American football in the UK is on the rise. After the much-vaunted 80s boom, the sport’s popularity in this country stagnated, but greater visibility and more widespread coverage in the modern age is undoubtedly contributing to a new surge in popularity. It is on the up again, and KUDOS is delighted to have partnered with Solent Thrashers to supply their training kit. Currently competing in Division 1 South Central of the BAFA National Leagues, the club was founded in Andover in 2003, moved to Winchester in 2007 and most recently to Southampton at the end of 2011.
We caught up with Steve Rains, current Head Coach, for a chat about the club and all things American football this side of the Atlantic.
KUDOS: Before we focus on Solent Thrashers, let’s talk about American football in the UK generally. It’s clear to see the sport’s popularity, in terms of NFL, is surging in a big way over here. That must be having an effect on the sport, and participation in it, in this country?
Steve Rains: Yes that’s true the activity of the NFL certainly impacts interest and they have never been more active than now. This is leading to a sustained growth in BAFA National League and BUCS University League numbers (both players and clubs).
It’s not back to the peak numbers in the late 80s, but to be honest the League is better organised now so teams have to be sustainable to gain entry.
KUDOS: What’s your background in the sport, and what led to you becoming Head Coach at Solent Thrashers?
I started with a team on the Isle Of Wight – The Wight Rhinos back in the 80’s. I became a coach when I moved to the Farnham Knights in 1988 before returning to the Rhinos and taking them to a national semi-final in 1992. I coached the Knights again from 1997 until 2007 – we played in 5 National Championship games and won 3 of them. Then I had a year in Doncaster before going back to the Knights and winning another Final in 2015 – against the Solent Thrashers!. I joined the Thrashers in 2017 – we have been to the play offs both years, we were South Central Div 1 Champions last year. I have also been England HC England Youth HC and 2009/10 was GB Juniors Head Coach.
KUDOS: So, Solent Thrashers. How does the club do for numbers in terms of players, members etc?
We have progressively built the squad – recruiting from the Solent Seahawks Academy, Solent University, Portsmouth University and Bournemouth University as well as people new to the sport coming into our taster days. We currently have 70 registered players. We have seven experienced coaches and some who are learning to coach – plus a great team of volunteers who help on game days.
KUDOS: That’s great. And how has the team been getting on lately?
The team had a 5-5 record in 2016. We improved to 6-4 and the play offs in 2017 and 9-1 and the national semi-final in 2018. The aim this year is to go one better and achieve promotion to the Premier Division – we are currently 2-0 this year.
KUDOS: Are there any initiatives to grow the game in the UK, and how can youngsters get involved?
Young players can get involved with the Solent Seahawks who have u19 and u17 full contact teams plus youth and cadet flag football teams – most areas have similar teams. Most universities have teams now and for those not at university we run open taster sessions in November/December each year, as do all the clubs.
KUDOS: With the sport not played in many schools, how and where do people learn the game, pick up their skills etc? Do you get any players joining as complete novices? Any crossover with rugby players or anything like that? Some of those skills must be transferable into American football?
We are in fact getting the sport (non-contact) into a number of schools and so are the NFL. But most of the learning is done in clubs like ours and at universities. Playing another contact sport is often helpful – but it’s not a requirement. In the UK game there are opportunities for all shapes and sizes. There is also a growing women’s game – Great Britain are currently ranked top 4 in the world.
KUDOS: How do you see the future of the game over here?
I think it will get stronger especially if the NFL base a team in London – but to be honest it will always be a minority sport.
We’d like to thank Steve for taking the time out to speak to us. Solent Thrashers are doing great work on the American football scene in this country, and we are delighted to be providing their training kit. Good luck to the guys for the rest of the season and beyond.
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