Jason Bowdler, over at the UK American Football Scene Facebook group, has started sharing a great little weekly look back at the history of our beloved game in the UK!
The UK American Football Scene is a Facebook group for players, ex-players, coaches and supporters from the domestic game to chat and discuss all things Britball. It’s got a great, positive vibe and some really active admins that share results, stories and standings each week!
If you check out the group, you’ll see Jason’s now worked his way forwards in history a good few years, but this week we’ll be looking at his seventh instalment – 1989!
When the 1988 season ended, Budweiser announced a new £1 million three-year deal, but decided to only support the top tier, the National Division. The other clubs excluded from this agreement had a couple of options – they could remain within the existing structure and management as the National Gridiron League or sign for a new organisation – the Combined Gridiron League (CGL).
The CGL provided a new concept in sponsorship with planned support for the teams by a number of financial backers. The NGL, in response, merged with the BGFL to become the British National Gridiron League (BNGL). These two organisations had suspected Budweiser would do this as early as June 18th and had held talks then. Both organisations then set about recruiting teams.
By the end of the 1988, the Budweiser League had it’s 20 teams, the CGL signed approximately 80 (mainly the 1988 Budweiser Premier and Division One teams) and the BNGL had a further 80 (mainly from the smaller leagues).
With a month to go before the new season would start, the Budweiser League had settled on 17 teams in four ‘Premier’ divisions, the CGL had a 23-team Crown National league, 28 in the Duke Premier and 20 more in it’s Baron First Division. The BNGL National Division had 12 teams, the Premier had 28 clubs and the First Division was complete with 30. There was also a 5-team regional South Western American Football League, and all leagues at a youth level were now under the BYAFA banner, with over 70 teams affiliated.
The Birmingham Bulls, having won the Bud Bowl in 1988, were the UK’s representative in EuroBowl III. It would be their second European tournament and they dealt easily with the challenge of the Dublin Celts in the preliminary round, winning 20-0. However, the sterner test of an away fixture against EuroBowl II runners-up, the Amsterdam Crusaders, would follow. The Crusaders once again became the UK’s bogey team – they had beaten the London Ravens the previous year in EuroBowl II – Amsterdam winning 46-15.
Returning to UK shores for the 2018 season were QB’s Russ Jensen (Birmingham), Hazen Choates (Manchester) and Bo Hickey (Ravens from Fylde). New import faces included Northampton’s RB Johnny Atlas, new Bulls WR Bob Shoop and the Leeds Cougars duo of QB/WR Gregg Thelen and John LaFleur. Domestic talent continued with RB’s Paul Bailey (Manchester), Tiggy Bell (Leeds), Warren Sweetman (Leicester), Richard Dunkley (O’s), Victor Ebubedike and Jim Burns (Glasgow) and receivers Allan Brown (Nottingham) and Scott Couper (Glasgow) leading the way.
The fourth season of Budweiser sponsorship opened with a classic Birmingham Bulls vs. London Ravens clash. The Bulls won 26-22 in a close game that showed that teams were becoming more evenly matched (especially at the top level). The Brighton B-52s, in their first season in the top flight, were the surprise package, showing their merit by shocking the London Olympians 10-9 in Week Three. The Don Markham-coached Northants Stormbringers were similarly performing well, as were the traditional powerhouses such as the Spartans, Olympians, Ravens and Bulls.
The Leeds Cougars also made their mark this season, starting 0-2 they then reeled off six wins in a row, including drubbings of the Leicester Panthers (56-22) and Northants (63-30). On June 18th they hosted the undefeated Bulls at Odsal Stadium and made the league take notice as they left Bradford with a 20-14 win.
The O’s finally took a division title from their rivals the Ravens, beating them during the regular season 28-8 and taking the Southeast with an 8-2 record, followed by the Ravens’ 7-3. In the Southwest Division it was Northants, behind the running of Johnny Atlas and Winston Moven that took the title, finishing 7-3. They were joined in the playoffs by the Thames Valley Chargers and their tough Defense at 5-5.
Reigning UK Champs Birmingham took the Midlands division, ending the season with wins in London v Olympians and spoiling the Manchester Spartans‘ hopes of another undefeated regular season on the last weekend behind Trevor Carthy‘s nine carries for 180 yards and four touchdowns in a 55-22 rout at Hyde FC. Birmingham took the #1 seed with Manchester at #2.
Despite that loss the Spartans took the Northwest with Fylde Falcons finishing three games behind at 6-4.
Three of the Quarter-Finals went with form, the Bulls destroying Thames Valley 50-8, the Spartans taking out the Ravens 34-16 and the London Olympians making another semi-final berth with ease, taking out Fylde 37-10.
Leeds and Northants slugged it out all afternoon, with the scores 16-16 as the clock wound down. Northants had the opportunity to ice the game as time expired but were halted at the 1 to send the game into OT. Seven tense minutes later and the Cougars’ Dave McIntosh 2-yard TD run took the game 22-16 to set up a Semi-Final showdown with Birmingham.
The other semi-final saw the Manchester Spartans claim their first Bowl spot, gaining revenge for the 43-7 blow out suffered v the Olympians at the same stage last season. They marched out to a 28-0 lead early in the third and never looked back to book a place at Crystal Palace National Sports stadium.
In 30+ degree heat in Birmingham, Leeds jumped out to a 9-0 lead before the Bulls started to settle, Russ Jensen finding fellow American Bob Shoop on two TD throws to take a 13-9 lead. Leeds pulled to within one with a FG but Jensen burrowed over from a yard out for 20-12 at the start of the final period. After holding Leeds at the Brum 25 on a 4th and 8, Bob Shoop landed heavily on the 1st down, taking him out the game. Birmingham then went to Carthy on the ground, ending in a three-yard score and a 27-12 gap. Leeds kept in it with a Thelen to LaFleur 16 yard scoring toss but the Bulls recovered the onside to book their second Bud Bowl berth in a row.
Bud Bowl IV will always be remembered for what happened before the game. QB Russ Jensen walked out in a row over expenses with the Bulls management, leaving the team the day before the game, leaving them with an 18-year-old at the helm. Catcher Bob Shoop was declared fit but his knee injury would seriously hamper his game.
Manchester paid no mind to the controversy and with the end of the first quarter approaching, Hazen Choates lofted a TD pass to Brit Steve Marsh for a 7-0 lead. Choates then intercepted Bulls QB Jefferson and Paul Bailey went in on a 19 yard run for the 14-0 lead at halftime.
Birmingham came out hot for the 2nd half, Carthy taking more snaps at running back and moving the offence down for Pat Loftman‘s TD run and a 14-6 scoreline. Manchester extended their lead when Choates lofted another TD pass early in the 4th but Birmingham closed the gap to 21-14 whsecond-stringing passer Lamedica bowled over from the one after a 69 yard kickoff return by Carthy. However, the comeback wasn’t to be and Manchester held firm. Behind MVP Paul Bailey’s 245 rushing yards on 42 carries, the Spartans took the UK crown.
Combined Gridiron League
In the Crown National Division, the Heathrow Jets took the Southern with a 10-0 record and Portsmouth right behind at 9-1. In the Central, the Colchester Gladiators came out with a perfect 10-0 finish, followed by the Cambridge Crunchers at 7-3. Walsall Titans (9-1) and the 6-4 Leicester Huntsmen were the playoff representatives for the Northern conference while in the Scottish it was Granite City and Clydesdale with identical 7-1 records, Granite City taking division honours.
Portsmouth destroyed Granite 69-11, Walsall beating the other Scottish side Clydesdale, Heathrow besting Cambridge 27-3 and Colchester having no trouble with Leicester 49-14.
Semi-finals day ended with Walsall taking on Portsmouth in the final at Alexander Stadium, Birmingham, as the Titans pipped Heathrow 16-14 and the Warriors hitting Colchester for 50 against their 36 points.
A very entertaining and open Bowl game saw the Walsall side take home the title 60-47.
Other CGL Titles:
Duke Premier Bowl – Medway Mustangs (v Manchester Heroes)
Baron First Division – Cheltenham Chieftains (v Severn Valley Warlords)
British National Gridiron League
National – Norwich Devils (v Ipswich Cardinals)
Premier – Kingston Thames Pirates (v Redditch Arrows)
First Division – Rugby Rollers (v Duchy Destroyers)
On the International scene, the GB Lions were in Germany for the European Nations Championship. Morale was high after their convincing qualifying wins against Holland and France, but they would face Germany on their own patch in the semi-finals. This was the contest GB had to win to negate all the criticism of their previous winless European Nations Championship performance in 1987.
Much more emphasis was given to pre-game preparation and the same staff was appointed both off the field and on from the qualifying game. Players from all levels of the game had been able to tryout and the atmosphere among the team was one of excited expectation. The team was selected from the length and bredth of the UK, with players being selected from all the leagues for the first time.
Europe was conquered as the Terry Smith (Manchester Spartans HC) coached team destroyed the Germans 38-6 in the semi-final, and then Finland was shut-out 26-0 in the Championship Game. Two stars on the team were London Ravens RB Victor Ebubedike and QB Jason Elliot of the London Olympians.
NEXT: Change of League sponsor, CGL folds and club success in Europe