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 eighth instalment – 1990!
The British Game was dealt a hammer blow during the offseason when Budweiser announced they would be withdrawing their sponsorship of the top-flight of British football.
The National Division Management Association (NDMA) teams who had committed to stay together under the Budweiser League two years earlier decided to increase their numbers to 18 and form two conferences – Northern and Southern – for the 1990 season. The new team was Portsmouth Warriors, who had been the CGL Crown National runners-up.
- Manchester Spartans
- Glasgow Lions
- Birmingham Bulls
- Leeds Cougars
- Flyde Falcons
- Leicester Panthers
- Nottingham Hoods
- Manchester Allstars
- Gateshead Senators
- London Olympians
- London Ravens
- Northampton Stormbringers
- Bournemouth Bobcats
- Thames Valley Chargers
- Brighton B52’s
- Bristol Packers
- Chelmsford Cherokee
- Portsmouth Warriors
Finally, as the season neared, the NDMA were waiting to announce a new league sponsor and first ever television contract. The sponsor emerged as Coca-Cola, and they proceeded to sponsor the NDMA in 1990, 1991 and 1992. Further, the league also announced that the NDMA Final would be shown on Channel 4. There would be a ten game season, spread over twelve weeks with the top eight teams making the playoffs.
The Manchester Spartans, as reigning UK Champions, courted the first controversy, recruiting heavily from other teams to assemble a top roster to take on the best of Europe in this year’s Eurobowl. The Nottingham Hoods‘ standout Brit receiver Allan Brown and back Clifton Mitchell, Leeds runner Tiggy Bell and defensive internationals John Parker from the Hoods and Thames Valley’s Les Jackson and Dave Samuels amongst others. Hazen Choates was back as was HC Terry Smith and was joined by DL Roy Harris who had been with the Atlanta Falcons.
Birmingham left behind the Russ Jensen era and surprised many by naming Chuck Brogden as Head Coach. Brogden was the leader of the Leeds Cougars who gave the Bulls headaches the season before and a semi-final place finish. Imports included All-time passing yardage leader for Indiana Dave Kramme, WR Wade Lockett and TE Greg Guy. Joe St Louis, who made his name at the London Ravens jumped onboard to join an already talented running crew as did fellow team-mate, DL and GB International Nigel Hoyte.
Northampton and Bournemouth were thought to be dark horses, Johnny Atlas returning and Albert Higgs at QB for the Bobcats, who would make sure everyone was entertained on gameday. Leeds brought back QB Gregg Thelen and was joined by new receiver, import Greg Brenner and RB Chris Thomas, and Gateshead gave themselves some firepower with Canadian duo Rodney Moors at QB and Paul Shorten at receiver.
The season kicked off with a classic, Leeds and Northampton going toe-to-toe all afternoon and the Cougars holding a 49-47 lead before Johnny Atlas’ 57-yard TD run took the game back to the Stormbringers and a winning start.
Birmingham threatened to run riot against a shell-shocked Olympians side, jumping out to a 34-0 lead behind new passer Dave Kramme‘s 325 yards and 4 scores with Lockett catching 9 for 163 yards. The london side got back some pride with the last two scores of the day to make it 34-14 Birmingham.
After just two weeks, the London Ravens’ time in the spotlight was fading fast, scoring just two points in those games combined and 0-2 to start the year – new, faster, better-prepared and more talented rosters appeared to have overtaken them.
Week three bought the big match-up of the season, Spartans v Bulls. Birmingham came looking for Bud Bowl revenge but left with Kramme being sacked 8 times and on the wrong end of a 34-20 scoreline. The Spartans were truly alone at #1 behind their talented lineup.
In comparison, the Manchester Allstars forfeited the rest of their games by June, leaving a considerable gap in talent and fortune between the two northern sides.
While not having the defence to win them close games the Gateshead imports were setting the league on fire. No day bigger than their 45-20 win over Fylde in Week Eleven with Rod Moors torching them for 519 yards and 6 touchdowns, WR Shorten grabbing 317 of them on 13 catches.
By the regular seasons’ end, no team came out undefeated, though the Spartans were effectively unbeaten, having forfeited their final game to avoid the lengthy and expensive journey to play in Glasgow. The league was outraged at such an action, which was claimed to go against the ‘spirit of the game’, and immediately stripped them of home-field advantage, instructing them to travel to play the Leeds Cougars in the Quarter-Finals. The field was marked out late Friday, and the Cougar management sent out notices to press and radio only to be amazed when the Spartans obtained a court injunction, against the League, and the game was given back to the Spartans.
The Bulls finished just below at 9-1, followed by the 8-2 Glasgow Lions and dangerous Leicester (7-3) and Leeds (5-5) sides.
In the South it was Northampton who had conquered all, followed by the Bournemouth Bobcats at 7-3 (one major scalp, blanking the Olympians 32-0). Brighton took the other playoff spot at 6-4, leaving the O’s missing postseason action for the first time ever.
When the playoffs came round, there was much controversy in the Bobcats vs Glasgow Lions clash. Bournemouth were very confident before this one, and Higgs was expected to turn in another star performance. However, just 30 seconds into the game Higgs was blindsided by Steve Collins and Willie Leggett and failed to make it back onto the field of play, and the Bobcats who were soundly beaten 38-0.
Birmingham sluggishly overcame Brighton 20-12, the re-arranged-and-then-back-again match Spartans v Leeds was very entertaining but once Manchester got in front early Leeds threatened a few times but always trailed in a 45-36 loss. The last tie saw Northampton continue to be involved in high-scoring classics, this time v Leicester. The Panthers jumped out to a 14-0 lead after two drives behind Warren Sweetman‘s 46-yard run and USA QB Mike Fangers 26 yard toss to fellow American John Jeub. Then three quick scores by Northampton saw them take a lead they were never to relinquish, a highlight being Mark Van Allen‘s 75 yard TD pass to Kevin Mills. The Stormbringers were on their way to a semi-final after triumphing 44-30 and shutting up some doubters that the Bowl winners were coming from the Northern Conference.
Manchester would face Glasgow in the other semi, the team the Spartans forfeited against some weeks earlier. They were riding on the crest of a wave though, as the week before they became the first British team to triumph in Europe, winning 34-22 v Legnano Frogs at Eurobowl IV.
Manchester went into the fourth Quarter against Glasgow 35-14 up and coasting. Suddenly the Lions woke up and reeled off two scores to make it 35-29 and seemingly having all the momentum. Choates at quarterback showed poise in the last minute though, scoring on a 21-yard bootleg to seal another final berth 43-29.
They would meet either Birmingham or Southern Champions Northampton. This was another classic involving the Storm. Birmingham leapt out to an early 13-0 lead in the first quarter before the to-ing and fro-ing begin. Northampton’s running game started to come alive and keep the Bulls’ front seven on its feet and by the end of the half, the Bulls had a slender 25-22 lead. Northampton went ahead for the first time in the 3rd quarter on a 2-yard run before Kramme found fellow Indiana product Tony Buford (replacing Wade Lockett earlier in the season). After a Northants punt, the Bulls went for a killer punch on 4th down but handed the initiative back to the Storm and they re-took the lead as Atlas went in from the 6. Atlas turned the game for good, playing in the secondary he swiped an interception which he took to the Bulls 19 and it was he that sealed the game with his fifth TD of the game, going in from 8 yards and a first National Championship appearance for the Stormbringers winning 46-41
Fittingly, the first Coke Bowl bought the two Conference Champions together to do battle at a stifling hot Crystal Palace . Northampton took no time at all to get used to the occasion, marching 18 plays down to the one on a mammoth 9:53 drive and it was that man Johnny Atlas going over from a yard out to open the scoring. With less than 2 minutes left in the opening quarter, Spartans QB Choates found Allan Brown to tie the game up. Northampton took back the lead as the 2nd period got under way, Atlas finding the endzone from the 7 and a 13-7 advantage. Storm DT Phillip Crooke recovered a Choates fumble at the Spartans 21 and the next play, Van Allen unloaded a 74-yard bomb to Atlas and a 19-7 advantage.
Two plays after the kickoff, the Spartans hit back in style, Allan Brown hauling in a 68 yarder and the deficit down to five at 19-14 at the half. The Spartans’ revival continued in the second half, Brown bagging his 3rd TD in as many catches and Manchester’s first lead 21-19. The Storm missed an opportunity for points and the lead when stopped at the Spartans’ 9 on third and fourth down. They were made to pay as the Northern outfit marched 91 yards in 10 plays, culminating in Choates’ 8 yard scoring scramble and a 27-19 lead. Northampton had more opportunities scuppered on the Spartans 23 and 32 yard lines, Roy Harris particularly dominant on Manchester’s D.
Northampton took over with 7:09 remaining at their own 11. 10 plays later and RB Winston Moven went in from 7 yards and just a two-point conversion away from tying the game up with 2:44 left. Roy Harris stuffed Johnny Atlas at the 3 and the Spartans maintained their lead. Amazingly Manchester fumbled on their next drive but DB Mike Taylor sealed the Spartans’ second UK crown when he intercepted Van Allen in the final minute.
At the Combined Gridiron League AGM an organisation called the National Conference Marketing and Management Association (NCMMA) approached the league with proposals to bring in sponsorship and to generally enhance the look of the Crown division. The final bombshell for the CGL was dropped on 4th January 1990 when it was revealed that the CGL’s major backer Bosledge Electronics had gone into receivership and Manchester Police Fraud Squad were investigating the Company Director (who was also CGL Chairman) Peter Ruffell. Initially, it was believed that the CGL would not be involved but it soon became apparent that the whole group of companies, CGL included, had suffered a domino-effect. A spokesman for the official receivers made it clear that, although they were not involved in the affairs of the CGL there was absolutely no prospect of money to continue financial support of the CGL. At a stroke the CGL was dead while the NCMMA (by now a completely separate organisation) was up and running. The NCMMA was accepted into BAFA after an emergency meeting.
In the new second tier, the London Capitals swept all before them, finishing 9-0 in the Southern conference, joined by the Granite City Oilers (due to the 7-0 Walsall Titans being banned from the postseason), Scunthorpe Steelers (6-2), Essex Buccaneers (8-2), Crawley Raiders (7-3), Colchester Gladiators (6-4), Leicester Huntsmen (5-5-1) and the West London Aces (6-3-1) in the play-offs.
The London outfit rampaged through the semi and final, winning 40-8 and 31-8 to take the title and a perfect season.
British National Gridiron League
Conference Winners in the Scottish division were the 9-1 Clydesdale Colts, in the Midlands, Redditch Arrows (9-0-1), the Northern winners were the 10-0 Harrogate Hawks and the Ipswich Cardinals took the South East title with a 9-1 record. In the South it was the Kingston-Thames Pirates (9-1) and the Cardiff Mets took the South West with a perfect 10-0 on the season.
They were joined in knockout football by Wolverhampton Outlaws (8-1-1) and Medway Mustangs (9-1). The SMC Admirals must be the best team never to make the playoffs, finishing 9-1 and yet missing out on postseason balling.
The perfect Harrogate outfit made the semi-final but came up well short in the game, blasted 40-0 by Clydesdale while in the other semi, the Ipswich Cardinals and Medway went toe-to-toe for a second time during the year, the Cardinals edging it 17-13.
Both teams combined for nine nervous turnovers in a nervy game and the lead changed hands four times before the Cardinals erased three Bowl losses as they triumphed 34-22 to take the title.
Having won the National Division of the BNGL the Cardinals had obtained a possible route into Europe. All they had to do was to defeat the Manchester Spartans in a UK final. The Spartans, however, had won the NDMA and believed that they were British champions and so did not need to play the Cardinals to qualify for the EuroBowl in 1991. A tense stand-off ensued, and eventually BAFA sided with the Cardinals. The Spartans would not defend their European title in 1991.
Duchy Destroyers (v Cumbria Cougars)
Barnsley Bears (v Barracudas)
NEXT: Imports down to two max, NCMMA folds, NDMA start 2nd division and GB Team rules again.