Monarchs deposed in a thriller

American Football: In London a former hero steps back into the limelight... Nick Halling sees the Londoners make a bad start to the season despite a new recruit
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The Independent Online
There were three things the London Monarchs hoped for as they embarked on their new World League season yesterday - decent weather, a healthy crowd, and victory over the Scottish Claymores.

The weather stayed fair, and an audience of 16,258, bigger than any attendance last year, enjoyed an absorbing contest. The third wish failed to come true however, the Scottish Claymores winning an epic battle 24-21, thanks to Paul McCallum's 27-yard field goal.

William "Refrigerator" Perry and Gavin Hastings both made significant contributions, Perry making a nonsense of his alarming girth with some impressive run-stopping and Hastings successfully converting three extra- point attempts. Both proved they have earned their places on merit, never mind their promotional value to their clubs.

However, the key to victory for the Claymores lay with two players allocated to the World League by the Kansas City Chiefs. The quarterback Steve Matthews overcame an appalling first half to inspire his team, while the receiver Shaun LaChapelle made a number of important receptions, finishing with seven catches for 140 yards.

The biggest play came in overtime, LaChapelle hauling in an outstanding catch to help set up McCallum's field goal attempt. "I don't think you can really call it a game-winning catch," he said. "Steve played well, our defence kept us in when we needed them, and I was just fortunate to come up with a big play."

False modesty from a player, drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1993, who will certainly have an impact in Kansas City with more efforts like this.

The Claymores started brightly, Matthews throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Yo Murphy in the first quarter. However, the Monarchs took the initiative, forcing four Scotland turnovers in the first half. In all, Matthews threw four interceptions, the most costly of which led to Darren Studstill's 21-yard interception return. That made it 21-7 to the Monarchs following a pair of touchdown passes from the London quarterback Preston Jones to Tony Vinson and Gaston Green.

It looked all over at half-time, the Monarchs moving the ball on the ground and through the air, and the Fridge effectively chucking his weight around.

The second half was a different affair. After some stern words from their coach, Jim Criner, the visitors regrouped. The running back Siran Stacy, who had tormented the Monarchs when Scotland won 22-9 at White Hart Lane last year, reduced the deficit with a one-yard run. Then, with less than two minutes remaining, Matthews and LaChapelle connected for a 25-yard score, Hastings extra point attempt sending the game into overtime.

What was evident to most observers was the high quality of play on both sides. The presence of 20 players allocated from NFL teams has clearly had an effect. "To be honest, I was surprised at the standard of play," said Matt Millen, a Super Bowl winner with the Los Angeles Raiders, Washington Redskins, and San Francisco `49ers. "This isn't the NFL, but it's close. All these players need is experience, that's what they're getting here."

The biggest winner this weekend may be the World League itself. After a shaky relaunch last year, this first weekend has exceeded expectations. A 16,000 crowd is respectable for London but the attendance of 32,000 for Saturday night's contest between the Rhein Fire and Frankfurt Galaxy in Dusseldorf was a pleasant surprise. More games like the contest served by the Monarchs and Claymores should have fans coming back for more.