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Nottingham Caesars

17 July 15 words: Charles Eardley
American football is actually a bit of a thing in Nottingham, so we spoke to coach and defensive back Mike Holden about field antics
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Photo: Stephanie Webb

How long have Caesars been playing now?
Dan: Caesars have been around for thirty years. The team was set up by Barry [coach B], and he still runs it. He goes to all the meetings, sets up all the games, books the pitches, he runs everything – there’s a phenomenal amount of work involved.

Are there a lot of teams in the UK?
Mike: There’s a team in near enough every city, and there’s a university league as well. In terms of university teams, they’ve perhaps doubled over the last five years.
Dan: It’s handy because it helps get a lot more people into the scene when they leave uni.

How would you explain how American football works to someone who’s never seen the game?
Mike: I would say it’s a lot like Super League rugby. You get your four ‘downs’ to attempt to make ten yards, and on the fourth down, if you haven’t made ten yards, you tend to kick it [the ball] to gain field position, so the opposition have to start further back into their own half. If you are in scoring distance you can kick it [between the goalposts] to get three points, or you could just go for it and if you don’t make it [the ten yards], the ball would turn over and it would be the opposition’s chance to make ten yards.
Dan: You kind of march down the field gaining ground, until you get across the line and get a touchdown.

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Photo: Stephanie Webb

So that’s where you have tactics and ‘plays’?
Dan: Yeah, I think that’s one of the criticisms of American football, that it’s very stop/start, but in reality that’s when the strategy side come in. For each of those goes, the offence players are running an exact script, so it really adds another element, trying to figure out what the other team are doing.

People mention the padding a lot. Tell us about that…
Mike: I have a lot of people say, “Ahh, you wear all that padding, why don’t you play rugby?” The padding is there to take the blow and spreads the impact – at the end of the day, it’s full contact. You could be hit anywhere on the field, whether you have the ball or not, the padding is there for your own protection.

Have you had any major injuries?
Mike: We’ve had a few guys go down with snapped achilles tendons, a few ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] tears, but we’ve been lucky.
Dan: When you apply the techniques properly it’s no more dangerous than rugby.

Is it an expensive sport to get into and keep up?
Mike: A lot of places have startup packs, so you can get kitted out for about £160.
Dan: Also a lot of clubs have their own kit for newcomers, which you can rent off the club until you decide to buy your own. We always make sure that anybody who wants to come and try out has kit, we don’t expect them to turn up with their own kit.

What drew you into it?
Mike: I started watching it when I was twelve, I think the first Super Bowl was Patriots v Panthers. After that, I really wanted to play and I knew that Nottingham had a team, but they didn’t have a youth team. When I went down about a year or so later, I had the opportunity to start by playing flag football [a non-contact version], I basically got all my mechanics and technique right, then I started senior football when I turned eighteen.
Dan: There are different divisions, so the senior is eighteen plus, and junior is sixteen to nineteen (there’s a bit of an overlap to settle you in). You can start from an early age.

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Photo: Stephanie Webb

How would I get into American football if I wanted to start tomorrow?
Dan: Contact the club. There’s also the BAFANL (the British American Football Association National Leagues) – they have all the teams so you can find your nearest. Before the season starts we have training camps, taster sessions, and people can come along any time. Our tryouts are in December/January, but you can always come watch a game and catch us there.

What do you think is the best physical attribute to bring to American football?
Mike: There’s a position for everybody, whatever size or shape, there’s always somewhere you can play.
Dan: We’ve got guys from 18 to about 48, who range from 12st wet-through to about 24st. In fact today we’ve signed on a 52-year-old. We have all kinds of heights, different speeds, but really anybody that comes down, we wouldn’t push them into a position.

So there’s more to it than quarterbacks and cheerleaders...
Dan: The quarterback does make it look good, but the offensive line is the heart of the play. We have the guys that want to score the point and push for that but you also have the defence who just want to dig in and stop people. It’s a sport that has a lot of confidence, but there’s a lot of versatility in the whole team.
Mike: The defence are a big part of the game – without them you’ll see the opposition just rack the points up and then you’re just chasing the game.

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Photo: Stephanie Webb

What kind of fan following do you have?
Dan: It comes in waves. This year is the first year we are at Southglade [they were previously at Harvey Hadden], and there were years where it was really nice, and we’ve got the stands out and played to a crowd. You get friends and family but there’s generally sixty to seventy people viewing it. It’s not that big a sport yet…

Wembley hold the annual American football game, but what do you think can be done to raise its profile further?
Mike: I’ve been to a Wembley game, and I’ve seen how many people turn up to those games – it’s ridiculous – you don’t realise how many people actually follow the sport. You don’t hear of UK American football on the sports channels, and it would certainly help grow the sport if it did.

Whereabouts are you in the league, and where do you want to finish up?
Dan: There’s the Premier Division, north and south, then Division One, north and south – we’re currently in Division One North. Last year we were in the Premiership, we got moved down, and currently we’ve won three, lost three [after the game on 7 June], so we’re in the middle of the division, but are pushing for the playoff spot. Our aim is to get back in the Premier Division.

Do the Caesars have any rivalries or teams you enjoy playing more than others?
Mike: We don’t play any of the local teams to Nottingham – Leicester, Coventry – because they’re in a different division to us. We haven’t played Leicester in years, and that was a big rivalry.

If you could play for any team in the world, who would it be?
Mike: Erm, I would like to play for the Patriots as I’ve supported them since I was twelve, but that’ll never happen [laughs].
Dan: I’ve always been a fan of the Steelers, so I could live with that…

Nottingham Caesars v Doncaster Mustangs, Sunday 19 July, Southglade Leisure Centre.

Nottingham Caesars website

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