Some of you who read this will know of my history in this game. Heck, it’s in the bio below. I was with the Birmingham Bulls for 10 years until quite recently, closing that chapter of my life at the Annual General Meeting in 2016.
Truth is though, I wanted to leave in 2015. I’d had enough. I had completely lost passion for what I was doing, but at the time nobody stepped up to volunteer themselves as a committee member. I’d called time on playing in 2015 for what felt like the thousandth time as I just simply couldn’t cope with the injuries from playing, as well as a growing army of mini-me’s at home, my priorities were changing somewhat. But I carried on in my committee role, something I’d been doing since 2012 when a small, dedicated group of people came together and stopped the club from folding.
That’s something I’m very proud of. I’d helped ensure that one of the longest established American Football clubs in the country could continue to operate, now completing its 34th consecutive season in 2017. But the off the field activities can wear you down. This isn’t a slight against the Bulls; I still love the club dearly and even have the club motto tattooed across my chest. But when there are a select few who do all of the work, put in all of the hours, to ensure the players can just turn up and train or play, it begins to wear thin. Quickly. I’m sure there are more than a few teams out there in the BAFA National Leagues who – for one reason or another – rely on a small group of people to run the club.
I found myself lacking the passion to go to games – even whilst serving on the committee – but then staying up late to ensure match reports, social media and website updates were all posted and scheduled.
After joining Double Coverage in 2013(ish), I began to dedicate more and more time to the DC team, too. I began to drift away from club-level activities and gravitating toward the wider National Leagues, with growing responsibilities each passing season (I know next to nothing about BUCS though, so my workload will dramatically decrease over the coming months!).
As part of the Double Coverage team, I helped with the live stream of Britbowl XXVIII in September 2014 where the London Warriors defeated the London Blitz 10-8. On that day, I was running live stats to the commentary team, the first time this had been done, and something that is now a mainstay in the live stream collaboration between Double Coverage and Onside Productions. Alas, other life priorities meant that I couldn’t make the next few Britbowl finals, until this season…
Travelling to Worcester on the Saturday morning, there was already a buzz in the air when I arrived at the stadium, with the first non-London based finalist – Tamworth Phoenix – competing in the British American Football Association’s showpiece event for the first time since the Coventry Jets in 2010 (the last of four successive appearances for the Jets).
As I walked past one of the end zone stands, I saw countless BAFA staff organising the day, from the immediate requirements – the Junior title game was kicking off in little over an hour – to the future needs, with the BIG ONE coming a little later. No vested interests in any of the teams, just coming along to help put on an event for the enjoyment of others. Individuals were ‘assigned’ to teams, to make sure the players and coaches had everything they needed whilst they prepared for their respective games. BAFA have their critics amongst the Britball community – I’ve been one on many an occasion – but the dedication shown by the NGB’s volunteers to ensure the day ran smoothly and without hiccup was on show from start to finish.
Then there’s the team at Onside Productions, who were setting up the gear the night before and early in the morning of the finals (arriving ready to get going at 7am in Leeds on Sunday!)
I was on social media duty on the Saturday, tasked with grinding my fingers and thumbs in to dust keeping up with the frantic play-by-play. I admit to getting a little caught up in the back-and-forth action of the National Championship game at one stage, with tweets and Facebook updates forgotten as I soaked up the raw emotion of Tamworth taking the lead with little time on the clock.
At the final whistle, I ran down to the sideline with some of the key stats from the game, ensuring the post-game analysts had some info to share with the viewers. Again, these were individuals who were giving up their own free time to do nothing more than help put on a professional stream to the countless viewers at home.
As the dust settled, I walked on to the field to take some images for DC, congratulating players and coaches I know on the Phoenix team. Through my time with the Bulls and DC, I’m well aware of the time and effort put in by some of the individuals – namely James Hossack and Coaches Martin Hilton and Jason Scott – and in seeing the flow of emotion from all involved, it lit a fire inside of me again.
All wrapped up, it was time to head home and enjoy a well earned (at least, I thought so) drink or two.
Then came the call for assistance with the stream of the U19 Plate and Division One title games the following day in Leeds. After a little bargaining with the wife, I volunteered to do the 240 mile round trip on the Sunday too.
A little more lowkey than events the previous day, I found myself doing a little bit of everything. Social media, photography (see above!), live stats for the Division One title game and even a little bit of filming were all ‘duties’ undertaken on the Sunday. I say ‘duties’, but that sounds like it was a job. It wasn’t, I was having far too much fun.
I spent the first half yelling stats at the commentary team as #BloomfieldWatch had us wondering if he’d pass 500 passing yards on the day. He didn’t. It was a much smaller crew – at least of #TeamDC members – on the Sunday, but that only served to increase the level of commitment shown by those who were able to help put on the streams. I found myself becoming engrossed in football again, having spent two days on the road covering the four finals. Leaving Leeds just after 8pm that evening, the fire that had been lit the day before had transformed in to raging flames of desire to get back in to the game.
I’m lucky enough through my time in this sport to have built a network of ‘football friends’ – I knew staff, coaches and/or players on six of the eight finalists from the games on Saturday and Sunday. It’s through this network of people passionate about our sport that I’ve received two offers to get back in to club football this summer. Both from clubs with a vast array of supportive volunteers to spread the workload and to challenge one another to be better at what they do on a daily basis. I may have turned one down, but after a couple of positive conversations, I’ve agreed to put my name forward and – hopefully – come back in to the fold this offseason…
…and it’s in no small part due to the passion and commitment that I not only witnessed from all of the teams, referees, and BAFA over #Britbowl31 weekend, but experienced myself as part of the team of ridiculously committed people that love this sport, even with some of it’s faults, and helped put on another tremendous weekend of live streams.
TL:DR | I f*****g love this game again. And it’s because of you lovely lot.