An Interview with ex-Birmingham Bulls GM, Leigh Ensor. Leigh was GM for the Bulls from 1988 to 1995, was involved in the GB Lions Euro Championship win in 1991 and also kick started the GB Lions back into life in 1994 after a 3 year absence becoming GM of the Lions in 1998.
Interview conducted September 2005
What is your current occupation and in what town do you now live?
I have been a real estate agent for over three years, its not a bad living. Its a great job for meeting people even if they do think I have an Australian accent!!
We moved from Los Angeles to San Diego a couple of months ago.
What was your background in the game before getting involved in the britball?
I saw some football on TV in the US when I first came to the USA in 1981, I knew I was hooked. Then after the introduction of football with channel 4, a good friend of mine Pete Robinson (who was then a director at the Bulls) spent about two years talking me into coming down and "having a look" at this local team called the Birmingham Bulls. I never looked back thanks Pete!
How and in what capacity did you join the Birmingham Bulls? Did you become GM straight away, or how did that come about?
No. It was some time before I got that role. It was 1988; I came down to a practice with Pete Robinson to meet with the owner Frank Leadon. I remember being impressed with the set up, I just stood back over the next few weeks and watched what was happening and tried to see how I could fit in with the management. My first game was away against the Ravens in the semi-final Wow! What an introduction to the game and the Birmingham Bulls. Remember, I knew no one. All I kept hearing over the PA was names like Trevor Carthy, Joe St Louie, Victor, Jensen, Harris, Nash .etc. I never realized until some years later that I had witnessed the end of many eras
It was the following year that Dave Webb became the new owner. He and I got on well from the start. However, my first involvement was with the supporters committee. I had spent at least a season on the committee when Dave asked me to become the team manager. I did continue with the supporters club for a few years. It was 1991/92 season that Dave gave me the reins to help run the club. I was only one of a few people that helped with the management Peter Biddulph/Roy Harrison and John Eyre were invaluable in certain parts of the organization. I became the GM some time after that.
Which British Players stood out at the Bulls for you in your time there?
Clearly there were many at the Bulls in those days, I would have to start with Trevor Carthy (RB) Colin Nash (LB) Mark Williams(DB) Paul Roberts (DB) Gary Mills (C) Andy Webb (DL) Lloyd ONeil (FB) Mark Webb(K) Barry Driver (OL) Nigel Thomson (OL) Paul Puffet (OL) Craig Wooldrige (DL/TE) Gregg Cross (DL). Later Part: Paul Newey (LB) Paul Sinclaire (WR) Mark Cohen (WR) and so many more! The Bulls often had squads of fifty plus at times. If I have left anyone out .sorry.
Who were the best imports you signed?
I had nothing to do with his signing but Russ Jensen (QB) was probably the best import not just for the Bulls but for britball period. Also on that squad were Greg Harris (WR) James Thornton (OL) and Bob Shoop (WR)(now head coach at Columbia).
Dave Kramme (QB) came to us via Chuck Brogden, the Bulls Head Coach in 1990. I recruited coach Turner via Bill Peterson (ex NFLE President) who attended the coaches convention in Dallas 1994. He brought John Riggs (QB). Other mentions Mike Reisterer (QB) came in 1993 a good QB but he got killed every week because we had no line that year. I also need to mention Jeff Christman, I have never witnessed a player play with so much heart before or since.
How did you scout your imports? Any duds?
We always had a pretty good network in the states. My first job when the season ended was to get on the phone to the states and start looking. I would use existing coaches like Sam Timer or take advantage of someone like Bill Peterson who was attending the US coaching convention. We were always networking out there, Sometimes it worked and some times it did not!
I was assured from our contacts that Head Coach Dick Suess was good and was an established coach .well to avoid any slander suits here in California we will put it down to a complete loss of memory with regards to the game of Football. I will never forget the night I went to the house to let him go. When I had explained that his services were no longer required I have never seen a cloud lift off someones shoulders like his!! The other "Head Coach", Wally English, just needs to give up football. God knows how he coached in the World League. His attitude and ability sucked! He spent the season teaching the O line how to protect his son (scoring TDs would have been good). The QB Jon English should never had that position. With regards to the player imports, if I have not mentioned them, it means that they were no better than the players we had in our squad.
You Joined the Bulls in 1988, is it true that the team almost went under that year?
Yes it was touch and go for several weeks. Frank had taken the team to the top and I think he had had enough with football at club level. He went on for many years as a board member with BAFA and EFAF.
Andy Webb one our defensive lineman approached his father Dave Webb to take over the club.
How did you go about signing the ex LA Raider Russ Jensen as player/coach?
I was not involved. He was already in place when I came at the end of the 1988 season. My only role with Jensen was to try to appease him towards the end of the 1989 season.
In 1988, the Bulls convincingly won the British title with a dominant season, including an amazing 51-14 semi-final win over the previously dominant London Ravens. What were the highlights of that season?
Almost right, It was 51-13 on that cloudy day in Richmond ..The day the Ravens fell.
Other highlights of that season must include:-
In 1989, the Bulls were on course for another title, but on the eve of the final (against the Manchester Spartans) Jensen quit the team. What happened?
Russ Jensen had been playing hard ball for some weeks with Dave Webb and the management. On the Thursday after practice (before the final on Sunday at Crystal Palace) Jensen sticks a bill in Dave Webbs hand for the amount of around One thousand nine hundred pounds. The bill/invoice was for medical bills he had accrued in the off season back in California for treatment resulting from playing in the previous season. Dave was a little shocked with this coming out of the blue on the eve of a final and asked Russ why had he not come to him sooner. His response was, "Get me my money"! and he walked off. Jensen came to Dave Webbs office the next day (Friday). Dave explained to Jensen that if he had only come forward sooner with this issue it could have been resolved at the beginning of the season instead of all the stress this has now caused. His response again, "I want my money". Dave made a phone call to his good friend, the editor of the Daly News who was sponsoring the game to explain to Russ that he would give Russ a check for two thousand pounds Monday Morning straight from the Daly News to him. He would not get on the phone he said again "I want my money now" Dave explained because it was 5.30 on Friday afternoon he could not physically get the money until Monday. With that, Jensen got up and walked out without saying anything.
The rest is history and we lost the game 21-14 with two QBs that were not even close to being ready for that game. They did not even get one practice. Terry Smith should thank Jensen because a slaughtering was the only outcome of that game with Jensen on the field.
To me, Russ Jensen was the best import to walk into this game second to no one but he was the most ill- mannered, self centered person I have had the opportunity to meet. He ruined lots of peoples dreams that day, players and fans alike. I would just like to think if he had his time over, things would be different.
In 1990 you signed Dave Kramme who had to follow in the footsteps of Russ Jensen. How did he compare?
As I said before Dave Kramme was recruited by the 1990 head coach Chuck Brogden, who did the best job he could for the Bulls.
How did Dave compare to Jensen? No comparison. Dave came out of college, Jensen came from the Raiders. Dave was a very capable QB. Certainly good enough for that standard of football.
Terry Smith says that the best britball game he witnessed was the 1990 Coke Bowl between his Spartans and the Bulls? Do you agree or was there a better one in your eyes?
The Bulls did not play in the 1990 Coke Bowl, Terry must mean the 1989 bowl when lady
luck flew in to save them. No I do not agree! In 1990 the Bulls were knocked out in the
semis by Northants and Johnny Atlas.
There were many great games played, I could mention three or four at least. I think the one that holds the best memory for me was the game at Alexandra Sports Stadium in 1991 against the Olympians. We won in the last minute with a field goal from Mark Webb (Spider!) 39-37.
Which Bulls players were selected for the Operation Discovery in 1991? Should any others have been considered?
Trevor Carthy was the only Bulls player in 1991. There were at least four others that should have been recruited: - Andy Webb (DL) Gary Mills (C) Mark Williams (DB) and Mark Webb (K).
Why do you think many clubs folded in the early to mid 1990s?
Many reasons: There was a decline of top level teams that happened when the NDMA could no longer attract sponsorship. Even though the amount was less than six thousand per club, the owners that were in it for some misguided reason, that they were going to make money, threw in the towel. I also think that the bubble had burst generally with football, from a time when more NFL merchandise was sold in the UK than all of Europe put together. There was a decline in Football on TV. Throw in a lot of people that were in the game became tired of how things were run and just walked away never to return.
I am just very happy to see the domestic game team wise gaining strength.
Tell us a bit about the 1991 Finals in Finland with the GB Lions. What capacity did you go as, and is that the best GB side youve ever seen?
This was one the highlights of my involvement. This was the peak of Britball at its best. We had the Head Coach from the inaugural World Bowl Champions, the Monarchs Ray Willsley and Defensive coach Dennis Danielson plus their equipment managers and trainers. As they say here in California " we were dailed in. "
We also had, in my opinion two of the best British coaches we as a nation have ever produced Tony Allen and Steve Moon. We had the best from the Bulls and the Olympians and a good spread of great players from clubs all over the UK. We kicked ass and the celebrations still live in my heart.
My capacity? Lets start with me asking the Team Manager Charles McNamara (BAFA EFAF Rep.)at a GB practice if I could go to the Championships in some capacity explaining I would pay my own way. He said he would ask Ray. Later that day he said Ray had said no (Ray said later he never even asked him!) I shrugged it off and thought it was not to be. I had arranged to drive a large mini bus to take all of the Bulls players that had been selected to the "Bushy" pre-camp down south. Frank Leadon (GM) was there. We had stayed in touch and were talking about how things were going and he asked why I was not going. I told him what had happened some weeks earlier. I do not remember how Frank put it exactly but the inference was to forget what Charles had said, he wanted me to go. That was on the Friday night I purchased a ticket on Saturday and flew out with the team on Monday. Again my capacity ? I was the water boy, washed the uniform, repaired equipment, fetched balls, got every one out of bed every day (including Charles!) and got to hold the cable for Coach Willesleys head phones on the side line. That experience gave me the best insight of how football should be.
Was it the best GB side? Close, but I think that goes to the side that was put together under my watch as GM when we demolished a good French side at Milton Keynes in 1998 44-0.
The Bulls failed to make the 1992 and 1993 finals. Why did they not quite compete at the highest level in those years?
In 1992 we went 9-1 in the regular season, splitting games with the O's and were beaten in the semis by Leicester, 21-9 at Salford Park. That's pretty near the highest level if you ask me but maybe the regular season was too comfortable and, apart from the O's, we weren't really ever tested before the play-offs. I also remember that a lot of people had issues with the coaching, not just the personality of the Head Coach Wally English, but also with some of his methods and techniques. . You may remember we had started with Steve Moon as offensive coordinator Under Sam Timer in 1991. Steve started as Head coach in 1992 then had to resign because of his job. Then the Wally English episode began.
1993, we had a great defence, but our offence never quite clicked. We had no offensive line and a lot of them were carrying injuries or had just had surgery. The O's were dominant and Nottingham and Leicester were tough teams that year, although Glasgow reached the final.
How did you become the NDMA chairman in 1993?
I was given that position to oversee the merger between the NDMA and the BNGL on behalf the NDMA owners. Gary Marshall (current BAFA Chairman) Wayne Persinger, Dave Quincey and myself met at Lance Cones (then BAFA Chairman) house in London over a weekend to thrash out the details of the forming of the league we now know as the BAFA Senior League. We had to make some tough decisions. Not all of the owners were happy with what came out of it but I think the merger was a good idea and after twelve years I think we got it right.
What were some of the highlights of your time at the Bulls?
Too many to list but here are a few; To see Trevor Carthy and Marc Cohen make the pros was huge for me. The bowl wins were fantastic, even some of the losses with rival team the Os were great to watch from a football perspective. Though I think one of the most joyous times with the Bulls has to be when we played the Frankfurt Knights in Germany. They were European Champions of that semi-pro league and I think they had some sponsorship left and wanted to play another game to whip somebody. They were very cocky, had about twelve Americans and to be honest a much better team than we were. In the first half they killed us. We were only down 21-13 but these guys were in charge of the game. John Riggs had put out his shoulder and their team was just plain good, young and fast! Then they made a big mistake at half time. As they were walking off the field they thought it was good opportunity to also stick it to us verbally. In plain terms they made it clear to our players of colour, the older guys plus some of our players that could lose a few pounds to F#@* Off and not come back. I remember looking at Paul Roberts. The look on his face if I had not stopped him he would still be there serving time for murder. I went into the locker room and the silence was deafening. Not a player said a word. We had the ball on the first drive. I dont know what had happened but by the third down their whole defensive line walked off. I remember seeing the Knights head coach screaming at them to get back in the game. We won the game 30-28 with them missing a field goal with seconds left. Paul Roberts called a time out just before the kicker who had not missed all year . then hooked it!
Nice one Paul.
Coaches remember : do not give teams something to play for!!
Did the NDMA fight hard to keep the Scottish teams in when they decided to split at the end of 1994?
In 1994 it was BAFA who were running senior football and it was a very difficult time. The problem, bottom line, was cost and not many people south of Birmingham wanted to travel. The Bulls loved the Scottish games. We got the some of our best opposition and it was deemed the fun away trip of the season. Even from Birmingham it still took 5-6 hours on a bus so I understood the southern most teams from shying away. One thing you cannot argue with the Scottish teams, they never stood up an English team once. When you think of the Glasgow Lions every away game to them was in England, their local rivalry was Gateshead!
Were you for or against the NDMA merger with the BNGL in 1994?
Tough question. I think back some times and explore what else could have been done. As I said before, it was not a popular solution with some NDMA owners but we had our arms up our backs by BAFA.
The NDMA had dropped below the BAFA minimum (ten teams I think) and we were led to believe that if we were independent of BAFA we would not get officials, insurance would become more expensive and our players would not be eligible for GB etc. etc.
We were offered the position of becoming the premier league and they did accept that our standard of play was higher than the BNGL division one. Still, we went from a league that all expenses were paid for by the league (NDMA) to each team having to pay fees to another league. I guess it was a sense of continuity that Gary Marshall and myself settled on. It was a time when teams were folding weekly and we wanted teams to have games to play. Was it easy to make that decision? NO!
You appointed the Olympians Head Coach Tony Allen as GB Lions coach in 1994. Who
else was considered for the role, and why did Allen come out on top of the pack?
Tony Allen and I got to know each other in Finland in 1991 and continued to stay in touch via football. Tony recognized, as did I, the value in having a National Squad, not just for the ability to play international football but to have a situation where all players could strive to be the best that they could be. In terms of NFLE and Nationals, the Lions gave NFLE coaches a line straight to the best we had available. Then it would be the National coaches who would be able to attend GB clinics to improve their ability to then take knowledge home to improve their team. Trainers/Managers/Equipment guys all aspects of the game would have a platform where to get better.
The newly formed BAFA senior league was charged with task of putting together the GB Lions. I was not involved. I perhaps had been a little too critical of the league and how they did certain things. It was the BAFA Senior League who appointed Tony as Head Coach of the Lions. (Tony remember, was now working full time for the NFL) The league had come into some extra funds by way of the taxman in the form of a large rebate. So a portion of this was assigned to the Lions. I am not sure what happened at the end of the day, but there were practices held and various meetings that resulted in Tony resigning from the position. The Lions were on hold again, it had now been four years since the lions had played there was a lot of disappointment.
I think it was at a football clinic in Crystal Palace sometime in 1996 that Tony Allen and I were in attendance. He informed me of the European Tournament that was coming up and should we try to get the Lions going again. I laughed when he said I should get it going! The conversation was long and it was agreed that I would talk to the then BAFA chairman Joe Mendell to see where BAFA stood in terms of it recognizing us as the management for a GB Lions team. Like myself, Joe laughed when I mentioned the idea of reforming the national squad. He explained to me that BAFA had no funds to support a team and that there are financial obligations that BAFA would be held responsible for by EFAF (European Federation of American Football) should the team incur any debt in another country. I explained that we as a group would not be looking for funds from BAFA and would not enter into any financial commitment we could not meet. He said he needed to put it to the BAFA board to get their approval, the next week Joe called me and said that we have BAFAs blessing all were in favor except the senior league ..I wonder why!!!!!
Riq Ayub was appointed Head Coach then went about the business of putting together a coaching staff.
GB withdrew on safety grounds from the 1995 European Championships after EFAF ruled that the Lions would have to play 3 games in 7 days. That must have been a bitter blow?
I do not think the BAFA senior League who was running the team then withdrew because of safety reasons. In the Championships, all the games have to be played within a 5-7 day period.
Running the team may have been the challenge. To run that team with all the different personalities and different issues could not be done by committee.
After the 1995 season and another Bulls triumph (after a 34-30 win over the Olympians) you left the club. Why was this?
I did not leave the club. Dave Webb had reached a point where he did not want to continue. I tried to keep the Bulls going but the league had other ideas. The Bulls had entered into some financial arrangement with the league administrator some time prior to this. They felt this was the time to get the money back. I am not sure of the amount. All I remember was spending about two days on the phone trying to raise thousands of pounds to allow us to continue. The supporters club were incredible. They emptied the bank account, giving us about three thousand pounds or so. I went back to the league and said I could give them a check for five thousand pounds. There had been a league meeting and the directors agreed to see me afterwards. I was up before them the "mighty remnants of the BNGL." I knew I was done. My past with the people before me was not a happy one and I was a thorn in too many sides. I guess we were about two thousand pounds short. "Every penny or no Bulls" I was told.
I left the room and that chapter of the Bulls closed. The following week I went to see Dave Cotterell and Dave Chambers who had set up the senior Bulls B team and asked if they needed some help. I continued with the Bulls for 4 more years.
Who are some of the best administrators in the game you have worked?
Lee Colllins ,Steve McAlpine both from the Os. Wane Hardman from Brighton. Gary Marshall Gateshead.
Do you still follow British American Football?
Absolutely! ..Bulls there is always next year!
Are you still involved with American Football in any capacity?
Sadly no! I miss it so much, the memories will live on .Thank you Britball! It was a blast.
My email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Paul "statman" Quinton for his contribution to this interview.
Thanks to Dave Cotterell for keeping the Bulls going. To Riq Ayub for his continuity and effort with the Lions. To Tony Allen, Gerry Anderson and Simon Newham for their invaluable contribution to the future of this game in the UK.
A message to all coaches make sure you attend coaches courses always and often. You will never stop learning.