Now I have to admit that like a lot of other Brits, I am a little bit ignorant about American sport. Indeed, I’m ‘that guy’ who went to New York for a week and came back with a Yankees cap and baseball mitt after watching one game of Major League Baseball.
My only previous experience of American football was playing Madden NFL 09 on the PlayStation 2. Whilst it has to be said that my 99-rated quarter back who was six foot six and built like a house was the guy who pulled the strings for the Miami Dolphins, he failed to resemble me in any way.
So I was delighted to extend my American football knowledge further and find out more about the sport, which is actually played here on campus by the York Centurions. I spoke to their captain and president, Fred Isaac, about what makes this sport different to a contact sport that is similarly cherished in England – rugby.
“It doesn’t have a flowing nature that rugby does, it’s more like the highlight reels of rugby, every play you’re playing, you’re playing it at 100 per cent. I’ve had hard hits playing in both sports, but there are more likely to be more massive hits playing American football because there are fewer tackles per game. If you get the chance, you fly into your opponent at 100 per cent.”
What is apparent is that Fred clearly knows the game and is passionate about it but he’s also ambitious and keen to improve on last season. “Last season we played well in the games that we should have played well in, but in the close games, we lost a lot.
“But this year we reorganised in the summer, we got some funding in to allow us to participate at the level we wanted to, we got new sponsors in, we tried to get it all sorted early.
“We got new equipment in this year and we’ve started to build a really good foundation for years to come and increase our coaching staff. This year has been a solid year, we’re looking to go in and win our next three games and finish with a winning record and build on it for next year.”
I ask him about the new players that have joined this year and how they’ve taken to the team, and I’m surprised at the amount of freshers that came into the club considering they only have one team. “We tend to get about sixty new freshers coming into the club, of which about thirty or forty stay on and are regular members of the club. We had about four rookies, freshers and new people coming into sport, starting the first game.”
What’s astonishing though is that the majority of new players who come into the team have never played the sport before. Fred tells me that, “We had one guy who joined that had played [the sport] before, but I would say that around 95 per cent of people who come and join our sport have never played before.
“The first years on defence have really shown themselves and have become really good players, crucial parts of the team which we couldn’t do without.
“We’ve got our set-up, we ran a programme in conjunction with the National Lottery where our first six weeks of training are sort of about bringing people up to speed, getting them game ready.” It’s clear that the American football club are willing to get new players in and help to them develop right from the word go, something that can only be admired.
Talking about the first half of the season, Fred says, “We’ve won two and lost three, the two we won we should have won; we won convincingly which was really good.”
Casting one eye to probably the biggest fixture of the year, an away Roses match against Lancaster, Fred says, “Roses is always a big part of our season, but at the moment we’re concentrating on winning the rest of the season because if we win these next three games then there is a chance that we could get into the play-offs which extends our season even longer.
“We always get old boys back to support, we don’t play Lancaster during the regular season which we used to do, so it actually ups the ante for Roses a bit more.”
I ask Fred what the main perks of joining the American football club are. In my own mind I was envisaging the kit being one of the main perks of the job. You have to admit, the helmets are pretty cool, but Fred believes that the social side of the club really allows it to stand out. He jokes, “Well in comparison to the football club we actually go out on Wednesday nights!”
But in all seriousness he adds, “We have a really good social atmosphere as well as being a highly competitive team. I’d say one of the big differences is because everyone is new to the sport everyone grows at a similar sort of rate.
“That’s the difference with other sports at this university – people will have played those before whilst if you come to American football no one has really played it before so everyone grows together as one cohesive unit.
“The other advantage is that because we only have one team there’s no firsts, second, thirds – we all get on the coach together, we all go to our games together, and we’re all part of one team.
“Then again, there’s competition within the team, there’s direct competition between offence and defence which is also another nice aspect.
“You play week in, week out against your mates, you train against each other but then you come together on a Sunday to try and work together, you congratulate each other as you go off the field. It’s a nice feeling to have, forty of your mates on the side line as you come off the field after making a good play.”
What makes this club unique is certainly the “one club” spirit that is engrained with having one team. Yet competition within the club clearly adds another dimension that makes the experience of playing for the Centurions such a unique one.
The best part of this package? It’s still open. I ask Fred what he would say to those people who might want to take up American football but might be apprehensive about joining the club. He says, “Come along now, we have training on Thursday nights at eight [in the evening] and on Sundays at eleven [in the morning] if we don’t have a game. We’ve had people who have joined after Christmas and who are already looking to certainly feature in our starting line-up for the first game [after Christmas].”
What’s obvious to me is that the York Centurions are one of the most tight-knit competitive sides on campus. It’s a great all round package that combines cohesiveness, competition and has a great social side. This type of club is rare but the Centurions seem to be a great choice for those looking to dive into a new sport. If you’re thinking of taking up a new sport, why not American football?