Highlights of the year:
Ravens no longer No.1
EuroBowl triumph and tragedy
Bulls take over UK title
Budweiser changes its style
The National Division Managements Association (NDMA) was a new organisation formed in 1988 within the overall organisation of the Budwesier League. The NDMA covered the National Division of the Budweiser League - which was basically the owners of the top 15 clubs in the country. They set strict qualifications on standards for entry into the top flight covering things such as one the field performance, financial back-up, stadium facilities etc.
The Budweiser Leagues also had 48 teams within it's Premier Division and 32 in Division One. These three Budweiser Leagues were supplemented by a number of regional ones which were all self-supported.
The 1988 season was the first time that the pass was used by a majority of teams. American QB's and WR's were signed by most Budweiser National and Premier Division team's. British teams had now discovered how to spread the US players about the team so that they were of maximum benefit. The blueprint was one quarterback, one receiver/cornerback and one lineman who could play offense and defense.
Four hundred and even five hundred passing performances by these US imports became common and high scoring was the order of the day. Bo Hickey of the Fylde Falcons set a passing record which to this day stands, with 3,725 passing yards in the regular season. Mike Hasskamp of the Glasgow Lions is still second in the all-time lists with 3,512 yards passing in 1988.
Fylde Falcon's QB Bo Hickey
The battle for the UK championship at last seemed more than just a one-horse race. The National teams had decided on a 14-game regular season, more than most US Division 1A colleges play. This large number of games put a strain on all areas of the teams, particularly the players.
For the defending champion Ravens, it must have seemed awesome because not only were they facing more UK opposition than ever before, they had the EuroBowl II tournament to contend with in mid-season.
In the run up to that, the Ravens finally lost to British opposition for the first time. Their fiercest rivals, the London (once Streatham) Olympians inflicted the defeat in front of the Ravens own supporters. The Black Shadow had gone 4 1/2 seasons and 63 games unbeaten against fellow UK opponents. This defeat (which came after a couple of close shaves) gave heart to every other team in the league.
The Ravens, typically avenged their earlier defeat to the Olympians by winning the rematch later in the season, and joined the Birmingham Bulls and the Manchester Spartans as divisional champions.
EuroBowl was the next event in Britain. A full report can be found by clicking here. The London Ravens were the UK's hopes and everything pointed to a home victory as they would not have to move out of the capital in any of their games. However, they were caught cold by the Amsterdam Crusaders in the opening game of the tournament and lost 31-27.
Following the EuroBowl, the UK playoffs begam. Another Ravens vs. Olympians final seemed possible, but only the O's made Budweiser Bowl III as the Ravens lost their crown by perishing in the semi-finals to the Bulls.
For the second year running, the final was played at Loftus Road, and the Bulls romped to an impressive 30-6 victory over the Olympians. The Bulls therefore qualified for the EuroBowl competition for the second year in three.
Bulls with the Bud Bowl trophy
In Budweiser Premier Division, the Colchester Gladiators (led by QB Milton Myers and RB Mel Moore) won a great Bowl game 47-28 win against the Brighton B-52s at Alexander Stadium. In a double header event, Herts Phantoms won the Division One title with a 48-34 victory against the Ipswich Cardinals.
In the other senior leagues, Woking Generals beat the Mersey Centurions for the British Gridiron Football League title (they didn't concede a point in the regular season!); the South Western American Football League title went to the Torbay Trojans, and the Caledonian League final was won by the Strathclyde Sheriffs. The Tamworth Trojans won the UKAFL title.
The cream of British football talent at Wembley before the game between the Dolphins and 49ers. The idea was a QB and a receiver, in front of a Channel 4 TV audience had to throw and catch a ball.
Photo courtesy of Clive Dakers
When the season ended, Budweiser announced a new £1 million three-year deal, but decided to only support the National Division. The other clubs excluded from this agreement had a couple of options - they could remain within within the existing structure and management as the National Gridiron League or sign for a new organisation - the Combined Gridiron League (CGL).
The CGL provided a new concept in sponsorship with planned support for the teams by a number of financial backers. The NGL, in response, merged with the BGFL to become the British National Gridiron League (BNGL). These two organisations had suspected Budweiser would do this as early as June 18th and had held talks then. Both organisations then set about recruiting teams.
By the end of the 1988, the Budweiser League had it's 20 teams, the CGL signed approximately 80 (mainly the 1988 Budweiser Premier and Division One
teams) and the BNGL had a further 80 (mainly from the smaller leagues).
By July 1988 the fledgling organisation had announced plans for the following season and stated publicly that 77 clubs had pledged support for the new structure which was to be an independently sponsored competition. Following the release of the CGL's prospectus on 4th August 1988 it became apparent that the CGL was a completely different animal to all that had gone before. It was essentially a sponsorship vehicle enabling the clubs (who were to be the leagues owners) to have a degree of financial stability and support with the league en massenegotiating everything from the hire of stadia and grounds to the central production of programmes, advertising, acquisition of equipment and pre payment of all officials fees and medical cover bills, the idea being to get the best possible deal for everything.
By October 1988 the CGL proudly announced that it had in place £300,000 worth of sponsorship from IPA, Trust House Forte, Skandia Life and British Steel allowing the clubs a guaranteed return for their league subs which, for a Crown Division team (the top division) were £375 (or £725 if paid late) per year. In return for this the clubs would receive £750 refs fees, £150 worth of free posters, £1000 worth of programmes plus £75 worth of programme overprint, £400 worth banner display, £500 worth of local advertising and sundry other stuff for a grand total of £3225.
During the off-season the mud slinging began in earnest as first the NGL announced a merger with the BGFL, then most of the top NGL teams refuting this, asking why the NGL had never asked what the CGL had to offer, in fact at times the whole thing descended into farce as first the NGL would claim that it had x number of teams committed to it, then the BGFL would announce that it had twice that number, then of course the CGL stated that the figure it had was something else. During this time it was claimed by the 3 leagues that they had between them 322 teams when there were only 170 in the country!
In 1988, the Australian National side also toured the UK. They played three games, losing all three but putting in solid displays in each one:
Australian Touring Record:
Australia 6-22 Brighton B-52s
Australia 8-34 Bournemouth Bobcats
Australia 20-34 BGFL AllStars
The game against the Allstars is particularly notable for Kevin Hurst kicking a (still) UK record 58 yard field-goal. This broke Richard Meanwell's 54 yarder in Summerbowl 2 (1986).
In late 1988, the British Bulldogs "World Tour" took place with games at Cal Tech (a 21-6 defeat) and against Australia in Sydney (a 21-3 win). This was an unofficial touring side, no other details are available
GB Bulldogs sideline at Seagulls Stadium in Australia
Photo courtesy of Clive Dakers
Highlights of the year:
GB win it all
Spartans overcome the Bulls
Another EuroBowl disappointment
Budweiser pulls out
The next big thing to come out of the CGL's office was a statement that it had secured a deal whereby BSB would be televising highlights of the league's Crown division playoffs and bowl game and as we moved into 1989 a steady trickle of teams were being wooed and won over from the now defunct NGL (it had been absorbed into the BGFL who were now calling themselves the BNGL) including the entire Scottish contingent of 19 teams who for some time previously had been undecided as to which ring to throw their hat into.
On Feb 2nd 1989 the CGL announced for the first time the teams who would be competing in the Crown division of the league and as expected the vast majority were from the old Bud premier, the Leicester Huntsmen being the most prominent BGFL team to switch to the CGL. The Crown division seemed to be chock full of honest, competitive football with some comparatively big named players (ex-USFL, NCAA, CFL et al) and as the season approached the football press's attention was firmly on the CGL.
With a month to go before the new season would start, the Budweiser League had settled on 17 teams in four 'Premier' divisions, the CGL had a 23-team Crown National league, 28 in the Duke Premier and 20 more in it's Baron First Division. The BNGL National Division had 12 teams, the Premier had 28 clubs and the First Division was complete with 30. There was also a 5-team regional South Western American Football League, and all leagues at a youth level were now under the BYAFA banner, with over 70 teams affiliated.
The fourth season of Budweiser sponsorship opened with a classic Birmingham Bulls vs. London Ravens clash. The Bulls won 26-22 in a close game that showed that teams were becoming more evenly matched (especially at the top level). Brighton B-52s, in their first season in the topflight, were the surprise package. The Don Markham-coached Northants Stormbringers were similarly performing well, as were the traditional powerhouses such as the Spartans, Olympians, Ravens and Bulls.
The Bulls, having won the Bud Bowl in 1988, were the UK's representative in EuroBowl III. It would be their second European tournament and they dealt easily with the challenge of the Dublin Celts in the preliminary round, winning 20-0. However, the sterner test of an away fixture against EuroBowl II runners-up, the Amsterdam Crusaders, would follow. The Crusaders once again became the UK's teams bogey team (they had beaten the London Ravens the previous year in EuroBowl II). Amsterdam winning 46-15.
When the Bulls returned to league action, nothing seemed to stop them. The Leeds Cougars put a good string of results together and eventually made the playoffs, as did the Manchester Spartans and the Fylde Falcons. The four representatives from the Southern conferences were the London Ravens, London Olympians, Northants Storm and the Thames Valley Chargers. For the first time at the highest level, no team entered the playoffs with an undefeated record, although Birmingham and Manchester (both with 9-1-0 records) seemed destined to meet in the final.
On August 5th 1989 at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in Budweiser Bowl IV, it was indeed the Bulls and the Spartans that would meet each other.
The Bulls chances of winning were dealt a huge blow before kick-off as their quarterback/coach Russ Jensen was in dispute with the new Bulls management over payment and certain new financial guarantees. The club declined to be held to ransom on the very morning of the final and played without him.
Without, Jensen, the Bulls had little else other than a running game and a very inexperienced teenage quarterback to guide the whole offense. The Spartans, meanwhile, were well-drilled and well-motivated. When they took the lead, there was really only ever going to be one winner and the Spartans it was, 21-14. Manchester runningback Paul Bailey with 245 offensive yards was MVP.
Terry Smith with BudBowl IV
In the Combined Gridiron League's first season, there was the expected large variation in standards from the near-Budweiser quality of the Crown National teams to the starter clubs in Baron Division One.
And so in early May the league began and it soon became apparent that this was a high scoring all-action league. Big passing yardage games everywhere with the Walsall Titans doing most of the Dan Marino in the Crown National. However by the end of May the first rumours of a cash crisis began to surface, BNGL commissioner Dave Quincey was threatened with legal action after writing to all the CGL teams asking them to "come and join us" after it emerged that 20 or so teams were having second thoughts after only a couple of games.
BNGL Commissioner, Dave Quincey
The league continued through the long hot summer of 89 producing top game after top game, the culmination being the Crown National division shootout between the Titans and Portsmouth (60-47) - easily the largest points total in any UK Final. In the other CGL Bowl games, the Medway Mustangs defeated the Manchester Heroes to win the Duke Premier Bowl, and the Cheltenham Chieftains won in the last minute against the Severn Vale Royals 12-11 to take the Baron First Division Bowl.
Whilst all of this was happening, the GB Lions were in Germany for the European Nations Championship. Morale was high after their convincing qualifying wins against Holland and France, but they would face Germany on their own patch in the semi-finals. This was the contest GB had to win to negate all the criticism of their previous winless European Nations Championship performance in 1987. Much more emphasis was given to pre-game preparation and the same staff was appointed both off the field and on from the qualifying game. Players from all levels of the game had been able to tryout and the atmosphere among the team was one of excited expectation. The team was selected from the length and bredth of the UK, with players being selected from all the leagues for the first time.
Europe was conquered as the Terry Smith coached team destroyed the Germans 38-6 in the semi-final, and then Finland was shut-out 26-0 in the final. Two stars on the team were London Ravens RB Victor Ebubedike and QB Jason Elliot of the London Olympians.
When the game in the UK was at an all-time high, Budweiser dealt a hammer-blow. They announced that they were withdrawing their sponsorship of the last 4 years from the top 17 teams in the country. The National Division Management Association (NDMA) now chaired by Ron Weisz of the Brighton B-52s set about the task of replacing what had been the most significant sponsorship deal in British American football history.
The NDMA teams who had committed to stay together two years earlier also 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.
However, once the season was over and while all the other leagues were busy promoting themselves and planning the next season, the CGL seemed strangely quiet , no news, no plans. An interesting point was made by the Portsmouth Warriors, "We were just desperate to get out of the CGL, it was a farce", notice the past tense. This was followed by the news that 36 southeastern clubs had joined forces in an attempt to bring the CGL and the BNGL together, the former as the sponsor, the latter as the organiser (90% of these teams were CGL). Instead of this happening, both leagues set about trying to woo this block (by now known as the 'S.E.C.'), the main problem for the CGL was when it did announce its plans for 1990 it included almost all of the SEC in its lineup as well as being 18 teams short in its lower divisions.
In October 89 stories of cashflow problems began to surface especially over unpaid travel agents (the CGL had 2 Irish divisions with many teams playing home and away games on both sides of the Irish sea). Another major blow came with the decision of the SEC to throw in its lot with the BNGL leaving the CGL without most of its top southern teams and still 14 teams short of the projected Crown division standing.
At the CGL 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 spokesman concluded by adding that recent reports suggesting the NCMMA were only interested in the Crown division and were about to ditch the Duke and Baron were unfounded. A week later the NCMMA met the Crown division teams to finalise plans for 1990 and it was decided that the NCMMA would take control of the running of the Crown division (now numbering around 20 following the intervention of the NCMMA) and by the end of November it was revealed that all but 5 Duke and Baron teams had opened negotiations with the BNGL.
On 14th December 1989 the NCMMA announced the 20 teams who had committed themselves to the Crown division for 1990, this was about the last time that the CGL insisted it would have 2 lower divisions as very soon afterwards the BNGL released its list of 108 teams, including the vast majority of 1989's Duke Premier and Baron First Division teams. The BNGL had become the largest single American football league in Europe.
The International League of American Football (ILAF) released a press release in November that two teams from the UK would play in the new professional 8-team league. The cities chosen were London and Birmingham and they also announced that 24 UK national players would be selected for each team. The league was due to kick-off in April 1990.
The NFL's, World League of American Football, opened it's offices in London and began preparing for it's opening in April 1991. The Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles contested American Bowl '89 (Eagles winning 17-13), and in the preparations for the game hosted a coaching clinic in conjunction with BYAFA with was attended by the Brown's Bernie Kosar and Eagles Reggie White.
The first ever Arena football game took place in November 1989 at the London Docklands Arena. The Chicago Bruisers and Detroit Drive played the eight-a-side indoor version of the game before almost 6,000 people in London.
Highlights of the year:
NFL Trust announced
Spartans repeat as champs, become Euro champs
ILAF delays debut
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 seperate organisation) was up and running. The NCMMA was accepted into BAFA after an emergency meeting.
The International League of American Football announced the postponement of its inaugural season with just 6 weeks to go. A Spring 1991 start was announced - the same starting time as the NFL's World League.
The NDMA, BNGL, BAFRA and BYAFA were present at a London press conference in March when the NFL announced formal links with BAFA. The NFL Trust was put before the British press as a new initiative by the NFL to support BAFA with a financial and educational programme.
The deal included:
Official recognition of Lance Cone's BAFA as the sport's governing body
Establishing the NFL Trust - a cash and aid package intended to secure the future of the domestic game
Building for the future with big-name coaching clinics for kids
NFL Commisioner, Paul Tagliabue said, "The foundation has been laid through games on Channel 4 and at Wembley Stadium".
Cone commented, "It's a great day for British football. I think we're trying to do the right thing at long last, and this really had to happen. it's great to see the (NDMA boss) Ron Weisz and Dave Quincey from the BNGL on the same platform". This is the most exciting day since we threw the first football in Hyde Park some seven years ago. The NFL has really come up with the things we needed for a long time".
Bill Bowsher (right) at the NFL Trust signing
Lance Cone (right) watches the NFL's John Bello sign
NFL and BAFA together (clockwise from bottom left): NFL representative John Bello, BNGL boss Dave Quincey, BYAFA's Ian Feeny, Bill Bowsher of BAFRA, NDMA chairman Ron Weisz and BAFA chief Lance Cone
Plans for a national championship game between NDMA and BNGL winners were in the pipeline during pre-season, but this caused an almighty row at the end of the season! BNGL commissioner Dave Quincey said in March "Some people say we're 2-3 years behind the NDMA but I think it will be a good event".
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. The league also announced that the NDMA Final would be shown on Channel 4.
At the end of the 12 week NDMA season, with ten games for each club, no team emerged with unbeaten records. In the Northern Conference both the defending champion Manchester Spartans and the Birmingham Bulls (who they had defeated in the final in 1989) finished with 9-1-0 records. Glasgow, Leicester and Leeds also qualifed from the north for the playoffs. In the Southern Conference there had been some major surprises. The Northants Storm looked a class apart and finished with a 9-1-0 record. The Bournemouth Bobcats surprised everyone, with their spectacular QB Albert Higgs carving up up opposition defenses. The Bobcats finished second with a 7-3 record, and Brighton qualified for the playoffs also with a 6-4 record.
Mike Fanger (Leicester QB smashed the NDMA record for passing with 2,960 yards) in 10 games, and Chris Thomas (Leeds Cougars) set a league 10 game rushing record of 1,610 yards.
When the playoffs came round, there was much controversy in the Bobcats vs. Lions clash. Bournemouth were very confident before this one, and Higgs were 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. In the other quarter-finals, Birmingham cruised past Brighton 21-12, Northants kept their superb season going with a 44-30 victory over Leicester, and the Spartans edged out Leeds in a thriller 46-35.
Two close semi-finals followed, with Birmingham losing out to the Storm 46-41 in a classic. Spartans stopped the Glasgow bandwagon in its tracks with a 43-29 win. In the first NDMA final, the Spartans held on for a memorable 27-25 triumph against a Northants side who were in their first and only final. Spartans had become British champs for the second consecutive year.
Storm's Johnny Atlas tackled in the final
They added the European title in 1990 also, and in doing so became the first British side to do so. The running of Paul Bailey, and the quarterbacking of Hazen Choates proved to be the best on the continent. The Spartans had qualified for the four team finals stage with a 25-20 quarter-final win against the Amsterdam Crusaders. They moved onto Rimini in Italy.
Spartans WR Allan Brown vs Amsterdam
In the final they played the host nation's team, Legnano Frogs, and won 34-22. The Spartans had achieved their dream.
In the other leagues in the UK in 1990, the London Capitals took the NCMMA title with a 31-8 win against the Essex Buccaneers in the final, after going 9-0 in the regular season. In the BNGL National Division, Ipswich Cardinals won a tough league with a 34-22 final win against the Clydesdale Colts. Cornwall's Duchy Destroyers won the Premier Bowl with a 31-19 win against the Cumbria Cougars, and the Barnsley Bears won the First Division Bowl with a storming 40-34 win against Barracuda.
Victor Ebubideke (left) tried out with the NY Jets in 1990 (here with Jets RB Johnny Hector)
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.
At the end of the season, the NDMA voted by a single vote to only allow 2 imports per team for the 1991 season, and voted to only allow one new NDMA member. This disappointed many sides who wished to join the NDMA thought at the time to be: Coventry, Colchester, London Capitals, Crawley, Essex, Ipswich and Medway. NDMA Chairman Ron Weisz said "Our list of criteria is 14 pages long. We'll be looking at stadiums, team management, finances
Also in 1990 the Australian touring team played two games. They lost 53-0 to the BNGL North allstars and they lost 50-0 to the Brent Bandits.
Action from the Australia v BNGL North Allstars game
Teesside Demons won College Bowl IV with a 21-20 win against the Birmingham Lions. Northants made up for their Seniors defeat in the NDMA final, by winning the NDMA Youth Kitted title against the Birmingham Bulls 32-12. Tiptree Titans maintained their impressive run of results, as they destroyed the Maidstone Pumas 53-0 in the BYAFA Youth Kitted Final.
A British side travelled to the US for the first time in 1990. The GB Crusaders played Team USA Milwaukee, in Milwaukee, and lost TransAtlantic Challenge 2 28-0.
The following is adapted from the Bournemouth Raiders website (www.bournemouthraiders.co.uk) concerning the 1990 Youth Two Touch season
Finally, the Youth Two Touch leagues were undergoing a sea of change. Traditional powerhouses such as Tiptree and Acorn (amongst others) had gone fully kitted, and many other sides had folded. In 1990 there were 16 teams who entered the league, although this turned into 15 competing sides, as rumours of over-age players and players by the names of Dr.Death, the Exterminator and the Chip Shop! at Oxford proved true, and they were kicked out before the season started!
Favourites for the title were Newmarket (always a well-drilled team), Birmingham and Eastleigh (who made the play-offs in 1989).
In the Anglian Conference, Newmarket romped to the title with 7 wins out of 8. Poor old Tiptree were on the end of three hammerings (20-0, 59-0 and 27-0). Cambridge failed to fulfil a number of their fixtures and ended up without winning a game.
In the Southern Conference, Berkshire were unstoppable, winning every match on their way to an 8-0 record. They also beat Newmarket in a thrilling inter-conference match 14-13. This was a fine conference with a number of close games. Waldron and Heathrow (despite their records) were two excellent outfits, shown in their narrow scraps with Berkshire. Indeed in their last match of the season, the Jets, needing to beat Berkshire to make the play-offs narrowly lost 13-12 to the champions. Waldron made the play-offs in their place.
The Midland Conference was won by Newark, although there is still some mystery as to why Birmingham did not fulfil their fixtures. Four teams from 5 made the play-offs, with Walsall gaining their entry through their two 1-0 wins against Birmingham.
The South West Conference was won by Eastleigh who took on and beat all-comers. This was the only conference that did not play inter-conference games, and the conference's lack of strength in depth showed as Eastleigh comfortably won the conference and no other side made the play-offs. Oxford forfeited all their games. Bournemouth and Basingstoke were closely matched, but Eastleigh were a class above the rest.
Three of the favourites won their quarter-final play-off matches with Berkshire thrashing Birmingham 44-0, Newmarket overpowering Walsall 20-0 and Newark beating Tamworth 21-0. The shock of the round came at Waldron, where the home side defeated the SouthWest Conference winners, Eastleigh, 9-0.
Both semi-finals were predictably tight affairs. Newmarket, whose aim for a 100% record was spoilt in the regular season by Berkshire gained revenge winning a controversial match 3-0. Waldron produced their second shock of the play-offs by ousting the Midland Conference champs, Newark, 7-6.
The final was a one-way affair as Newmarket took their first title at this level by thrashing Waldron 29-0.
Other bits and pieces in 1990
QB Paddy Shields (KL Rebels) threw for a Brit single game record 563 yards including 4 TDs vs. Lothian Raiders 25 March 1990
Ben Torriero (Harrogate Hawks) kicked a 55 yard field goal by drop-kick vs. Mersey Centurions 13 May 1990
Phil Alexander (Farnham) kicked a 54 yarder vs.East Kent June 10 1990
Wesley Blake (Titans) made 311 receiving yards vs. MK Pioneers 24 June 1990
Rodney Moore (Gateshead) passed for 519 yards with 28 from 52 and 6 TDs vs. Fylde 1 July 1990
Paul Shorten (Gateshead) made 327 yards receiving (13 catches) in the same game
The 1st domestic indoor game. Cleveland Bays 20-36 Southland Raiders. This was a demonstration game of Britball UK, a new indoor version of football played on a basketball court and a precursor to the Britball UK league which was to run during the winter of 1990. I can find no trace of this league other than this demonstration game.
Highlights of the year:
NCMMA folds. NDMA start 2nd division
World League starts, Monarchs win
Domestic crowds start to drop
GB Euro champs again
NCMMA folds. NDMA start 2nd division.
These two events were inexorably linked. It started soon after the 1990 NDMA bowl when the chairman, Ron Weisz announced that interest was such that the NDMA would run two divisions in 1991 with proposed promotion but not relegation between the two. This had a devastating effect on the NCMMA as practically all of its teams pledged themselves to the NDMA bar a minority who wished to play football for the BNGL, an organisation which prided itself on a no-frills, low cost platform. Time ran out for the NCMMA in early December 1990 when every club in the league resigned and the one year league, born out of the ashes of the CGL was no more. Worringly, the number of senior clubs in the country dropped again. From 134 clubs in 1990, 114 registered in 1991. Two clubs who had been in Britball since the very beginning folded - the Manchester Allstars (who had been British runners-up in 1987) and the Chelmsford Cherokee decided to call it a day. The top flight was trimmed down to 17 clubs, with just the Essex Buccaneers joining after they had been runners-up in the NCMMA in 1990. The NDMA Second Division became a 9 team league with 5 teams in the north and 4 in the south. In fact only 4 clubs from the NCMMA joined the Second Division - Stoke, West London Aces, Coventry and Milton Keynes, with the other clubs being made up of some of the successful BNGL National Division teams in 1990.
World League begins, Monarchs take bowl.
With enormous public and press interest Wembley stadium opened its doors in early 1991 to the first ever international sporting league and it soon became the hottest ticket in town. Some 46000 people saw the opening game against NY/NJ Knights and the Monarchs never had less than 35000 through the gates. With a certain inevitability, the London team cruised through the regular season 9 and 1, the Barcelona Dragons inflicting their only defeat, into a semi final spot at Giants Stadium vs. the Knights where the Monarchs triumphed 42-26. The World Bowl itself was a slight anti-climax as Barcelona never really got going and London strolled to a 21-0 victory in front of over 61,000 fans at Wembley. Innovations included helmet-cam, a QBs eye view of the game, and coach to QB radio communication which would later be adopted by the NFL.
Monarchs Kicker Phil Alexander
GB triumph again in Helsinki.
The GB team travelled with expectation. They were the defending European champions and as such were not subject to a qualifying tournament but they were not the powerhouse nation of 89, the coaching staff were different as was the organisation. BAFA ruled that only BAFA registered players could play for the Lions, which meant that no London Monarchs players could play. In GB's favour there were to be no Germany and no Italy, both had fallen by the wayside. In the finals GB were up against an over the hill Holland and an inexperienced French side, the real danger came from the home team. Finland were at that time amongst the very best and hopes were high of a home team victory. In the semi final GB disposed of the Dutch side with little problem 49-3, a TD hat trick by the Bulls Lloyd O'Neil being the highlight. In the final the Finns, having disposed of France in the other semi, handed GB their opening score on a plate following an errant snap on fourth down, the ball sailing through the punters hands and being recovered by GB in great field position. QB Jason Elliot of the London Capitals scored with a minute remaining of the first quarter on a QB draw play. From then on defenses were the order of the day, Finland breaking the deadlock with a 32 yard field goal and it remained 7-3 until with sixty seconds to go in the game Jason Elliot, having a stellar game, hit Bournemouth receiver Pat Millar for a 40 yard gain, Millar being dragged down a yard shy of the end zone. On the ensuing play Olympian running back Richard Dunkley fumbled the ball which bounced into the end zone where an alert Millar fell on the ball to win the game and championship for GB. Elliot collected the tournament MVP, and was also named as an All-Europe player, along with eight team mates. Lance Cone commented, "Jason was so cool. He didn't react he just went out there and did what he had to do." The other eight Lions selected for the All-Europe team were: Barry Driver, Mark Webb, Jo Richardson, Colin Nash, Paul Roberts, Warren Billingham, Gary Mills and Bola Ayiede.
GB with the European Championship
Ipswich take Eurobowl spot, Spartans rebuild
BAFA ruled that for the right to represent Great Britain in the 1991 Eurobowl the champions of the NDMA, previously assumed to be the nations champions without question, would have to play off with the winners of the BNGL national division. This may have seemed like a good idea at the time, perhaps introducing a "Superbowl" element to British football and one of the teams involved, the BNGL's Ipswich Cardinals were all for it. The problem lay with the other team, current NDMA and European champions, the Manchester Spartans who decided to concentrate on rebuilding for the future after a number of retirements and some players Mike Taylor (London Monarchs) and Les Jackson (New York Knights) notably moving on to play in the World League. Ipswich Cardinals became Britain's representative, playing at home against the French champions, Aix-en-Provence Argonauts. Though Ipswich battled gamely they were completely outclassed and lost heavily 51-0. After this debacle BAFA reinstated the 1991 NDMA champions as Britain's team in the Eurobowl for the following season.
Bulls take bowl.
The London Olympians took the regular season by storm as they romped to ten wins out of ten in the Southern Conference. In the North, Birmingham, Nottingham and Glasgow had had great seasons and all finished with identical 9-1-0 records. Birmingham's superior record against the two led to them claiming the conference title, and so it was the Bulls and Olympians who would eventually meet in NDMA Bowl II.
The culmination of the 1991 NDMA season saw the Birmingham Bulls triumph over the London Olympians 39-38 in a thrilling see-saw game at Alexander Stadium, Birmingham in front of 4,000 fans. Trailing by 36-14 as the final quarter began the O's scored 24 unanswered points to lead the game 38-36 with only a minute to go. Bulls QB Dave Kramme engineered a six play, 62 yard drive enabling the Bulls to snatch victory with a 23-yard field goal from Mark Webb with 17 seconds left to break the hearts of the London side.
Mark Webb is lifted off the pitch at the end of Coke Bowl 91
Earlier in the season one of the most infamous incidents in Britball history happened at Helenvale, Glasgow in the "1/4-second game". The Nottingham Hoods had travelled to play the Lions in a regular season game and had built a lead of 20-14 with only a few seconds left in the game. Hoods QB Mike Grossner 'took a knee' on 4th down to end the game but the timekeeper ruled that a quarter of a second remained in the game. Glasgow took over on downs and scored on the last play of the game, missed the extra point and the game went into overtime. The Lions won the toss and received the ball, marched 65 yards in 7 plays where Lions QB Darren Trainer hit Andy McGowen in the end zone to win the game 26-20.
This was also the year of the first great drop in attendance figures at British games, none so markedly as the Olympians. In previous season the O's could draw a 1,000 a game with no problem, however, in its wisdom, the NDMA made no provision for the Monarchs and consequently on days where a full programme of British football went ahead and the Monarchs were at home the crowds went to Wembley with the O's pulling in 48 punters on one occasion. O's owner Philip Andreisz said after the first two home games of the season, "It's tough to survive on attendances of 48 and 94. Expenses are £1,200 a game minimum. Tell me, how much longer can you go on like that?". The crowds of 1990 and before were never to return.
Other notable events in 1991 were the loss of military players, coaches and officials for the duration of the Gulf War, the banning of "spiking" by the games governing body, the amalgamation of BYAFA and NDMA youth and the tragic death on the football field of Bristol Packers fullback Ronnie Barnes in the game vs London Ravens.
As 1991 ended, NDMA unveiled plans for a new 12 team Superleague in 1992 split into a North and South conference. Division Two would be increased to 12 sides. With 27 sides with NDMA membership, and just 24 places up for grabs, NDMA chairman Ron Weisz said "Some may not be asked back in the NDMA."
Lance Cone announced a blueprint for football (personal point of view only) in Great Britain, and here are some extracts:
1. Get a system where all teams are involved in promotion or relegation
2. A simplified, easy to understand league structure
3. A top league with 8-10 teams which would be the flagship of our game.
4. A concentrated effort for all in the game to break into the UK schools system to get youth players into the game.
5. A return to the concept of entertainment - a day's football is not enough.
British Gridiron sevens
This was a new Passball-style league which got off the ground in 1991. There was some legal action by the NPL for copyright infringements, (a BAFRA publication from the time mentions this too) but the championship game was played out between North West Demons and Glass City, Glass City winning 33-30.
Team Soviet Union toured the UK, and played two games. On 14th April, they lost 30-12 to the Bournemouth Bobcats at Kings Park Athletic Stadium. The Soviets were strong and had good technique but lacked coaching. They also played Brighton B-52s on their tour, losing 18-12.
In the Second Division, the Coventry Jaguars took on and conquered all-comers. They compiled a perfect regular season, and then dismantled the Cardiff Mets 50-28 in the Bowl game.
Coventry QB Travis Hunter
In the BNGL, the London Capitals won their second straight title. In 1990, they had won the NCMMA league, but in 1991 they switched to the BNGL and after winning all ten regular season games really piled on the points in the playoffs. Their playoff record read as follows:
Quarter-Final vs. Farnham Knights - Won 54-0
Semi-Final vs. Ipswich Cardinals - Won 50-0
Final vs. Clydesdale Colts - Won 52-7
Plymouth Admirals, who had been playing since the very first steps of British Football won their first title with a 26-16 win over the Sutton Coldfield Royals, and the Glasgow Cyclones took the First Division Bowl with a hard fought 30-21 win over the Basildon Chiefs.
In College Bowl V, the Teesside Demons repeated as College champs after a 19-0 win over UEA Pirates. Northants Storm destroyed all Youth Kitted sides, and they won the final 59-6 against the London Capitals. BAFA also accepted the BCAFL into their fold in June. In April, a pioneering attempt to merge Britains two youth leagues into one failed after BYAFA and the NDMA failed to agree on an age limit. The NDMA had a 18 year age limit and BYAFA allowed 19 year olds to play. Neither side budged, and NDMA Youth director David Shaw said at the time, "I thought the timing was right, the merger was something the NDMA was keen to succeed. We can only hope something constructive can be done for 1992". However, a week later and after BAFA intervention a deal was done and a new 35 team league would kickoff in August.
BYAFA merged it's PeeWee and Double Touch leagues to form the Junior Gridiron League. The Pee Wees played 9-14 years division, with Double Touch from 15-18.
In TransAtlantic Challenge 3 at Moorways Stadium in Derby, the GB Crusaders registered their best ever victory. They defeated Team USA Milwaukee 40-12.
The following is adapted from the Bournemouth Raiders website (www.bournemouthraiders.co.uk) concerning the 1991 Youth Two Touch season
In the BYAFA Youth Two Touch league, the off-season had seen further structural changes with Walsall, Berkshire, Birmingham, and Tiptree all folding. Newcomers included Willenhall (believed to be a product of the Walsall and Birmingham teams from the previous season), Fen and Basildon. There was to be one less conference this season, with only Northern, Central and Southern conferences competing. Inter-conference games were played between the Northern and Central conferences, but again the Southern conference only played games amongst themselves.
Willenhall, Tamworth and Newark competed for the Northern Conference title. Newark were the pre-season favourites due to their strong performance in 1990, but it was to be Willenhall who took the title with a 4-2 record. Tamworth and Newark tied with each other, but did not quite have enough to make the play-offs.
The reigning National Champions, the Newmarket Mustangs, Heathrow Jets (who were unlucky not to qualify for the play-offs the previous season) and Fen Harriers (who were largely made up of the Cambridge side from the previous year) competed for the Central Conference.
It was Newmarket who carried off where they left off last year, by going undefeated throughout the regular season 6-0. Heathrow had a mixed season finishing 3-3, and missing out on the play-offs again, despite matching the same record as Eastleigh. Fen had a poor season winning 1 and losing 5.
The division that supplied most teams to the play-offs was the Southern. A complete role reversal of the previous one, but there was some controversy concerning Eastleigh’s place in them.
Crawley took the Southern Conference title, following a great season long tussle with the Bournemouth Raiders. The Eastleigh Devils had begun the season as favourites following their undefeated season in 1990, and indeed looked like champions judging by their opening day win against Bournemouth (17-6). Crawley, meanwhile had gone to work on Basildon and destroyed them in their opening fixture. Bournemouth travelled to Basildon the following week and recorded their first victory of the season (34-0), whilst Crawley produced the first shock of the season by defeating Eastleigh 6-0 at home. Bournemouth put the cat amongst the pigeons in June with a 8-0 home victory against Crawley, to put all three sides in contention for the conference. Mid-season saw Eastleigh blow it. They failed to fulfil a fixture against Bournemouth, and the league gave a 1-0 win to Bournemouth, and then the Devils were knocked out of title contention by Crawley by losing 13-0 at Lord's Hill. This set up a winner take-all match at Crawley between the two Raiders sides. Both teams had rebounded from poor seasons in 1990 and it is the credit to the management of both sides that they got were they did in 1991. Crawley decisively defeated Bournemouth 24-0 to take the title. Crawley, therefore, finished 5-1, with Bournemouth who secured a winning record for the first time in their history finishing 4-2 and snatching what they thought would be the last semi-final berth, with Eastleigh (3-3) missing out. Basildon finished with a 0-6 record, pulling out halfway through the season.
However, a week after the season finished the league declared that there should be a wild-card play-off to decide who should qualify for the semi-finals between Bournemouth and Eastleigh (who finished with a poorer record). It is thought that as the League ruled in Bournemouth’s favour in the middle of the season in an abandoned match (see report of this), the League wanted to even things up.
To compound things, the League ruled that the same should be played at Eastleigh’s Lord’s Hill ground! Nevertheless, the Bournemouth Raiders came good in the last minute of the match to snatch a dramatic 8-6 win and gain their deserved place in the semi-finals.
The semi-finals were played at Cambridge Sports Centre and the first tie pitted the Northern Champions Willenhall against the Southern Champions Crawley. Crawley won a dour game dominated by defense 9-0. In the other semi-final that followed, Bournemouth were blown away by their inability to cope with the Newmarket WR John Mensah. He scored 3 touchdowns in a 33-6 win.
The final at Chelmsford was a lively affair, which saw Newmarket defend their national title in a 19-7 victory.