In our continuing countdown to the new British American Football season we are putting the spotlight on some of the teams and players from around the leagues. Finding out what makes them so invaluable to the game and what they really think about the future of the sport here in the UK.
First in this series are the Bristol Aztecs, and their Head Coach Chris Powles.
Many of us were around when the original Gridiron boom hit, and this is where Coach Powles story starts.
“I first started watching the game, like so many others on Channel 4 in 1984. I just loved the excitement of the game and how it was so fresh and new. From there I started to play youth touch football for the closest team I could find in Gloucester. Then set up my own small touch Team and ran that for two years, from there I played kitted youth football in Cheltenham for two years, and when that team finished I had a year of youth eligibility left so I came to the Bristol youth team. So I played my last year of youth football in ’91. Then played for the Aztecs from ’92 up till 2006, I started to coach in ’07 and have been doing so ever since. I am in my 3rd year as Head Coach.”
A successful coach at that with the Aztecs finishing a very credible 7-3 last season, making the playoffs only to fall at the first hurdle to a very good East Kilbride Pirates team that were unlucky not to go all the way. So what steps have been put in place to make the 2014 season an even better one?
“We had a re-build in 2012 and made progress in 2013. This year we have continued to recruit hard to grow our core squad, like a lot of teams we have a good number of players involved in University ball, so with the overlap of seasons we have been trying to grow the number of players not in Uni football so we have a productive pre-season and when the Uni guys come in they enhance what we have. At the same time we are looking to build our relationship with all the local University teams so we develop our pipeline of new players.”
It’s not always that easy though as Coach goes on to tell us, “It’s important to try and find players within the local community, some players will travel but most will play for their local Team, so you really need a core of local talent. Uni players are great but you have to be careful that when Uni finishes they don’t head home, same with any player who does not live in the area. Ours being a minority sport means we are always struggling to recruit, it’s good if you can supply kit so new players can try the game first before having to buy any then selves.”
The Aztecs have an outlet to any recruitment issues, something which others may learn from. “It’s always tough for new players to come straight in to a Premiership team so we encourage new players to try out for the Bristol Apache, our sister team if you like. This allows players to play at a decent level but not to get thrown in against the best in the country. If a player comes in and is outmatched physically and mentally he may not come back, also if a player comes in and doesn’t see the field he may not come back. So new players have to play and they have to play at the right level.”
Overall the setup in Bristol is very accomplished. They have the right attitude in terms of how they want to play and how to sell themselves, but what of the league in general, is there any way the sport here can be portrayed any differently?
“I think to get people to come and watch you have to have a good product. So good facilities are key, somewhere to sit, some entertainment, somewhere to get something to drink or eat, the teams should look good and look the same, socks, helmets etc., the games should be exciting but evenly matched”, parity is something the league struggles with from time to time, it’s only when teams reach the playoffs do we see real contests. “Promotion of the sport is key, there are still so many people who are just not aware of the game, Americans in the UK who don’t know the game is being played. The message has to get out.”
The last part of the above statement is quite worrying, if we are such huge fans of the game in the UK then why aren’t more people involved in the game here. Would a team in London really make a difference?
“I don’t know if an NFL franchise would increase participation, I have been to all the UK games but most of the people who go to an NFL game do not follow the UK game. Because, I believe the difference between the two is so great, people who are used to watching NFL get disillusioned if they see two sets of average athletes, in mismatched kit running around on a muddy field. So our game has to look good, with well coached, high performing teams.”
Of course you would like to think that any future NFL franchise on these shores would also include work in the football community, Coach Powles certainly hopes so, “If we could get an NFL franchise and then the NFL become involved in grass roots football, helping to coach our kids, invest some money in our game, close that gap, then promote the UK game through the NFL it may help. Maybe a UK passing league coached by NFL players, which does demonstration games pre the NFL games , show the fans that we have talent in this country. Get the message out there.”
If you are near the Bristol area and would like to find out more about playing, coaching or helping out in any way the Aztecs can be contacted at aztecs.co.uk