Is America’s Game about to get a bit more British?

In just less than 5 weeks’ time the NFL will kick off its centurion season with all 32 teams hoping their roads will lead to Miami for Super Bowl LVI. The current favourites with the bookies are reigning champions the New England Patriots with Belichick’s men hoping to win a record breaking 7th Lombardi Trophy beating their current tied record of 6 (shared with the Pittsburgh Steelers). Other strong contenders consist of last year’s runners up the Los Angeles Rams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints but there are plenty of teams who fancy themselves as dark horses and can cause trouble for anybody in the NFL such as the Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears or the Philadelphia Eagles (Go Birds!!). Football is undoubtably America’s game but could it be about to get a bit more British within the next few years? By that I don’t mean half time tea and scone breaks or saluting a picture of Hugh Grant before every game but there have been strong rumours of a potential London franchise and the rumours have only been getting stronger recently. I’m personally dead against a London franchise but I’m going to try and keep this as unbiased as possible. This post will take a look at potential strengths of a London team whilst also acknowledging the obvious problems that would come with it.

First off the good aspects of a London franchise and although I’m against it, there are fairly strong and obvious arguments. More than anything, a London team will bring more British eyes to the sport and get more people interested. Support for the NFL has skyrocketed in recent years and that’s obvious with the annual London Games. A clear example shows in 2016 when over 84,000 fans were in attendance at Wembley to see the Washington Redskins draw 27–27 with the Cincinnati Bengals. To put that in comparison to football for non-NFL fans, that’s probably the equivalent of 84,000 American Premier League fans turning up to see Burnley vs Brighton (statement’s fully open to argument, just my take). The numbers don’t lie, the NFL has a strong British fanbase and a team on their doorstep would only grow support from current non-NFL fans. It could also give UK fans who don’t support a specific team a reason to follow one. With a team closer to home it could make them feel more connected than they would following a team that plays stateside. It could also lead to a surge in British youngsters deciding they’d like to take up the sport and with the opening of an NFL academy in London could lead to more talented British players in the NFL. There are arguments for a London franchise, however it doesn’t mean that there are still a few problems that could arise with it and strong arguments against.

One of the strongest arguments against a London Franchise is just simply, why? Yes there’s a huge following for the NFL in the UK and that’s shown with annual London Games but does that really warrant a franchise to be born? To put it into comparison, let’s take the Barclays Premier League. According to Nielsen (used in a December 2018 Forbes article), 39.3 million Americans followed the Premier League in the 2017/18 season. That is a huge amount of support but would the Premier League ever agree to relocate a team Stateside or even start a new one because of the market? Of course not. Granted it would be a lot more difficult as the NFL has no relegation rule like in English football but you catch my drift. A branch out so ambitious would never happen in another sport despite a strong following from abroad so why treat the NFL any different. Also, I doubt highly any British fans would stop supporting their own adopted teams to start following a London team instead. As previously mentioned, I’m an Eagles fan and despite the fact most seasons are frustrating to say the very least (apart from the masterclass in the 2017 season which won us Super Bowl LII, forever in debt to that squad) there’s no chance I’d ever stop following them for a side closer to home because they’re my team. There would also probably be a bit of confusion surrounding the future of the London games. It’s possible that they would come to an end full stop which would be a big shame but with a London team playing in the capital regularly arguments would rise as to would there really be need for them with an existing UK franchise.

There’s also some tricky logistics surrounding a London team, most notably the cost of it all. The cost to send the rosters over for the London games can cost upwards of $200,000 without shipping equipment and other items. Costs would be huge for teams playing on the road to ship everything to the London and for a UK team to play Stateside. Training facilities could be an issue as there are no NFL level training facilities as of yet in the UK which could be used for an entire regular season meaning a large amount of money would have to be invested in order to build a new training ground. Costs would also be high for travelling fans to follow their team if they ended up playing on the road in London. Whilst a trip to London could be part of the novelty and a pull factor for American fans to see their team play on the road, it would be far from cheap which could put people off. The same is true about fans of a London franchise following them when they’re playing in the States meaning attendance for road games could be quite poor. One of the main questions surrounding a UK team is who would likely end up getting relocated for it to happen. The strongest rumour is that the Jacksonville Jaguars would move in order for the London franchise to happen. Jacksonville’s attendance has been slightly less on average than the TIAA Bank Field’s capacity with a 66,674 average for a 67,164 seater stadium for the 2018 season. Whilst that’s still a good attendance for the stadium’s size, it doesn’t really compare to the record 85,870 fans at Wembley who saw the Jaguars lose to the Eagles in October 2018. Whilst the rumour at the moment is the Jags don’t be surprised if it’s their central Floridian counterparts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who end up getting relocated. Their average attendance last season was only over 54,000 which is pretty naff for a stadium with the capacity of over 65,000. The owners of the Bucs and the Jags having a pretty strong knowledge of the UK sport market with their other investments (the Jaguars being owned by Fulham owner Shahid Khan and the Glazer family owning the Buccaneers and Manchester United) and with three franchises currently in Florida, don’t be too surprised if the Jaguars or Buccaneers get relocated. Whilst relocation is all too familiar for some fanbases such as the Chargers, Rams and soon the Raiders, it’s unfortunately part of the game making it even more of a kick in the teeth.

It’s fair to say that there won’t be a British franchise in the NFL within the next couple of years. However I personally think it will happen in the not too distant future. It’ll give UK fans a chance to see more live football and would result in more money for the relocated franchise with higher attendances (if it is the Jags or Bucks, I don’t see too much in the Bills rumours). If it does happen it will undoubtably be the most ambitious move in professional top level sport and will change the game forever.

The Popularity of American Sports in the UK and its Future

Christ it’s been a long time since the last post, sorry about that. I’ve been on holiday twice since I last posted and it’s been a pretty mental few weeks but we’re back. So, what’s happened in the meantime? Boris Johnson has been chosen as the new Prime Minister (eugh) and Europe are in the middle of a massive heatwave (less scary way of saying that the world is slowly dying). In the world of sport, England won the cricket world cup on the same day Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer in an unbelievable game of tennis for the Wimbledon crown. Irish golfer Shane Lowry won his first major, The Open Championship, held at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, many congrats Shane (I mean he’ll never read this but still, well done champ). Dubois vs Gorman lived up to expectation with Daniel Dubois making one hell of a statement with his knockout win, I’d personally love to see him fight Joe Joyce next. Another exciting fight has since been announced where #1 pound for pound king and current WBA super, WBO and Ring lightweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko takes on 2012 gold medal British Olympian Luke Campbell for the previously mentioned titles and the vacant WBC crown at the O2  in London (that is definitely getting its own post soon). And last (but not least), the USA women’s national team won their fourth world cup after beating the Netherlands 2-0 in the final.

And that sort of brings me to today’s topic, American sport. Whilst the USWNT winning the World Cup is an unbelievable achievement, football (or soccer) still isn’t too big of a game in the States with gridiron football (NFL), basketball and baseball being their most popular. And with this popularity has seen a rise in interest in these sports in the UK recently with many Brits supporting teams from those three sports I’ve mentioned (I only really follow the NFL and the Philly Eagles are my team. Go Birds!). Today I’m going to take a look at how popular the NFL, NBA and the MLB are in the UK and what it could mean for the future for the sport.

First off, football. British fans have been following the game for years and it’s popularity is only increasing. Since the London Games have started in 2007 more Brits have been drawn towards the sport and that popularity has shown with the increase of games held in the capital. This year, 4 games will be held in London (2 at Wembley and 2 at Tottenham Hotspur’s new ground) which is a joint record of games played in London tied with 2017. The attendance has been incredible over the years with on average a record 85,000 fans attending each game in 2018 according to statistics from Wembley Stadium. There are a number of British born players currently playing in the NFL including Superbowl 52 winner Jay Ajayi, Jack Crawford, Jermaine Eluemunor and Graham Gano. There are also some former British rugby players at NFL teams including former Worcester Warriors lock Christian Scotland–Williamson who’s now contracted to the Pittsburgh Steelers and former Wasps winger Christian Wade who recently signed with the Buffalo Bills. Whilst either are yet to play, they will most definitely bring more eyes from Britain onto the sport as people will have known them from their rugby careers. The future of the NFL will only be a positive one in the UK. With the popularity of the London games I can see possibly more games being held over here and possibly even in other parts of the country. World class stadiums like Old Trafford in Manchester or even the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff have held huge sporting events and would see huge attendances. The announcement of the NFL London Academy in May 2019 means more British born players will be seen in the league in years to come and that the interest here is huge. There have even been rumours of a London franchise being created, but those are just rumours as of yet, let’s see what happens there (my views on this fairly meh idea will be saved for another post). Gridiron football is already huge in the UK and with the points mentioned it will only get bigger.

Like football, basketball also has a following in the UK. The NBA also have regular season games held in London with the first held back 2011. However, differently to the NFL the London games are not a series per se as games in the regular season are held “globally” rather than England exclusively. However the “global games” in the regular season most recently have only been held in the UK and Mexico. What differs Basketball from American Football is that a British Basketball League exists with 12 teams competing. Whilst the league is not watched as much as the NBA (nor is it anywhere as big) it still shows that there is a market for basketball in the UK and that it’s a sport that’s supported. Some British fans worry for the future of the sport in the UK as the NBA announced they’d only be holding one global game in Europe in the 2020 season and that’ll be held in Paris. Rightly fans are anxious about what the future holds however I personally believe that the NBA can have a bright future in the UK. The opening of an academy would give young British basketball players the chance to develop further at a high level and to follow in the footsteps of past British born stars such as Ben Gordon and Luol Deng and present players such as OG Anunoby who plays for current NBA champions the Toronto Raptors. The NBA is followed strongly in the UK and there is no doubt in my mind it can get even bigger, however it would mean taking the same steps as the NFL in securing big success in the UK.

Lastly, baseball. A sport which has seen little interest in the UK but it looks as if that could all be about to change. A baseball league system does exist in the UK however it’s not too popular with cricket being the main batting sport (Ben Stokes for Prime Minister after his display in the World Cup final, Jofra Archer as his deputy). In June 2019, the first ever London games were held where the Boston Red Sox hosted the New York Yankees at West Ham’s London Stadium with the Yankees winning both. An agreement was signed to host four regular season games across two years with the previously mentioned Red Sox–Yankees fixtures and the St. Louis Cardinals hosting the Chicago Cubs over two days next year. Personally I think this will be incredible for the sport and its growth within the UK. It’ll put more eyes from Brits on the sport and will gain new support and more fans as time goes on. My prediction is that another deal will be signed so that more regular season games will be held in London beyond 2020 and the popularity will grow. Like the NFL, an annual London Series will probably be born attracting bigger crowds as time goes on.

Whilst traditionally American sports may not overtake British favourites such as association football or rugby in popularity it’s still exciting to see how much they are growing in the UK. It seems that it will only increase in terms of fans watching and participation in the sports across the country. These are exciting times for British football and baseball fans and whilst the future for the NBA-UK relationship is unknown at best its popularity and support will ever die down completely. As Yazz once famously said: “The only way is up”.

Heavy Duty: One of the non-PPV Shows of the Year

In less than two weeks’ time heavyweight boxing is coming to the O2 arena with arguably the two most promising young British heavyweights, Daniel Dubois and Nathan Gorman, squaring off for the British Heavyweight Championship. The card dubbed “Heavy Duty” is packed with talent from top to bottom featuring young promising fighters and some more experienced all headed by Daniel Dubois against Nathan Gorman having it out in the squared circle. It’s exciting to see two undefeated stars on a non-PPV card, especially in an age where fights between big undefeated stars are somewhat of a rarity. In this post I’ll be running through the big fights on the card and how this is one of the best non-PPV cards of the year.

A good place to start is the main event which when it was announced got me very excited. After the British Boxing Board of Control ordered Dubois–Gorman last November my instant thought was whilst this was big news ultimately not to get too excited as it may come to nothing, something us boxing fans are unfortunately all too familiar with. Countless times have fights been ordered, I get excited and it eventually comes to nothing. Will I ever learn? Of course not, I’ll continue to get my hopes up for things I want only for it all to come crashing down, oh the joys of being a sports fan. However I’m glad that I’m wrong in the instance of Dubois–Gorman as it’s a fantastic fight. Nathan Gorman is a fast, skilful and intelligent fighter with a great ring iq. As well as this he’s a heavy hitter and fights out of the orthodox stance, a perfect all-rounder. Daniel Dubois also fights with an orthodox stance but is strong, heavy hitter with devastating knockout power. Although, in my opinion, Dubois has an underrated boxing skill that makes him dangerous for any fighter. Both have been the distance before but I doubt that either will want this one to go  12 rounds, a knockout win for either man would be a massive statement in their early careers. The winner will be seen in a whole new light with this being the biggest win of their careers so far, however it will be far from the end for the loser. Dubois is only 21 and Gorman is 23 meaning they have plenty of time to re-build coming off an early loss (also meaning both are only a few years older than I am and are headlining the O2 while I’m sat at home eating rice crispies while writing this, way to put things in a harsh perspective). I doubt this will be the last time both men fight with them being so young and talented. They’ll only get better with experience and age and will become bigger names in the heavyweight division as they improve, this would definitely be another huge fight in a few years’ time which no doubt in my mind people will want to see.

The co-feature bout sees another big heavyweight contest with undefeated silver medal Olympian Joe Joyce squaring off against former world title contender Bryant Jennings with his only losses coming against Wladimir Klitschko, Luis Ortiz and in his last outing against Oscar Rivas. Without shadow of a doubt this is the biggest test of Joyce’s career so far. Joyce already has impressive stoppage wins over Alexander Ustinov (former competitor for the WBA Regular Title against Manuel Charr) and former WBC Heavyweight Champion Bermane Stiverne (the first man to take current WBC champ Deontay Wilder 12 rounds). This fight is a great test for Joyce to see how far he can make it in the heavyweight division. Some say at 33 years old time isn’t necessarily on Joyce’s side (personally disagree but that’s another argument) however he has been making serious moves in the division in his young professional career. After the Bryant fight, Joyce would have fought two former world title challengers and a former world champion in only 10 fights. A win against Jennings would push Joyce to another level and with rumours in the past of a bout with Luis Ortiz, maybe a win against Jennings would be enough to get the Ortiz fight next. This is a great fight and an incredible co-feature bout for the card. Having a fight this size on the undercard makes the main event feel even bigger and a win for either man would be massive for them. As stated Jennings is a former world title contender but will Joyce’s ruthless style be too much for the American? Obviously I don’t have the answers as I can’t see into the future but nonetheless it will make for an interesting and entertaining fight.

The rest of the card is stacked with talent and great bouts, most notably are local hero Liam Williams, Sunny Edwards and Archie Sharp. British middleweight champion Liam Williams takes on French middleweight Karim Achour for the vacant WBC Silver Middleweight Championship. Williams comes into the fight off the back of two impressive knockout wins in his last two outings against Mark Heffron and Joe Mullender. A world title shot doesn’t seem too unlikely for Williams in the not so distant future and a win against Achour would definitely shoot him in the right direction for a huge world title bout. Elsewhere, Sunny Edwards looks to extend his 11-0 unbeaten record taking on Hiram Gallardo for the vacant IBF International Super Flyweight Title to add to his WBO European and International Super Flyweight championships. Sunny is one half of “the Croydon Klitschko’s” with his brother (and WBC Flyweight Champion) Charlie Edwards and in my opinion will follow him in one day becoming world champion. Sunny has bags of talent and potential definitely having what it takes to become Super Flyweight Champion of the world when his time comes. Also on the card Archie Sharp looks to defend his WBO European Super Featherweight Championship against Jordan McCorry. Sharp won the title against Lyon Woodstock last October in a war over 10 rounds. This should be an entertaining fight (like the rest on the card that I’ve mentioned) and should Sharp get through there are exciting domestic fights to be made against the likes of Sam Bowen and Zelfa Barrett.

Overall, the 13th of July will be an entertaining night of boxing and one of the non-PPV shows of the year. Having two big domestic names like Gorman and Dubois fighting each other at the O2 for the British Championship not only makes them bigger names but makes the British Championship feel more important which is good to see. A great main event on an already fantastic night of boxing makes Heavy Duty one to certainly look forward to.

How Cardiff City’s relegation this time is different

One thing about championship teams is that they’re resilient. No matter what is thrown at them, no matter how deep the hole, they find a way to bounce back and overcome adversity.

— Nick Saban

Relegation really is a kick in the teeth. To be sent packing from the Premier League to the Championship is never fun, for lack of a better term, it sucks. This is the fate my team, Cardiff City, face after relegation from the Premier League with a battle that went right down to the wire and as a result get to enjoy a season in the Championship, oh what fun I cannot wait *holds back the tears*. The Championship however is far from a walk in the park with many quality teams competing in a packed fixture schedule with 46 games in a season with the ever exciting race for automatic promotion, the playoffs and relegation battles full of drama. The difficulty of the league is obvious with only 16 different teams managing to bounce straight back the season after relegation. The last time Cardiff were relegated we weren’t so lucky finishing 11th in our first season after relegation, 28 points behind champions, Bournemouth. However this time it feels a lot different, there’s optimism among fans and players that we can give the league a serious go this upcoming season gaining promotion again first time of asking. The odds are in our favour too with oddschecker currently having us third favourites overall to go up as champions. This post will outline some key differences to relegation last time around and how City fans can look forward to the upcoming season.

One of the key differences is the better quality of players we have. Players all over the pitch such as Neil Etheridge, Josh Murphy, Junior Hoilett, Bobby Decordova–Reid, Sean Morrison, Nathaniel Mendez–Laing and so on have already performed at a high level in the Championship (as well as last season) and no doubt in my mind they will do so again. Obviously the main thing will be keeping everyone at the club. Last time around saw a mass exodus of players such as captain Steven Caulker, Gary Medel and Craig Noone which damaged us badly. However if we manage to keep the majority of our stars then next season everything could be coming up Milhouse. Arguably one of our weaker areas on the pitch is midfield following some key exits at the end of last season however that’s being attended to. Signing Will Vaulks from Rotherham to bolster our midfield after the loans of Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa ended and Aron Gunnarsson joining Qatari team Al-Arabi (still not completely over that one 😞) it is an area that needs depth and improvement. Another midfielder or two through the door to go with the likes of Joe Ralls, Leandro Bacuna and Callum Paterson (who can play just about anywhere mind, don’t be too surprised if he plays a few games in goal before the end of the season) to partner a strong attack, a sturdy defence and quality keeper in Etheridge then we’ve got all we need for a promotion push.

Another key difference is the man in charge, Neil Warnock. Warnock is a veteran of the English Football League and is far more experienced than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who was in charge last time around with relegation. Ole was trusted with the job following the sacking of Malky Mackay starting the punderful #RevOLEution. Less than nine months, a relegation and some very questionable signings later, Solskjaer left City and the supposed revolution was over. Magnus Wolff Eikrem anyone? How about Jo Inge Berget? What about everybody’s favourite Federico Macheda? Jokes aside Solskjaer was there at completely the wrong time. He was hugely inexperienced and was his first time managing in the English Football League where he was given a seriously difficult task of trying to keep Cardiff up then the job of kick starting a promotion push, it just wasn’t meant to be. Neil Warnock however is the polar opposite. He has experience of the championship and English football overall, knows how it feels to be relegated and certainly knows how to push for promotion. Warnock holds the record of most promotions in English football with eight. Warnock has hinted that Cardiff could be his last job in football management and with this being the last year on his contract at City this could well be his retirement year. If so then he’ll want to go out with a bang, and no bang would be bigger than a ninth promotion.

Lastly, and arguably most importantly, there’s much more of a feeling of unity within the club compared to 5 years ago. There’s a closer fans/players relationship and a strong bond between fans and the manager. Fans are optimistic for the upcoming season and there is a belief among many that we can have a positive season and the players will believe it too. Last time there was divide between some of the board and fans as we were rebranded and playing in a red instead of the famous city blue. I still wake up in cold sweats at night thinking of the 0-2 loss at home to Brighton in the first promotion year when red scarves were given out to fans for free, dark times. However that is all in the past with the board and fans now on the same side looking forward to what the new season brings. There’s a strong feeling of togetherness and spirit at the club and it will show on the pitch. There’s a saying in boxing that ‘a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter’ meaning that a young fighter who’s happy and their morale is high is more proficient and dangerous in the ring, and Cardiff are definitely a happy fighter. Keeping morale and spirits high from the team and the fans will make City a force to be reckoned with in the Championship.

How the season will pan out nobody actually has a clue, unsurprisingly I can’t see into the future. I could read this back in six months’ time and cringe at how wrong I’ve got this or surprise myself of how accurate my predictions have been. Regardless it will be an exciting season filled with hopefully many ups, probably some downs and definitely a lot of questionable refereeing.

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