Super Bowl caps UK's growing gridiron fever
Millions of Brits expected to watch tonight's final
Sarah Morrison is the Human Rights Correspondent at The Independent, i and The Independent on Sunday
A C Grayling
A. C. Grayling is an English philosopher and founder of independent undergraduate college, New College of the Humanities. He is the author of several books including The Refutation of Scepticism (1985), The Meaning of Things (2001) and The Good Book (2011).
Sunday 05 February 2012
Few events are as American, create as big a spectacle, or unite celebrities and sport fans as much as the Super Bowl. In the UK, interest in American football, or "gridiron", is at an unprecedented level for today's 46th annual season finale. British viewing figures have doubled over the past half-decade: 4.4 million tuned into BBC and Sky last year, according to America's National Football League (NFL), while an estimated 40 new adult and youth teams have sprung up across the country since US athletes first started playing games in the UK five years ago.
Super Bowl Sunday will even feature a Scottish-born player: the New York Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes, 33, could make history, if his team triumphs tonight, as the first Scot to win the coveted American football trophy. Tynes, who was born in Greenock while his American Navy Seal father was stationed in Scotland, told reporters last week that he was "really excited to represent Scotland in this game". He added: "It's an honour to represent an entire country, and, believe me, I know all of Scotland will be watching and they are all supporting me."
Gary Marshall, chairman of the British American Football Association, which boasts more than 200 teams and 8,000 participants, told The Independent on Sunday: "There has been a huge increase in awareness of the game over the past five years. When it first became popular, during the Eighties, people used to play wearing motorbike helmets with little bits of metal stuck on the side for protection; you couldn't even get the equipment here. Now, multiple suppliers are sending uniforms over and we are seeing a surge in the numbers playing at the highest level."
The growth has not been accidental. In 2007, the NFL committed to expanding the game by bringing regular American season games to the UK. With an estimated 11 million British gridiron fans, it has said it will keep bringing games to Britain up until 2016. Five NFL season games have been played at Wembley Stadium over the past five years; all but one sold out, and the next game will take place later this year. It will be the first of three visits to London by the St Louis Rams, a team owned by the Arsenal majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, made in an attempt to build up a fan base in Britain.
"There is definitely a gathering momentum in the UK," said Alistair Kirkwood, managing director of NFL UK. "One of the reasons is that the fan base is a lot younger. These people are coming to the sport for the first time. There is also the time difference – American football matches don't clash with other sports. It's possible to be a fan of Arsenal and New England Patriots at the same time. It doesn't take the place of indigenous sports – it's an addition."
The largest surge in the sport has been among the young – with almost 70 university teams competing this season, a 50 per cent rise in the past four years. Andy Fuller, who runs the University League, said most students were excited about seeing a "British franchise", something that the NFL has never confirmed. An all-party parliamentary group for the sport was launched last year, with MPs, including its Conservative chairman, Richard Fuller, championing the sport in Britain.
But there are drawbacks. Robin Pierce, president of the London Blitz, the UK champions, said his team expects to lose three to four players each season to injury. "We have had broken legs, arms, torn ligaments, dislocated shoulders and people incapacitated for three or four months," he said. "But the team makes no distinction between men and women. So long as you are prepared to play the game and take the hits like anybody else, you're welcome to come along."
For those who cannot make it to Indianapolis to watch the New York Giants take on the New England Patriots, the NFL is hosting the largest official party outside the host city in London, known as the Super Bash. Nine hundred people will attend, with celebrities including the TV presenter Vernon Kay in attendance.
New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain
By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen
New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning
Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy
Latest in Sport
Manchester City vs Manchester United combined XI: No place for Yaya Toure... or any United defenders
Sami Khedira transfer news: Arsenal can win the Premier League if they sign Khedira in January, says Perry Groves
Manchester City vs Manchester United analysis: Manuel Pellegrini has no excuse for City's lack of a Plan B, writes Danny Higginbotham
Chelsea injury list: Loic Remy lead the Blues' absent players while Diego Costa is set to return
Radamel Falcao: Manchester United ready to seal permanent transfer of striker as 'everything is complete' to extend his Old Trafford stay
- 1 Canadian actor punched in face after 'Islamophobia' experiment goes wrong in wake of Ottawa shooting
- 2 Topshop at centre of row over body image as 'shocking' skinny mannequin photo goes viral
- 3 Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson criticised for beer tweet
- 4 The bubble bursts for Sodastream
- 5 If you think Russell Brand’s new book is confused, you should read what his critics have to say about it
Pope Francis declares evolution and Big Bang theory are real and God is not 'a magician with a magic wand'
Huge surge in Ukip support after EU funding row, according to new poll
Ukip ‘exploiting grooming scandal’ to secure party’s first police chief
Nigel Farage: 'There’s nothing wrong with white people blacking up'
Maureen Lipman says 'she can't vote Labour while Ed Miliband is leader'
Muslims, immigration and teenage pregnancy: British people are ignorant about almost everything
£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...
£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...
£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...
£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...