As the NFL continues to grow in the UK, there are constant questions about a Franchise starting over here. The London Knights? The British Bulldogs? The Blighty Badgers?
But what about the American Football teams currently playing in the British American Football Association (BAFA)? I spoke to Grant Travis, General Manager and fullback for the Aberdeen Roughnecks about the initial struggles of setting up an American Football team in the UK, how fans can become players and some highlights (and lowlights) since competing in the BAFA National League.
Joe: Tell me how the Roughnecks began? How did you go from an offshoot of a flag football team to a fully-fledged football team competing in the BAFA national league?
Grant: The Aberdeen Roughnecks started when I was playing for the Aberdeen Oilcats, a flag team based here. I spoke to their manager Michael Scott about why they hadn’t expanded and he told me plenty guys had tried and failed. Not content with playing flag, I started looking for people interested, through Facebook, word of mouth etc. Around the same time, I messaged BAFA (British American Football Association) who gave me the requirements for a team to enter the league. I met up with about 20 interested players and explained what was needed and, over the next couple months, established a committee and more players. Coach Campbell took charge of the team leading up to the associate games late 2013 and has since led us to a respectable 14-15-1 record in 3 years. The associate games are held to show the league you can run your team effectively off the field and are ready to enter the league. That was when we were granted our position into the national leagues for the 2014 season.
Joe: What were some of the early struggles of being a start-up team?
Grant: The biggest problem we had was finding a ground. With a relatively low selection of green space suitable (size, changing rooms for teams of 40 etc.). We spoke to SportAberdeen who helped us get our field, affectionately known as The Rig. Anyone who has been there will know it isn’t the greatest but the best we could get at the time (even now, we are still looking for better choices with a little luck). Luckily we didn’t suffer too many problems elsewhere, we received a grant from SportScotland for equipment, players agreed to pay for their jerseys and so forth.
Joe: Describe the role of a General Manager in the BAFA national league? How do you balance it with being a player?
Grant: Luckily, it is quite easy to balance. I have a great committee around me which keeps my weekly tasks to sending a few emails and signing some paperwork on game day, leaving me to focus on playing. Most of the work comes preseason though – arranging venues, booking all the game day requirements like medics, physio, ball boys and chain crew. But it is a group effort and I can’t thank those guys enough.
Joe: What advice would you give to someone who’d like to take up the sport of American Football? What are some of the common struggles for someone who’s never played the sport before?
Grant: If you’re going to take it seriously; get your body in the gym and head in the playbook. It’s a tough sport, with lots of contact. Help make yourself a durable and a better athlete. Football is for all shapes and sizes; we have a 180lb 5’2 RB through to a 6’8 320lb DL. Don’t ever stop wanting to progress and get better.
More importantly, is learning the playbook. You are zero use to a coach if you don’t know your team’s playbook. Once you’re playing a bit of football, remember there’s only 11 guys on the field. You can’t start everyone, so be prepared to make a name for yourself on special teams because if you make a name for yourself on ST, coaches will begin to notice you.
Joe: Can you give your opinion on American Football in the UK? On not only the BAFA National League but following the NFL in general – how has it changed and developed since you’ve followed it?
Grant: BAFA has grown every year we’ve participated and we hope it continues to but in a controlled way with sustainability. I think the first step is setting up official youth teams to bring new blood through to the sport and teams. Following the NFL every year, the sport is growing at a fast rate. I believe that is mostly down to the International Series games in London and when you’re down there you can see huge diversity in fans from all over the UK and Europe. There’s always talk of a team moving to London, more games over here. Perhaps in different locations other than London, it could attract even more attention and more fans in the UK.
Joe: Congratulations on going 7-3 for the season and making the playoffs for a second year running! Can you give me some highlights of the past season and where you see you guys improved from last year?
Grant: The biggest highlight of the year, and I’m sure the guys will agree with me, was the walk-off touchdown against the Newcastle Vikings. After a tough opening five games, that spring boarded us to a five game winning streak into the playoffs. Nothing comes close to that win. Our defence has been a highlight all season, plenty of talented rookies, as well as the Defensive Coordinator Zach Thompson, who deserves a lot of credit for getting the guys to the top 3 D’s in the second division, allowing 63 points all season.
Joe: What are the next targets for the Roughnecks? How do you see the game in the UK growing?
Grant: The main target for the Roughnecks is to establish a youth and junior setup. We tried last year but was a bit half-baked and we look to improve on that. When you look at the successful teams around the UK, most, if not all, have great setups for the 14-18 age group. For the senior side, we are planning to go as deep into the playoffs as possible for the rest of this season. Next year, keep on improving is the simple answer and push for a division crown. For the UK game, it’s always growing. I believe there 12+ associate teams hoping to join in 2017 which will be great. More emphasis on the youth game from clubs themselves would benefit it. Even the women’s game has gained a lot of traction with several teams participating, which I think is fantastic.
Joe: And finally, what piece of advice would you give your past self which you’ve picked up in the Roughnecks journey?
Grant: Don’t go with THOSE green jerseys. Haha. But seriously, as a GM, it would be don’t be get caught up in the wins and losses early on and keep focusing on getting the club in a better position, and the result will follow.
The Aberdeen Roughnecks will be travelling to face the Chester Romans in the NFC 2 North Playoffs on Sunday 21st. Join me in wishing them the best of luck. You can find more about the Aberdeen Roughnecks at http://www.aberdeenroughnecks.co.uk/ or @ABDN_Roughnecks. If you want to learn more about a team near you, please visit http://www.britishamericanfootball.org/. Grant Travis can be found @TugboatTrav. He’s affectionately named ‘Tugboat’ for his running style at fullback. Go Roughnecks!
Pics: Gail Davis