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We Took a Trip to the Nottingham Caesars to Learn More about American Football, the History of The Club and Making International News

6 May 22 words: Ashley Carter
photos: Curtis Powell

It’s fair to say that the rise of American Football in the UK has been meteoric. From the NFL regularly playing games at Wembley Stadium, to viewing figures and Google searches rising year after year, the sport now has an estimated 27,000 active players in the country. And Nottingham is no exception. Established in 1984, the Nottingham Caesars are one of the oldest American Football clubs in the UK, playing in the BAFA National League NFC South. We caught up with Caesars’ defensive linesman and Gameday Co-Manager Jamie Gatley to talk about the past, present and future of the club, and how a group of hungry mice recently helped the club gain international press

How much has the American Football scene improved in recent years?
It's definitely getting there, and is becoming much more noticeable as a sport. We played Manchester last year in a friendly. They're probably the number two or three ranked team in the country, and there were nearly 400 people watching. You've got live-streamed games every week - our game against Chester was the BAFA game of the week. Then you've got games like Tamworth Phoenix vs Manchester Titans being live-streamed on Easter Sunday. It's really good quality, too, with commentators, so it feels really legit. In that regard the sport is definitely moving in the right direction. 

You still get the attitude, mostly from rugby players, that American Football is somehow easier or softer because you wear pads and a helmet. What are your thoughts on that? 
I've played a bit of rugby and, for me, the main difference is that you've got that little part of your brain stopping you from doing anything too dangerous. It might not be conscious, but it just says 'don't do that' at the crucial moment. But when you've got pads and a helmet on, that goes and you can do whatever the hell you want. Obviously, you're still worried, but a lot of the concerns about getting hurt are put aside. Rugby is very sideways, too. You've got sideways movement, two people hitting each other from a very short distance, whereas we might have a guy running forty yards to absolutely collide with you at full pelt. You get friends to come down and have a look on a Sunday and they might not know exactly what's going on, but they can see what it takes to play. 

I’ve read the difference between the two sports as rugby being full-contact, but American Football being full-collision. Do you think that’s fair? And do you think that plays a part in the higher injury rates in football?
That's very true, but there are a lot of misconceptions about the dangers of the sport. If you look at Sunday League-type football, where you've got guys turning up still half-drunk from the night before, that just doesn't happen with American Football. People come to play and are professional. In the grand scheme of things there aren't a lot of teams compared to rugby or football, so the guys that do get into those teams are serious about playing. Our coaches are always on to us the night before a game, telling us to hydrate and eat right. It's a borderline professional approach. 

How does that professional approach transfer to the preparation before a game?
We get scouting reports and will have Zoom calls for hours going through every little detail before a match. Each game has cameras in the end zone and cameras at pitch side, so we'll go through as much footage as we can get before we play a team. We're looking at our technique, trying to pick up on anything we can to improve. You can't come into this game and try to wing it. You have to be absolutely all in. 

There's no denying that the camaraderie and friendships you make here are a massive part of doing this. It's a big commitment, and you can't be half in

Most UK teams have at least one American player, and you can usually tell the difference straight away. Is that the case with the Caesars?
Absolutely. We've got a couple of Americans playing with us. One's an older guy - Mike Romano. He joined last season and just spent some time acclimatising to the team. He came in during one play and absolutely killed a player. We were all like, 'Who is this?' It was everything - his strength, technique, power. You could just see that he's been playing the game since he was five. And he's not a big man, either. But he absolutely laid this guy out. 

How much experience are players expected to have before joining?
At the start of the off-season in January we probably get twenty or thirty guys who have zero experience. They don't know where they want to play, they just like watching the NFL and want to give it a go. The coaches will watch them and mould them, and then, once they're in, it's about learning the playbook and knowing their coverages. 

It sounds like the coaches are an integral part of the Caesars setup. How much experience do they tend to have?
They've all played the game for a long time at a decent level. Our Defensive Coordinator, Mike, has been coaching for ten or twelve years. We're lucky as the level of coaching at the Caesars is really high compared to other teams at a similar level. I've got friends playing for similarly-sized teams that don't have anything like that. A big part of it is having two universities in Nottingham that have really good teams, because you get that flow of players and coaches.

We went to get our kit from storage and it had been absolutely ravaged by mice

Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the club, and how and when you first got involved?
We used to be called The Hoods, and were known as the Dirty Rats back in the day. The club has been going for a really long time. I've been involved for about eighteen months - I just loved watching the NFL and decided to come down and get involved. There's no denying that the camaraderie and friendships you make here are a massive part of doing this. It's a big commitment and you can't be half in. You need to learn the plays and be able to adapt to all the different calls that come during a game - you have to know your position and your role, because if you don't there are guys here that will call you out on it, which is how it should be. Like everyone, I've got a really busy worklife and find spare time hard to come by. But I absolutely love coming down here. The mates you make here are mates for life. 

And you recently made international news for a weird reason. Can you explain what happened?
We went to get our kit from storage and it had been absolutely ravaged by mice. I'd done a little bit of work with East Midlands Today with my work during COVID, so I gave them a call and explained what had happened and they decided to do a story. It was the week before the Super Bowl, and the response was huge. We put up a GoFundMe and it went nuts. It was the third most-read story on the BBC News website on Super Bowl Sunday. I got a new nickname, El Jugador, because a Costa Rican news article referred to me as that. I didn't realise it was just Spanish for player! It was all over the world and ended up raising nearly £10,000, which we used to get some really nice new kit. You know, we were in the right place at the right time, and spoke to the right people and the end result was great. Just goes to show that it's not what happens, it's what you do. 

Are you actively encouraging people to come along and watch games, or get involved in playing?
Absolutely. We try to reach out to people on social media to let them know when and where we’re playing. In terms of recruiting, it's probably dropping off a bit now as we're mid-season and it's harder to bring people in. But during the off-season after Christmas, when loads of people are on a health kick, we'll get a lot of new people coming down. 

You can visit the Caesars website here or their Instagram here 

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