by Brian Mathieson
June is a bad month for me. It used to be bad because it brought the end of the season, a bit like how most folks feel in February, after the Superbowl. Now it depresses me because of the season that used to be, but is no more. Let me explain.
In Europe, where I live, we used to have something called World League. Now, don’t laugh. It may have been a joke to you, if you even knew about it, but to many thousands of football fans on this side of the Atlantic, it was our only chance to watch a reasonable set of players perform in serious competitive games for eleven weeks every year. Well, every year until four years ago, when the NFL shut it down. Since then, I’ve been in mourning from April to June each year.
The World League of American Football started in 1991, but that was a complete mis-fire and it shut down again after a couple of seasons to re-open in 1995 with six teams, all based in European cities. The original teams were allocated to Spain, England, Holland, Scotland and Germany (two teams), giving a good spread of opportunity for football fans throughout much of Europe. The aim was to try to stimulate and develop an interest in American football over here: a worthy idea that required some financial input from the NFL.
The six teams each comprised a squad of players brought over from America, along with seven “local” (non-US) footballers. It was hoped that this would encourage ground-level involvement in playing the game and it is certainly true that a few national players reached a fairly high skill level, alongside those who were born into the game. Many of these American players were allocated by NFL teams who wanted to try out second- or third-stringers in live competitive games to see how they shaped up. Added to these were players from Arena or Canadian teams or simply people who had been passed over and were trying to be recognised in the hope of getting an NFL contract. If I mention that Kurt Warner and Adam Vinatieri represented the Amsterdam Admirals while John Kitna played for the Barcelona Dragons, perhaps that’ll give you some idea of the value that the World league – later renamed NFL Europe – had for players.
As for my own team, the Scottish Claymores, I had a season ticket throughout the ten seasons of their existence. In the later years, I had a permanent seat exactly at the fifty yard line at Hampden Park, Scotland’s national stadium. There, I watched players such as Joe Andruzzi (Patriots), Dante Hall (Chiefs), Marco Rivera (Packers) and George Coghill, whose two significant plays in Superbowl XXXIII helped the Broncos to their victory. I also managed to see my team win through to the league final twice and to successfully lift the World Bowl on one magnificent June evening in 1996. My daughter still has a glove worn by a player and thrown into the crowd during the celebrations.
So, yes, I miss that additional burst of football from April to June, I miss the direct association with a team that I could physically support by attending games and I miss the excuse to jump on a plane and fly to other European cities to watch the equivalent of the Superbowl each June. You can understand, then, why I miss NFL Europe, since its demise in 2007. You’ll also understand why June, for me, is a bit like February. And just think: what will next February feel like for all NFL fans if this lockout doesn’t get settled?