Sports: American owner says future is in the Cards
IPSWICH — Former NFL player Ian Allen, who recently became the first American to own a team in the British American Football League, knows first-hand that raw talent and dedication are all it takes to play professionally.
As co-owner of the Ipswich Cardinals — which has a handful of American players from RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall — Allen hopes to make the team and the Ipswich area into a clearinghouse for American football training.
Eager to capitalize on his celebrity, particularly as a National Football League presenter on Sky Sports, Allen has big goals for the semi-pro team based about 40 miles from the bases. The Cards’ 24th season kicks off at the end of the month at an away game against the Kent Exiles.
“Our five-year plan is to get our own facility,” he said. “We can’t make Lincoln Financial Field (home of the Philadelphia Eagles), but we can certainly build Ipswich Cardinals Stadium,” said Allen, who has been negotiating sponsorship deals with area businesses.
“The first thing we have to do is raise our profile and get more spectators out.”
Allen said he also hopes to offer “some of the younger guys the opportunity to play overseas or elsewhere in Europe.”
“It all comes down to heart,” said Allen, who played for Purdue University before going pro.
After leaving school as an undrafted free agent, he spent days on the phone contacting coaches and arranging tryouts. Ultimately, his persistence paid off: He played left tackle for the Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles from 2001 until 2006.
“I called my way into the NFL,” he said.
His players, most in their early 20s, may not have much experience on the American football field, “but the intangibles, like natural ability and determination, can’t be missed.”
Armond Knight, who played football for Black Hill State University in South Dakota from 2003 through 2005, hopes to stand out in his first year playing for the Cardinals.
“I’ll do my best to be the best,” said the 23-year-old, who works as a program assistant at RAF Lakenheath’s Youth Center. “Playing in the NFL has been my dream since I picked up a football.”
With Allen at the helm, “it gives us such a great advantage. He knows the business, how to get things started and who to talk to,” Knight said. “He’s a big asset.”
Before buying into the team, Allen ran a training camp for players in the BAFL, which led to his interest in becoming an owner.
“I just saw the passion out on the field and the wheels started turning. I thought, why not get involved and be an owner?” he said. “It’s a whole different game from the business side.”
British American Football LeagueNearly 50 teams from around the U.K. compete in the BAFL’s three divisions. Although the league is considered semi-pro, players and coaches must pay an annual 50-pound (about $100) registration fee to help offset costs of supplies, uniforms and field rental.
The Ipswich Cardinals began practicing in January at the Northgate International Sports Center in Ipswich, where the games are held.
The 2008 season runs from April to August, with the playoffs in September.