Taking a punt: American football? in Leeds? Grant Woodward reports.
By day they work as teachers, computer programmers and plumbers. But at weekends the men of the Yorkshire Rams come together to battle it out on the American Football field.
The sport may still be pretty niche in this country, but the Rams – based in Middleton, south Leeds – are one of the country’s longest-established teams and last year celebrated their 25th anniversary.
A product of the sport’s boom years of the mid-80s when Channel Four started screening NFL games, the club began life as the Wakefield Wasps then moved to Huddersfield and became the Rams before finally settling in Leeds.
“I think like most of the guys I was a bit of a fan growing up,” says Adam Lilley, the team’s centre and general manager. “I played rugby for a few years and then got the chance to give it a go at university.
“It’s a game that really gets under your skin and can quickly end up taking over your life.”
The Rams play their home games at Leeds Corinthians Rugby Club and compete in Premiership North, having been promoted last year when organisers expanded the division.
Their sights for this season, which starts in April, are set on finishing as high up the table as possible. It will also see them resume long-standing rivalries with the likes of the Doncaster Mustangs, Birmingham Bulls and Glasgow’s East Kilbride Pirates.
“Last year we missed out on automatic promotion by one place,” says Adam. “This time we’re looking to make a good charge at the top three.
“We’re all competing to get to BritBowl, which is the British equivalent of the Super Bowl. That might be a bit of a stretch as the two London clubs, who play in the Southern division, are pretty much head and shoulders above the rest at the moment.
“But there is no reason why we can’t challenge the top two in our division – that would be a big step for us.”
The Rams have recruited some new players for the upcoming season but are always on the look-out for fresh talent.
They have also just launched a junior side for youngsters aged 14 upwards.
“The main thing we’re looking for is a desire, that will to win. A lot of this game is mental, you’re having to put yourself in situations that natural instinct would tell you to stay out of.
“It takes a certain kind of person and we’re looking for guys who really have that edge, who are up for it and want to win.”
Though you might think it would be an expensive game to play in terms of equipment – the actual cost of full padding and helmet is somewhere in the region of £200. The club also has kit it can lend to anyone who wants to have a go.
As for the sport’s long-term future in Britain, he thinks it’s here to stay. A lot of teams were set up in the 80s and money came in through things like the Budweiser Leagues, with players getting paid. Then, in the 90s the game pretty much went bust.
It survived but the number of teams dropped down to 20 or so. Things have picked up again since, though, and there are now around 50.
“There is a university league with dozens of teams, as well as a number of junior sides around the country,” says Adam. “So the signs that the younger generations are coming through are good.”
The Rams do their bit too; visiting local schools in and around Leeds to spread the word about a sport that may be as American as apple pie but still has plenty of devoted followers on these shores.
Including plenty right here in Yorkshire.
For more information about the Yorkshire Rams visit yorkshire-rams.co.uk or find them on Facebook.