Flag football gains fans in U.K.
Many Americans would not dispute this simple statement: American football is awesome! The hits, the fourth-quarter heroics and the superhuman feats make it a blast to watch and play.
But that playing part can get a bit tricky. An impromptu game of tackle football is the epitome of a good time with friends, but sometimes those hits can hurt. The mind may be willing, but the body is just unable.
Novice football enthusiasts who still want that competitive rush without the bumps and bruises should check out the English Senior Flag League, a grass-roots flag football organization here in Britain that is gaining popularity.
Those interested need look no further than Master Sgt. Bob Black, 41, of RAF Mildenhall’s 95th Reconnaissance Squadron. His team — the Mildenhall Mayhem — kicked off its season last weekend.
“Football’s my favorite sport,” Black said. “But I’m too old to get hit anymore with tackle football.”
Teams in the nine-team league play five-on-five on a 60-yard field. Instead of four downs to get 10 yards, teams have four downs to get to the midpoint of the field, and then another four downs to make it into the end zone. And when a team turns the ball over on downs, the opponent has to begin in its own end zone.
Black played on a team centered on London’s Navy community last year, and has worked to bring the sport to the local Air Force bases.
In the coming months, the Mayhem will play monthly round-robin tournaments on Sundays, as well as larger tournaments in Italy and Germany.
Those who scoff at flag football need to think again. The sport is gaining popularity in Europe, and involves a skill set not always seen in the standard version of the game.
“There’s no throwaway plays or anything like that,” Black said, adding that maneuverability becomes more important due to the lack of blockers. “You pretty much have to be productive on every play.”
And for defenders, there are no second chances to get your man, he said.
“It’s basically one-on-one,” Black said. “You’ve got one chance to get a flag, and if you don’t get it, the individual is past you.”
While the Mayhem has a full roster, Black said anyone who’s interested in fielding a team should contact him. For now, joining the league is free and there’s not much involved in terms of cost.
“We’re looking to grow the league, get players involved,” said Black, who is the league’s secretary. “I’ve got plenty of players, but we’re always looking for more players to join the league. People can just put together a team and show up.”
Black said he hopes an increase in the sport’s profile might lead to official recognition by U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
“All the other [sports] have USAFE tournaments, and are therefore recognized and get money and uniforms,” he said. “We as flag football are not recognized.”
Mildenhall-based Airman 1st Class Alan Alexander said he was recruited by Black to be part of the Mayhem, and that a lifelong love of the pigskin brought him in.
“Flag football, it’s not violent at all,” said the 21-year-old, who will play wide receiver and cornerback. “It’s not a contact sport. I love tackle, but this is more of a fun activity.”
The league also brings Brits and Americans face to face in the name of friendly competition, Alexander said. Yanking that flag from an opponent’s waist is good diplomacy.
“Us being over here and being hosted by the U.K., a negative perception is sometimes drawn toward us,” he said. “They’re learning from us as well as we’re learning from them.”