30 Years Of Student Football – College Ball Champs

By Pete Laird

This year sees the celebration of thirty years of Student American football and Uniball has been competed in the UK since the advent of Britball. Channel 4 broadcast their first live game to our shores with Superbowl XVII in January 1983 and the following year a collection of teams began to assemble at Hull, Strathclyde, and Stirling. In 1985 Stirling played Hull in the first ever British collegiate game winning 12-0.

A university structure began to be worked out by Hull student Tom Bell who contacted teams from Manchester Polytechnic, Teeside Polytechnic, and Newcastle University.  These four teams founded the British Collegiate American Football League (BCAFL) whilst Stirling and Strathclyde formed their own Scottish league. The first competitive season got underway in 1985-86 with only three teams and Hull won all of their games to claim the first title. The following season would see the Scottish teams join BCAFL with the addition of Glasgow (then called the Grizzlies) and Leicester. The first ever College Bowl was played at Costello Stadium in Hull with the home team Sharks winning out 24-6.

One of the strangest anomalies of the championship game was College Bowl II in Middlesbrough which stretched to three periods of overtime and with no score and a field churned to mud by freak weather conditions and fading light a co-champion was declared.

BCAFL had restrictions on the number of North American players allowed on the field at any one time and required that they had to play with an ‘A’ stuck to their helmet, upsetting the occasional Canadian. Much like the current divisions, prior to two tiers, BCAFL was split into a Northern and Southern Conference with playoffs advancing from each and the Conference champions meeting in the College Bowl.

The league celebrated its 20th anniversary with 37 teams competing in the 2005-2006 campaign teams allowed players from more than one institution. In 2007 this league was dissolved with all the teams transferring to the new British Universities American Football League (BUAFL) and the single institution rule brought in order to gain official BUCS recognition.

The Championship game itself; the College Bowl (despite the lack of any colleges competing in the league) was held for many years at Saffron Lane Stadium in Leicester. Crowds were always healthy and it was common for players from other teams to sit in the stands giving the event a very colourful feel. The trophy for the game was a specially commissioned trophy in the shape of the college bowl logo.

The championship game itself has been contested by a mixture of teams, some teams subsequently split in two by the single tier rule (Leicester Lemmings, Cambridge Pythons) and some with old nicknames (Scholars, Aces, Demons anyone?) but became to be dominated by specific teams. The 80s by Hull & Teeside, whilst the 90s saw the rise of Loughborough and the noughties Hertfordshire and Birmingham.