All You Need To Know About American Football in the UK

As American football grows in popularity in the UK, Fabio Contissa asks: “Is it worth getting into?”

You may think you know what American football is, but do you know your end zone from your tight end? Any idea what a sack is? Well, unless you’re an NFL fan, then the chances are you have no clue whatsoever. And that’s perfectly fine; after all, it’s not a game played much on these shores anyway, is it?


Oh that’s right, there were four NFL games played in London in recent weeks. In fact, such is the growing popularity of the game here in the UK, the NFL have scheduled regular season games in London every year since 2007. So with this in mind, today I’m asking the question – is American Football worth getting into?


Isn’t it just rugby with helmets?

Despite what you may have heard in the past, American football is nothing like rugby. For a start, there’s the fact that each game consists of plays and in between plays, the clock is stopped. Simple enough so far right? The main difference between rugby and American Football though is that once you’re tackled, the play stops. Oh, and you can throw the ball forwards.


The helmets and protection are very much an essential piece of the kit as these players tend to charge straight into each other at literal break-neck speeds. Rugby players, on the other hand, are much more limited in how they can tackle their opponents. But enough about rugby, let’s talk the NFL and interminable game times.


But aren’t all those interruptions tiresome?

At first, the fact that play stops so often can be really tiresome, but when you get into the intricacies of player positions, runs, and plays it can be quite interesting. The thing is, however, that our cousins across the pond like to treat a football game like a day out. Think of it as something akin to a day at Royal Ascot, except with giant foam hands and sweaty men as opposed to dashing suits and fine horses.


All You Need To Know About American Football in the UK – As American football grows in popularity in the UK, Fabio Contissa asks: “Is it worth getting into?”

Now it may seem like I’m making fun of NFL fans, but nothing could be further from the truth. They love their football and are so incredibly passionate about the sport that they’ll show up to a game a few hours early so they can hang out in the car park, eating food and talking about the upcoming game. The game then lasts about 3 hours and they still hang about afterwards to talk more football. As I said, it’s like a day at the races, but without the pomposity we sometimes find at racetracks. The breaks in play are the perfect time to grab something to eat, or if you’re at home, get the kettle on.


What about excitement?

In terms of excitement, well… the NFL does actually have quite a lot of it. Contrary to popular belief among us non-NFL fans, the Patriots and Tom Brady don’t simply run away with it every year. This season so far has been pretty epic to say the least, throwing up surprises all over the place. These have thrown fans into a literal hoop as they struggle to predict match outcomes. So if you fancy a flutter on the NFL, don’t think about match results in the singular form but something more like a combination on a four team parlay ticket. It sounds really fancy, but it’s just like an accumulator of sorts.


Incidentally, if you had gone with the suggestions in that link above you would have been in for a nail-biter with the Cardinals/Giants game. The game finished 27-21 just a point shy of the over 49 points predicted in the parlay. Exciting stuff indeed.


How can I pick a team?

Well, the easy thing to do would be to pick the Patriots and know that you’ll have at least a few Super Bowl wins to cheer in the coming years. But that’s like choosing to support Man City in the Premier League just because they win a lot.


Ideally, you’ll go with a team that you have some sort of connection with. Perhaps you have a family member living in that particular city or state. Maybe you have an old college friend who hails from the US. Or better yet, perhaps you spent some time in the US yourself and can feel a personal connection to a particular team.


If none of that works, then I’d suggest watching the league for a season. After a while you’ll get to know the players and start naturally gravitating towards one of the teams. It could simply be that you end up following the team that you can see on TV the most. If you can, try to, at the very least, opt for a team that has a tendency to make the playoffs on a regular basis. At least that way you’ll have something to watch right through the season.


Is it worth it?

If you like sport of any kind, then American football is definitely worth a shot. I will warn you though, that you’ll have to leave your pre-conceived notions about American sports at the door. In the UK, we have an inclination to dismiss US sports as boring or too slow, but the reality is that American Football is no slower than a game of cricket. As a matter of fact, it’s quite a lot quicker in terms of game length.


Once you leave those notions behind, you’ll soon discover that American football is indeed quite exciting and, believe it or not, well worth your while. Start watching and there’s a good chance that in no time at all, you’ll find yourself staying up late on a Sunday night to watch the big games. You might even find yourself buying tickets for one of the London based games. You’ll have to be quick though; every one of the four games played on UK soil this year was a sellout. That in itself should tell you a lot about the worthiness of this exciting and sometimes brutal sport. Is it worth getting into? You better believe it.


Fabio Contissa is a freelance writer. Photos by Tim Mielke and Anders Krøgh Jørgensen of CC0 1.0.


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