multiracial and multilingual, they epitomize what it is to be an English footballer in the 21st century. Fit, young and ready to hit somebody. How very refreshing.

As the players lined up for the opening kickoff, the head linesman instructed the all-volunteer chain crew. The boys stared at each other with what can only be described as ‘serious British concern’ until one said to the linesman, “We won’t do anything ’til you say, right mate?” At the linesman’s nod the relief amongst the boys was palpable.

The Exiles kicked to The Blitz and the game began. It quickly became evident that The Blitz were going to use the Trafalgar split strategy first deployed by Admiral Nelson against the Spanish Armada in 1805. Find a weak spot in the line and drive through it with sheer bloody-mindedness. The first drive climaxed in a touchdown and The Exiles fought valiantly but hopelessly against the running and strafing Blitz.

Halftime was called, the BBQ was fired up and my eye wandered to see what other events were sharing the park. A group of teenagers was smoking and flirting by the 30-yard line, sprinters were training on the track and most curiously, Tai Chi practitioners unfazed by their noisy neighbours were making “crushing coconut in hands” gesticulations.

The rest of a pleasant afternoon was spent watching both teams, with full sails, deliver crushing tackles and implement aerial attacks with pinpoint accuracy. As the game ended and the smoke from the grill cleared, the teams congratulated each other as only admiring opponents can with a faraway stare and firm handshake. Final result: The Blitz bombed the Exiles 46-8.

Winning Blitz quarterback Ben Cagan put it best, “We’ve got great coaches, and everyone here’s working for free. We put a team together and two years later we’re having some success…finally.”

Football fanatics in a country of soccer obsessives, these junior players gave England their best, even if only a handful of people noticed.


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