|Terry Smith is arguably the best coach to ever set foot on British soil. From the
day he posed for publicity pictures with Hazen Choates and a NT Rob Groetzinger at Hyde FC
back in February 1988, Smith was all for improving the domestic game.
His resume reads as follows:
1988 Takes over as Manchester Spartans Player/Head Coach.
1989 Leads Spartans to Bud Bowl win
1989 Takes over as GB coach, and leads them to European glory
1990 Wins back to back British titles with Coke Bowl win
Terry Smith with BudBowl IV
1990 Wins Eurobowl IV
1990 Stands down as Spartans Coach with a record of 45-2-0
Terry Smith scoring for the Spartans
1991 Retires from playing, catching 15 passes for 220 yards in his last ever game - In
Britball, but continued to play 1992 through 1995 in the European League
1993 Pulls Spartans out of Britball to enter the fledgling Football League of Europe along
with the other European superpowers
1994 Inducted to the AFA Minor Pro football Hall-of-Fame
1994-5 Spartans play in the FLE
1998 Reforms Spartans for two Arenaball games in the USA
How and when did you very first 'get into' American
My entire life I wanted to be a football player. From the age of 2 or 3 years old I used
to sometimes eat meals with my helmet on, and sleep at night with my helmet on. Back in
those days, everything was much safer for children, and so I played everyday after school
and all day on the weekends with my friends in sandlots. I played in my first organized
Pop Warner League at the age of 12, and then played all through high school, college, and
then in the NFL and the USFL before coming to Britain in 1988.
What High School and College did you attend?
Avery High School in the mountains of North Carolina where I was the Quarterback in
football, as well as playing baseball, basketball, and wrestling, winning Championships in
all of these sports and being All-Conference in three of them.
I first went to College at Cornell University in New York in the Ivy League with schools
like Harvard and Yale, where I played wide receiver and free safety in football, and I
also played baseball. After two years, I transfered to Furman University in South Carolina
where I played free safety in football, centerfield in baseball, and ran the 100, 200, and
400 in track. We won two Southern Conference Championships and I was Academic
All-Conference in football and All-Conference and MVP in baseball. I loved baseball also,
and I am very surprised when I return to Furman that more than 20 years later I am still
the 2nd-leading hitter in Furman history.
How did you hear about and subsequently join the
Manchester Spartans in 1988?
After severely injuring my knee with the Patriots in a game versus the Philadelphia
Eagles, and having major reconstructive knee surgery, my NFL career ended when my the team
doctor would not clear my knee to play in the medical examination, so I went into
coaching, playing some professional baseball, and I coached in various colleges as a
defensive coordinator for 4 years. My knee got better during this time, and I happened to
see an ad in a coaching publication about the opportunity to play and coach in Europe. I
contacted the agent Sam Ketchum, who offered me the opportunity to go to several European
countries. I chose to come to Manchester because all of my ancestors on both sides of my
family were from the United Kingdom, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England, and so I
wanted to see Britain where my ancestors had lived. I also felt like going to another
European country that did not speak English would limit my ability to teach the players
well because of the language barrier. I intended to only stay for that first six-month
season and then return to the U.S., but we went 14-0 that first year in 1988, I was chosen
to be the National Team Head Coach in addition to coaching the Spartans, and I loved
Britain so much that I decided to come back for 1989. Due to our success, the Directors of
the Spartans gave me some shares in the Club to persuade me to return, and then over the
next year I bought some more and became the majority owner.
When you joined the Spartans they had finished the
previous season 2-8 and bottom of the pile. In 1988 you had taken them to a 14-0 regular
season record. Tell us about some of the players that made this happen for you and the
coaching regime you instilled to do this.
I was blessed with a lot of fantastic men to work with. In all of my years in coaching,
those 1988 and 1989 players and teams will always be the most special to me. It was a
tremendous coaching experience for me because I was forced to coach every position on the
field, design all the offense, defense, and special teams, and make every call for all of
these three parts of the game in every game. Therefore, three years of such experience was
equal to 15 years of experience for a coach in the U.S. who would only be coaching one
position. It was a lot of work, but I dedicated every minute of my day to putting together
that Spartans team. I loved those guys so much. I went into it will full effort and I
expected full effort from every player. Looking back, I was very strict and we practiced
very hard. No player could be late, and they could not miss a single practice. When I put
these rules in at my first team meeting with the players, the Directors of the Club feared
that a lot of players would quit. However, our players had great character, we believed in
each other, and so they completely dedicated themselves to being successful.
Terry Smith talks to his players
On defense, the leader and one of my best friends ever was Nigel Dias. He played strong
safety and was the defensive captain. He was a great player who led by example. Another
very good player was cornerback Ged Whittington. On offense I was very fortunate to have
Hazen Choates as our quarterback. He could scamble, throw, and he was very enthusiastic.
He was a winner. He was just out of college, and although his college coaches had trouble
controlling him, he and I developed a great working relationship. That first year, Hazen
played nearly every down of every game, and I played every down of any game that was
close, which most of them were because we could not physically overpower anyone and so we
had to just out-finess, out-smart, and try to out-prepare everyone else. Hazen played at
Quarterback and Cornerback, and I played at Wide Receiver and Free Safety. Hazen would do
anything he had to do to win, and he is one of the greatest winners I have ever played
We also had a young running back, Paul Bailey, who turned into a great one that year. He
was so smart that he absorbed everything and he improved every day. He also worked so hard
and kept himself in such great physical shape that he could carry the ball 30-35 times a
game and get stronger with each carry. In addition, he was great coming out of the
backfield to catch the ball. The great attitude of our offensive linemen was also very
key. A Championship team needs to have tough offensive linemen, and we had some of the
very toughest in Center Cameron Dundas, Right Guard Trevor Wooley, Left Guard Mike Smith,
Right Tackle Steve Jones, and Left Tackle Mike Jobson. Tight end Steve Casey had this same
toughness and mental attitude, and they all came to play. That first year, because I
inherited the team and had no off-season with them to put in the weight training, they did
not have much strength, but they learned every blocking technique I taught them, and they
out-finessed and out-hustled everyone. By the next year in 1989, they not only had the
skills and toughness, but with an off-season weight training program, they were also very
We started out that 1988 year with a game against Fylde at Preston North End. Fylde had
beaten the Spartans by 60 points in the last game the year before I arrived. I dressed-out
but I did not know if I would play because I did not know if my knee would hold up, and
also because during the week I always only coached, and never practiced as a player. I was
always a coach first. Then, in the middle of the first quarter we were losing and my
competitive instinct took over, and before I knew it I was on the field. I caught three
long touchdown passes from Hazen in the 2nd Quarter, and intercepted Bo Hickey twice, and
we went on to win. This win brought belief to our players, and we just kept working. Win
after win followed. In truth, we were often not the best team on the field in many games,
but our Spartan players believed that they were best and so we always found a way to pull
out the win.
Onto 1989, and the first British title for you and the
Spartans. What do you remember from that season, and tell us about some of the crucial
matches on the way to the title?
We were coming off of a 14-0 season the year before and so our players believed that they
could win. On top of this, I had implemented a tough weight training program in the
off-season, which our players had been very dedicated to, and so our players were very
strong going into the 1989 season. In 1988, we had to out-finesse and try to out-smart
everyone. In 1989, we could still out-finesse them with a lot of different offensive and
defensive schemes, but because of the strength we had gained in the weight room in the
off-season, we could also power right at them and run the football with power. I was also
very fortunate to have Steve Moon, a British native, as my offensive line coach. He was an
outstanding offensive line coach. I still did all the game-planning, and throughout my
career, even with the Great Britain team, I always called every offensive play, defensive
call, and special teams play, but with Steve I had someone who could take the offensive
linemen and work with them in drills everyday. This made us a much better football team
because the offensive line is so crucial to success. Steve was very crucial to our
We had a couple of tough games early in the season. Against Glasgow in the second game, I
got a serious concussion as a wide receiver and I did not know where I was for 15 minutes.
This is a big risk that a Head Coach takes when he also plays. However, Steve held us in
there close and the players played hard, and I eventually realized where I was again late
in the 4th quarter and we drove down the field and scored with a couple of minutes left to
Another tough game was against Fylde in the 5th game of the season. I had caught a
touchdown pass early on in the game, but then I tore my knee up, tearing knee ligaments
and breaking the top of my fibula. This was the same knee that had been injured with the
Patriots, an injury that had ended my NFL career. This time, I had torn off the top of my
fibula and the lateral knee ligament and hamstring muscle were attached to this broken-off
piece. Everytime my hamstring muscle flexed, it pulled this piece of bone with my knee
ligament farther up through my leg. I stayed and coached until halftime, but we were
losing. The ambulance then came to take me, but I made the ambulance wait until after I
had talked to the team. They put me on a stretcher and wheeled me to the ambulance to take
me to the hospital, where I eventually had metal rods drilled and put into my leg to hold
it all together. As I went, every one of the players came by me while I was on the
stretcher, and even players like all-time tough guy Nigel Dias had tears in their eyes.
While I was in the emergency room, the players performed incredibly on the field, and
Steve Moon did a great job, and we came back to win by several touchdowns as the Spartans
just crushed Fylde in the second half. Later, people referred to this story very much like
the old Notre Dame story of winning one for the Gipper.
We went on to extend our record Regular Season win streak to 23 straight wins, before
Birmingham defeated us in the final regular season game in a real offensive shoot-out that
set League records for offense by both teams.
The play-offs began and I got out of the leg cast, and although there was still a big gap
between the two pieces of bone, held together by only the metal rods, I went ahead and
played as soon as the cast was taken off.
Although we had won our Division, we ended up with the toughest road through the play-offs
because of some unusual seeding rules the League had. So, we had to play the London Ravens
in the Quarter-Final and the London Olympians in the Semi-Final. The Ravens were led by
Running Back Victor Ebubedike, and he was an amazing football player. However, we battled
hard, we intercepted a few passes, including two by myself, and Paul Bailey and Hazen
Choates played great as always. We ended up winning by a large margin.
In the Semi-Final, the Olympians were a great and very physical team also. However, we had
worked so hard in the weight room that we were just as strong, and we were better prepared
on the field. We led 21-0 at the half and won by a few touchdowns.
In the Final, our two years of very hard work put us on the NFL and National stage, and
allowed us the opportunity to prove to everyone that if you work harder than everyone
else, then you will be rewarded for your efforts. I always preached to our players on
those very long practice nights for two years that the Championship would be decided in
the last two minutes of the Championship Game, and that it would be won by something that
a player learned late one night in a practice when normal teams would have already gone
home. Sure enough, it was a very tough game, but our Spartans players refused to be denied
in those final minutes, despite the tremendous Birmingham Running Back Trevor Carthy, and
we won 21-14 to bring the first-ever National Championship to the North of England. Our
Running Back Paul Bailey was as good in that game as any NFL Running Back could ever be.
He rushed more than 40 times for 245 yards. It was an incredible feeling to win and to
have all that hard work pay off. As Vince Lombardi once said, "The greatest feeling
in the World is to lie totally exhausted on the field of battle after the game is over,
victorious." That is how all of our players felt.
Paul Bailey – best British running back you’ve
I was very fortunate because my National Team Head Coaching position allowed me the
opportunity to work with many of the best Running Backs in the Country. In fact, the three
best ever, in my opinion, were the three that I had on the 1989 National Team, Victor
Ebubedike, Trevor Carthy, and Paul Bailey. I later coached Victor for many years in the
European League, and he was a phenomenal athlete. He was so strong and powerful, but yet
he was also fast. Victor was the best in terms of being a potential NFL player because of
his combination of size and speed, and after our 1989 Great Britain National Team European
Championship, I contacted a friend of mine, Dick Steinberg, who had been the Director Of
Player Personnel with the New England Patriots when I played for the Patriots, and who had
moved that year to become the General Manager of the New York Jets. I told Mr. Steinberg
about how great I thought Victor was, and so Mr. Steinberg flew Victor over to New York,
sight unseen and based only on my recommendation, and signed him to a playing contract.
Victor came close to making it, and then went on to star in NFL Europe and with my
European League team for many years afterwards. Victor was also an amazing defensive
player and special teams player. I was crazy about Victor, and if he had been born in the
U.S., then he definitely would have played in the NFL.
Trevor Carthy was a different type of Running Back than Victor. Trevor was unbelievably
fast, quick, and elusive. Yet, he was strong at the same time. Trevor could find a tiny
seam in the line and then break it the length of the field, out-running everyone. He was
so dangerous because he could break a long touchdown run at any time, and therefore he put
tremendous pressure on the defense. The only chance that any team had to stop him was to
make him work and hope he got tired. He was so explosive and had such fast-twitch muscles
that eventually he would become expended physically and sit out for a few plays. This was
the only chance that a team had, to try to take advantage of the time he was out for a few
plays. If he would have carried the football 30-40 times a game like Paul Bailey did with
me, then I am not sure that any team could have ever beaten him. One time against us,
Trevor carried the ball only seven times, but he gained more than 200 yards on those seven
carries. He was unbelievable to watch. With the National Team, I had Victor at fullback
scoring many touchdowns, and Trevor at tailback scoring many touchdowns, and Paul Bailey
moving all around to many positions. That was definitely the best British Backfield ever.
Paul Bailey, in contrast, was Mr. Everything for us. He was fast and strong, although he
was smaller than Victor and Trevor, and he was in incredible physical shape so that he
would never get tired and he would run and run until he eventually wore the other team's
players down. He got stronger as the game went on, like all the great NFL Running Backs
do. He was also a great pass receiver out of the backfield, and so anything I could dream
up offensively, Paul was able to execute to perfection. He was a fantastic competitor and
a real winner. In addition, he was incredibly smart. We ran a very complicated offense,
and he was so smart that he never, ever made a mental mistake. Also, he understood that in
order to have a ball-control running game that every single inch on every single carry of
the football was all-important. Paul was totally unique with his understanding of this
fact. As a result, Paul would dive, squeeze, or slash in any way that he could, putting
his body into any type of position in order to get that football a little bit of extra
distance. He never went down by being knocked back. Instead, when he knew he was cornered,
then he would do anything to get forward, including diving forward at knee-high height,
where no defender could get a direct hit on him, and this would give him that extra yard
and make all the difference in our offense.
The 1989 Budweiser Bowl National Championship game between us and the Birmingham Bulls was
the epitome of Paul Bailey perfection. He put on a clinic that day. Every football Running
Back, even those in the NFL today, would benefit by watching a video of Paul that day in
the Budweiser Bowl. He was absolutely unbelievable that day. It is still the best total
game performance that I have ever seen a Running Back make in any football game at any
level. He carried more than 40 times and gained 245 yards rushing, all of them tough
yards, and he was named the Most Valuable Player of the Game, which he definitely
It is a real shame that the World League came along in 1991 and ignored Paul. I had been
coaching him since he was only 17 years old, and in 1991 he was only 21 years old. Some of
the other players that NFL Europe chose were older and had been big names for a long time.
However, Paul really deserved the opportunity. He was the hardest-working player in the
League, and if he had gone to the World League that year then he would have just gotten
better and better, and who knows how far he would have gone. When he was not chosen, his
spirit was broken, and then he went to play for Birmingham and led them to the 1991
Championship. During that season away from me, he changed and he got into some trouble. He
never played again after that. When the World League did not choose him, he just became
disillusioned and unfortunately he gave up hope. Since he had gone to Birmingham, then I
was not there to see him and to help him. It is a real shame because he is a phenomenal
young man and an unbelievable football player. This makes me sadder than anything else
because I was so close to him and I cared so much about him.
What brought about you taking over the GB Lions squad
for the 1989 European Championship finals?
My first year with the Spartans in 1988, I took over the team when it had won only two
games the previous year before I arrived, and my first year we went undefeated, 14-0,
which is still the British single season record. At the end of that season I was selected
as the Coach of The Year, and Lance Cone, the Chairman of BAFA, football's governing body
in Great Britain, approached me about being the Great Britain Team Head Coach. My good
friend, Nick Halling, who has since gone on to become a great television play-by-play
broadcaster, and who was the Editor of American Football News at the time, was nice enough
to invite me to stay at his house one weekend in Southampton, and he helped to convince me
to take the position. Lance Cone met with me in London, and we talked about our combined
aspirations and dreams for the team's success, and he offered me the position. I knew that
it would be a huge task coaching two teams, the Manchester Spartans and the Great Britain
National Team, at the same time, especially since I was still playing as a Player/Head
Coach with the Spartans, but I loved British American Football and so I wanted to try to
help Great Britain to European success. I also was proud to represent Great Britain as a
Coach, just like the Players are proud to represent their Country as Players, and I
enjoyed the great challenge.
What brought about you leaving the team shortly
The European Championships are played only once every two years. In addition, since my
team became the European Champions, the first British team to ever win this Championship,
then as Champions we were given the Number 1 seed going into the Final Four for the
Championships two years in the future. Therefore, by us being seeded directly into the
Final Four, we had no qualifying games to play during the two year period leading up to
the next Championships, and so there were no games for us to play for another two years.
Coaching two teams at the same time, the Spartans and Great Britain, and playing at the
same time, had been a huge task that had stretched me to the limit. As a result, after we
won the European Championship that year, I never even considered anything two years into
the future. Instead, I just focused and concentrated on my Spartans team, and during this
time my Spartans won two Great Britain Championships and became the first British Team to
win the European Championship for a Club when we won the 1990 EuroBowl in Italy. In
addition, the National Team stopped playing altogether after 1991, and with my Spartans
team playing in the European League as the Great Britain Spartans for several years, then
because the majority of the best players in the Country played for us, then people
actually considered the Spartans to be the acting National Team.
Do you agree with your critics that you
"poached" the best talent in the league to build your 1990 Spartans team?
It is very true that a number of very good players joined our 1990 Spartans team from
other teams. Some of these were players who played for me with the Great Britain National
Team. However, such a situation can be expected after the great relationship that I had as
the Great Britain Head Coach with the Great Britain players. In 1989, when we went to
Hamburg, Germany, as the extreme underdog, and then went on to outscore our three
opponents France, Germany, and Finland by a combined score of 99-12 during the European
competition to win Britain's first-ever European Championship, all the players, along with
myself, formed a bond between us that was very special.
During that Hamburg trip, we had stayed together for two weeks in a hostel out in the
Country, the players had slept 6 to a room, we had shunned the arranged practice fields in
order to get privacy and instead we had practiced at a level area of a park next to a lake
down at the end of the road where we had walked to practice, we had eaten all of our meals
together, and we had no distractions as we spent the entire two weeks together. As a
result of this closeness, and also as a result of our great success together, we became
like a close-knit family. I grew to love all of my players, and I think that they felt
close to me also. Therefore, it was only natural that I wanted to continue to coach them
the next year, and that they wanted to continue to play with each other and with me as
their coach. Also, my Spartans team was the defending Great Britain Champion from 1989,
and so we qualified as Britain's team to play in the EuroBowl in 1990. Great players
always want to compete at the highest level and against the best opponents, and so once
again it was only natural that many players would want to join the Spartans and get
another taste of European competition in 1990.
There is no question that these players were excellent players, and that some of them had
great seasons and helped us to repeat as Great Britain Champions and as EuroBowl
Champions. However, the facts are that before these new players came to us, in 1988 we had
gone 14-0 without these new players, and in 1989 we had lost only 1 game, extending our
regular season winning streak to 23 straight wins without these players, and we had won
two Conference Championships and one Great Britain Championship without these new players.
Also, the major core of the 1989 Great Britain Team that won the European Championship was
made up of my Spartans players. Nine of the Great Britain Team starters in 1989 were
Spartans players from 1988 and 1989, and so this shows that the veteran Spartans were
really great players on their own.
In addition, my old players from the 1988 and 1989 seasons still remained the leaders of
the 1990 Spartans team after the new players arrived. We had some great players join us
from other teams, but the other teams had never created in their players the discipline
and very hard work ethic that we had created at the Spartans within our players. We had
been overachievers at the Spartans, and we had won 23 out of 24 regular season games, 2
Conference Championships, and 1 Great Britain Championship by outworking every other team,
and by out-preparing every other team. The discipline and great work ethic this created in
the Spartans players over a two year period was unmatched by any other team in Britain,
possibly before or even since. Therefore, when the new players arrived from other teams,
the new players had to learn how hard we worked at the Spartans, and it was the old
veteran players who led by example, and who led the team along the path to success. Some
of the new players were more talented than some of my old players, but my old players knew
what it took to win and they were overachievers who knew how to win.
In summary, then, both the new players and the old players were crucial and invaluable to
our success in the 1990 EuroBowl. It was my great pleasure to be blessed with the
opportunity to coach all of these players, and to this day I still remember every one of
them with great fondness, and I hold them all of them close to my heart. Working very hard
together in practices day after day and year after year, playing together in very tough,
physical games, and winning Championships together, creates a closeness among men and
teammates that all of us will cherish forever. I used to always tell them that we will
have some great stories to tell our Grandchildren, and as the years have passed I am still
certain that we will.
1990 brought you a stunning year, as the Spartans
defended their title, and also clinched the EuroBowl title – it couldn’t have
got much better could it?
It was a very special time because it was the culmination of three years of very hard
every day work from 1988, 1989, and 1990. The 1990 EuroBowl is one of my favorite and
greatest sporting memories. We had to overcome a lot of hardship to win that EuroBowl
because we had to play 17 games in 16 weeks that season. Our players never got any days
off because when other League teams had open dates, we had to play a European qualifying
game against Ireland, a European Quarter-Final versus Amsterdam, a Semi-Final against
Berlin, and then the Final against Italy. This was a very tough stretch of games, and it
pushed our players to their maximum test physically, mentally, and emotionally.
We had to play League teams who were more rested than we were all season long, we had no
open dates to prepare for European games, and then we had to drive to Glasgow for the
Great Britain Semi-Final, and then leave after the game and drive to Italy on a 40 hour
bus trip to Rimini, Italy, where we all slept on the bus and many of the players' ankles
swelled up to three times their normal size because they were seated so long.
In the meantime, the German and Italian teams had been allowed six weeks off without any
of their own League games in order to prepare for the European Final Four. We got to
Rimini late on Tuesday night, and we only had two days before we had to play Berlin. Then,
after beating Berlin, we only had one day off before we had to play Italy in the Final in
their home country. Then, after beating Italy to win the European Championship, the next
morning we had to get back on the bus and drive 36 hours back to Manchester, sleeping on
the bus again, and we only had two days before we had to drive by bus to London to play
Northampton in the Great Britain Final.
Once again, Northampton had been resting for two weeks and preparing only for us, we were
very tired from all the travelling, we had little time to prepare for the game
strategically, I had my Spartans team out practicing in the London hotel parking lot until
1 a.m. the night before the game in order to get prepared with my game plan, and then on
game day the temperatures set all-time British historical records with the temperature
reaching 100 degrees and the Crystal Palace game field being as dry and hard as it has
Despite this, we defeated Northampton also, and so we won the European and the Great
Britain Championships in the same week. My Spartans players that year were the absolute
toughest group of men that I have ever had the opportunity to play with or coach. The
obstacles that they overcame to win those Championships are obstacles that even NFL teams
and players would find excuses for to cause them to lose. The Spartans players, though,
never complained or tried to make excuses. Instead, they just concentrated on winning, and
they just won.
In the European Final, we were leading by two touchdowns, and we drove the ball down the
field to try to put the game away. With 5 minutes left in the game, the incomparable Paul
Bailey scored from the 5 yard-line to put us up by 3 touchdowns. The second he crossed the
goalline I knew that the game was over and that we had won, and at that split second my
legs just gave out on me and without realizing it I had hit my knees for a second before I
immediately stood back up. I still always remember that moment when I collapsed for a
second, and the only thing I can think caused it is that at that split second when Paul
crossed the goalline then my subconscious realized that our three years of extremely hard
work and complete dedication to our Championship dreams had ended in victory and I just
collapsed from exhaustion. I will never forget that moment when all of our work and
dedication and effort was rewarded with the fulfillment of our dreams.
In order to achieve great success at anything in Life, the only way is to outwork everyone
else you are competing against. However, even if you do this, most of the time in Life, a
person can work as hard as he possibly can but he still is not fortunate enough to reach
complete success. On such occasions, the person just has to pick himself back up and
launch himself again in the direction of his dreams. Sometimes, though, very rarely, if we
keep sticking to our task and we never give up on our dreams no matter what obstacles we
are faced with, then just like on this occasion, God smiles down on us and He directs our
paths and rewards us by fulfilling our dreams. This was one of those very rare occasions
that all of us at the Spartans who shared that experience were fortunate enough to be
involved in something very special that we will remember forever.
1990 also saw you at loggerheads with BAFA as they
failed to help the team with EuroBowl costs and also tried to force the Spartans out of
the playoffs. Do you think they had a vendetta against you?
No, I do not think that they had a vendetta against me. The reality is that I was not
always the easiest guy to deal with. I was so focused on our goals of winning games and
winning Championships, that I had a very one-track mind. I have always been extremely
competitive, and so when people around the League did things that created obstacles for us
then I too often was willing to burn bridges with them because I felt like I could win
games and Championships no matter how many people were against us. I would just think,
fine then, go ahead and join the competition and we will beat you too. For the most part,
we pretty much did beat everyone, winning 56 games and only losing 2 games over those
three years, and winning 7 Championships in 3 years, including 3 Conference Championships,
2 Great Britain Championships, and 2 European Championships.
In the space of one 364-day period, so one day less than a full year, we won 2 Great
Britain Championship, the European Championhip with the Great Britain Team, and the
European Championship with the Spartans in the EuroBowl. That was a pretty amazing year.
This did not make me popular either because in a lot of countries, especially in Britain,
many people cheer against individuals and against teams that always win. Therefore, by
winning all the time, we became the team, and I became the individual, that most everyone
else rooted against because it is human nature to root for the underdog.
That year, I also had problems with the League because I took action because my players
had to play 17 games in 16 weeks, 19 games altogether for the season. I did not think that
this was safe for our players, and I thought that our League should give us 1 or 2 open
dates, just like all the other League teams had 2 open dates in only a 10 game schedule,
for the safety of our players.
I also knew that it would be nearly impossible to win the European Championship at the end
of the year when our players would be so tired from such a long season with 1 game per
week for 19 games. Even the NFL teams and NFL players do not play the entire season
without an open date, and we not only had no open date, but one week we had to play 2
games in one week. The League did nothing to help us, and this ended up coming to a head
at one point.
There is no question that I was right regarding the safety of my players, and regarding
the point that the British League should be trying to help their British Team to be
successful in Europe by not totally wearing them out. However, I was so focused on winning
the European Championship that I am sure that I got some people angry at me.
We won the Great Britain and European Championship again through all of this conflict, and
that made people even angrier because no British team had ever even come close to winning
the EuroBowl before. So, there was a lot of jealousy against us, but in reality my
single-mindedness probably caused most of the conflict.
It was funny, though, because although the British League refused to help my Spartans
players to be healthy and made it harder for us to win, in subsequent years when the
London Olympians played in the EuroBowl, the British League would rearrange the entire
League scheule in order to give the Olympians less League games and give them a couple of
open dates in order for them to keep their players safe and to help them to prepare for
European games. Therefore, the League actually eventually decided that my position on this
issue was right, and so it is a shame that there was so much conflict against us at that
In the end, though, we went on to overcome the obstacles that the British League put in
front of us, and we won all the Championships anyway, and so our victories were probably
that much sweeter anyway because of the pride that we could take in overcoming all the
normal obstacles plus all the unnecessary added ones placed in our way.
However, in summary, I take the majority of the blame for any conflicts that I had during
those years with League administration. My complete single-mindedness to win football
games caused me to not be as easy to get along with as I could have been. However, at the
same time, I cannot be too hard on my single-minded characteristic, because that is
exactly what caused me to be so successful during those years. Therefore, I think that it
just goes to show that when a person has one very dominant personality characteristic,
then it causes some great things to happen because of the benefits of having that
characteristic, but it also causes some problems too because of the detriments of having
that characteristic. So, I could have been more easy-going, but if I had been, then we
would not have been such overachievers, we would not have won all those very close games,
and we would not have gone 56 - 2 over three years. So, I guess I will just have to accept
the bad with the good, but at the same time I still would like to apologize now to anyone
who I crossed swords with unnecessarily. I am sorry about that.
Tell us about the 1990 Eurobowl adventure
It was a very exciting time. The travel to play the various countries was something that
made the competition even more special. We began by playing Dublin in Ireland, and they
are always a tough team because they put in so much effort. We fell behind early, but then
Hazen threw a long touchdown to me, and then he ran for a long touchdown, and we ended
winning by a couple of touchdowns. Ireland is such a beautiful country, and we really
enjoyed our trip. We travelled by boat across the Irish Sea and we will always remember
In the Quarter-Final we had to play Amsterdam, and no British team had ever beaten
Amsterdam before, with a few British teams having been knocked out of the competition in
the previous several years by Amsterdam. Therefore, we had to overcome this psychological
advantage that Amsterdam had. We actually practiced for seven straight hours on the day
before the game in order to get ready. I rotated the offense, defense, and special teams
onto the practice field throughout those seven hours in order to let players rest some and
get something to eat, but because I coached everything, then I stayed on the field for
those entire seven straight hours. I did not even stop for a drink of water or anything.
I probably over did it, but we were so detailed in our game plans, and I believed in
covering every tiny detail in everything because a coach has to understand that every
detail not covered could ultimately be the difference in who wins and who loses. I was a
fanatic about every detail, and that is probably one reason why we won so many games, and
why we won so many close games.
For the players to practice for seven hours also shows how dedicated they were, and how
badly they wanted to win. In the current pro sports environment, even NFL players making
hundreds of thousands of dollars per game would not be willing to practice so hard and so
long. That is why I feel like my Spartans players of those years were the best athletes
that I have ever seen.
Against Amsterdam, the preparation paid off, and we put together a beautiful touchdown
drive on our first possession, and then we continued to extend our lead to two touchdowns.
Ansterdam was tough, though, and they started shutting us down, and putting some scores
together of their own. In the 2nd half, we found ourselves behind, and so we had to put
together a touchdown drive if we were going to win.
Offensively, the game came down to two plays. We faced a 3rd Down and Goal from their 10
yard-line, and I ran a slant route right at the goal line. The defender was all over me
and Hazen threw it the only place he could, which was low and to the inside. Somehow I
dove and caught it right off the ground, and the referee marked it on the one foot line.
So, we faced 4th and Goal to win or lose the game. I decided to give the ball to our
amazing tailback, Paul Bailey, running over our left side behind left guard Mike Smith,
and left tackle Mike Jobson. As it turned out, Mike Smith made the block that won us the
game because the Amsterdam middle linebacker blitzed around from the opposite side of the
formation, and he most likely would have made the play except that Mike blocked his
defensive tackle so well that the tackle got knocked back and screened off the linebacker.
Paul Bailey dove into the end zone, and we took the lead. Amsterdam had one more shot at
it, but we played great pass defense, and Errol Taylor, our excellent cornerback,
intercepted his second pass of the game to give us the win.
In the Final Four, we travelled to Rimini, Italy, spending two days on a bus to get there,
and actually sleeping on the bus. We played Berlin in the Semi-Final, and while we had
played our British League Semi-Final in Scotland only a few days before, the German League
had given their teams a 6-week mid-season break that allowed Berlin to rest and prepare
for six weeks only to play us.
Despite Berlin's advantage, we were reaching our peak as a team right at the perfect
moment, and we were nearly unstoppable. With Hazen, Paul Bailey, and Allan Brown leading
the way on offense, and with our great defensive lineman Roy Harris from the University of
Florida and the Atlanta Falcons playing tremendous on defense, we jumped out to a very big
lead. However, in the Second Half our fatigue and Berlin's freshness began to become a
factor, and Berlin came back at us. They scored with less than a minute left to close
within a couple of points, and then they executed an illegal onside kick that the referee
allowed them to get away with. So, our players had to reach down and find that little bit
extra to make one more defensive stand, and we won the game, putting us into the European
Final against the Home team from Italy who had won their Semi-Final easily.
Despite our two-day trip to Italy, and our very tiring battle against Berlin, we then were
faced with another obstacle to overcome because there were only two days between our
Semi-Final and Final, giving very little time for our players to recover physically.
However, our players were unbelievable competitors. One player that stands out in my mind
from that trip was our Fullback Clifton Mitchell. People will remember Clifton for not
only being an outstanding football player, but he also was a great Professional
Heavyweight Boxer. He stood 6' 4" and weighed 245 pounds, and he could really run.
One time, he fought for the British Pro Heavyweight Boxing Title. He was that good. He had
broken his leg very severely in our first regular season game only 2 1/2 months before,
and he had metal rods put into his leg. This meant that he did not play all season, but
then he came back to try to play this week in the European Championships. Clifton was so
tough that he was playing despite the fact that the scar on his leg where the surgery was
done would not heal. It kept bleeding and staying open. However, he played on through
this. No one could figure out why it would not heal, and then one day before the European
Final a metal screw came out of the cut in his leg. Somehow in the surgery, it must have
gotten left in there by mistake, and that was why it would not heal. Clifton played on
anyway, and he scored a touchdown in both the Semi-Final and the Final. He was
In the European Final against Italy, I still remember the Italian team coming out in
warm-ups and putting on a show as an effort to intimidate our players. They were a very
impressive-looking group of athletes, and their uniforms were identical to the Oakland
Raiders with their silver and black. I saw our players looking at them with an expression
in their eyes that I had not seen them show before, and so I realized that the Italians'
intimidating show was working on some of our players. So, I called all of my players
together while the Italian Team was still putting on their show, and I gave my players a
short talk where I joked about the Italian Team looking silly in their fake Raider
uniforms. I wanted to psychologically turn around my players from seeing physical
intimidation comparable to an NFL team, and instead have my players psychologically seeing
the Italian team as a bunch of ridiculous fakes and pretenders.
When the game kicked-off, Italy ran the opening kick-off back for a touchdown. Then,
amazingly, we ran their kick-off after their touchdown return back for a touchdown
ourselves. Our Allan Brown, who is the best kick-off returner that I have ever seen, made
the fantastic run, with perfect blocking. However, the referee called our touchdown back
for a block on the kicker that was very questionable. We did not score after the penalty,
and then Italy scored again to take a 14-0 lead. The big play that turned the game around
for us followed, as our Quarterback Hazen Choates threw a long touchdown pass to Leroy
Innes. This play got us started, and we scored touchdowns on 4 straight possessions to
take over the game.
In the 4th Quarter, we led by two touchdowns, and so we needed to put together a
time-consuming drive in order to make the clock become a factor. Therefore, we stuck to
the ground, with Hazen keeping the ball time after time on the option, and with hand-offs
to Paul Bailey. Hazen was tremendous on this drive. We had not run the option very much
all season because we had not needed to, so Italy was not prepared for it, and therefore
we caught them at just the right time when we needed to.
We used up seven minutes on the clock during this drive, and with five minutes left, Paul
Bailey took the hand-off and scored to put us up by an unreachable amount of three
touchdowns. It was at that moment, when victory was certain, that as I have previously
described, my legs gave out as the referee signaled the touchdown. Three years of very
hard work had paid off with Britain's first-ever EuroBowl Championship.
The trophy ceremony was fantastic, with the European President presenting the European
Championship trophy to me, and with Hazen being given the game's MVP trophy, which he very
much deserved. All of our players received their European Champion medals. There were lots
of NFL people there, and I was very happy for my players because on that night they really
were the Football Kings of Europe, and they deserved it so much because they had worked so
hard every day for three years in order to obtain it.
We were very tired that night, but we did our best to celebrate a little bit. However, our
mind was really still on football because we had one huge game left to play at Crystal
Palace in London. Early the next morning, we were back on our bus for the 2-day drive back
to Manchester, knowing that in only five days we had to play in London for the Coca-Cola
Bowl Great Britain Championship against a Northampton team that had been resting and
preparing for only us during the previous two weeks.
Why did you stand down as head coach of the Spartans
after the 1990 Coke Bowl triumph? Was your replacement Nigel Dias already on your coaching
I retired because all of us at the Spartans felt like we had done everything that we could
possibly do. We felt like we had achieved everything that it was possible for us to
achieve. At that point, in three years we had won more than 50 games and only lost 2
games, we had won 3 Conference Championships, set the all-time record with a 14-0 season,
finished with the best record in the League 3 straight seasons, won the Budweiser Bowl and
the Coca-Cola Bowl to win the Great Britain Championship twice, won the European
Championship with the Great Britain National Team, and won the European Championship for
individual teams with the Spartans. There was really nothing left for us to aim for. After
the Coke Bowl win, in the previous 364 days, so one day less than a full year, we had won
two Great Britain Championships, a European Championship with the National Team, and a
European Championship with the Spartans. That was an unbelievable 12 months.
For us to achieve all of these things, it had taken tremendous amounts of sacrifice,
dedication, and commitment by myself and by all of our players. We had taken the worst
team in the British League in 1987, the year before I came, and made them into the best
team in Europe in 1990.
At the end of the season, I wrote a very long letter to each of my players individually.
The letter spoke about how in life there is a time for everything. In the years 1988,
1989, and 1990, it was a time to commit and dedicate ourselves completely to the Spartans
and British American Football, and to work to become the very best team and best players
that we could possibly become. Now that we had achieved that goal, it was time for us to
move on in our lives to the next step. This step could be any number of things, and the
step would be individual and unique to each player. For example, some players may choose
to begin spending more time with their children. Others may choose to settle down to get
married. Still others may have the opportunity to further their careers away from football
and will look for achievement and financial success there. In addition, there were some
who wanted to move forward with their American Football playing careers in a way that
allowed them to face new challenges.
The amount of time, effort, and commitment that it had taken by all of our players and
myself to get to the European Championship goals we had set three years before, had caused
all of us to set most everything else in our lives aside because we had chosen to spend
our time on football.
In the letter, I thanked all of my players for everything that they had given to the
Spartans and to American Football, and I thanked them for everything that they had given
to me. I was blessed with the opportunity of knowing and coaching each one of them. It was
now time for them to move on with their lives in the direction that their hearts would
take them, and hopefully the successes they had achieved with the Spartans as a result of
learning that success comes from working harder than anyone else, would help them to
achieve even greater successes and greater achievements outside of football.
Personally, I had intended to move back to the U.S. to further my coaching career.
However, although I was offered several jobs coaching back in the U.S., as well as some
throughout other European countries, I chose to come back to the Spartans because I
thought it was best for my young daughter, and best for the Spartans. I also came back for
the 1991 season because up until then I had done all the coaching myself, and I wanted to
spend a season teaching some of my best players, like Defensive Captain Nigel Dias and
Steve Marsh, both of whom had excellent coaching potential, how to become great coaches.
Therefore, I appointed Nigel as the Head Coach and Steve as the Offensive Coordinator. All
that I did was play that season, and off the playing field I spent my time passing over
the Spartans playbook and coaching knowledge to Nigel and Steve, as well as to a complete
staff of Spartan assistant coaches.
During that season, a new European League was formed, and since the Spartans were the 1990
European Champions, then I was asked by this European League to have my Spartans team join
it as a Founding Member, and for the Spartans to be the sole British Representative team
in the League. I signed the Spartans in as a Founding Member in October of 1991, and
because this European opportunity offered me a new challenge to aim for, then I continued
to stay with the Spartans after 1991, and I went back to being the Head Coach in 1992.
What was the most satisfying win in your career?
That is a very tough question because every game at the time seemed as big and as
important as every other game. However, to make an attempt, as a player I would have to
pick our 1988 game against the Thames Valley Chargers. We were 4-0 going into the game,
but we were still developing as a team. It was a special game for me because Thames Valley
was led by their quarterback Rally Caparas. Rally was a fantastic athlete who I had played
with in college at Furman University, where we had been friends. The game was a
hard-fought battle, and as such I played every play both offensively and defensively
throughout the game. Offensively, I caught 7 passes for 180 yards and touchdowns of 73
yards and 20 yards, and defensively I had 2 pass interceptions of Rally, and I had 15
tackles, and 1 punt block. However, we found ourselves behind 19-14 with only a few
minutes left in the game.
The game was not special because of my receiving or defensive statistics, because I had
better statistics in other games that season and in other seasons. However, what made it
so special to my memory is that I was so tired that after every tackle or catch I had to
literally drag myself up off of the ground and somehow find a way back to the huddle for
the next play. If there had been intravenous medical care back then, I am certain that the
doctor would have required that I get an IV on the sideline. I was more tired and fatigued
than I have ever been in any game in my life.
With one minute left, we stopped the Chargers and forced them to punt from near midfield.
If they pinned us back with a punt, then we would have very little hope to drive 90 yards
in less than a minute. So, I lined up on the line and somehow got through to block the
punt, and we recovered at midfield. We had one last chance to win, but very little time to
do it. Our first three passes were incomplete, and so we were down to one final play on
4th Down and 10. I went into the huddle and called our 92 pass play, which calls for our
wide receivers to run stop-and-go routes where we fake a stop (hitch) route, the
quarterback pump fakes a throw to try to draw the corner up, and then the wide receiver
breaks deep on a fly route. I somehow dragged myself out to my wide receiver position on
the left, and the Chargers had put their Great Britain National Team player Andy Harwood
over to cover me since he was their best cornerback. The reason that this game is so
special to me is because of that exact moment. I was so tired that I did not believe that
I could run another route, much less a fly route deep with speed. At that moment, I was
tested to my absolute limit physically, mentally, and emotionally. Somehow, in that moment
I decided to, and made myself, give one last supreme effort. I took three steps and faked
the stop route, and then I exploded with everything that I had with my head down for one
final sprint. I had gotten a step ahead of Andy, and many yards downfield, when I looked
up for the ball, I saw that Hazen had thrown it very far ahead of me and well to my
outside near the sideline. I sprinted as hard as I could for the ball, and then laid out
with a dive, stretching as far as I could reach. I could just get my fingertips onto the
end of the ball, but somehow I was able to pull it in as I hit the ground very hard just
inches in bounds, and sliding out of bounds 43 yards downfield at the Chargers 7
yard-line. I was so tired that I had to be helped up off of the ground. The next play,
Hazen scrambled in for the winning touchdown, and we won the game. We went to 5-0 on the
season, on our way to the all-time British record of 14-0 that season. After the game, I
had to get medical attention.
The reason that game is so special to me is because I was faced with the ultimate football
moment of being stretched to my absolute limit physically, mentally, and emotionally, but
somehow I was able to overcome that moment and defeat it. That is something that I am
proud of within myself. It was also an example to me of a very valuable lesson, because on
that last pass play I only made that catch by the narrowest and smallest amount possible,
barely on my fingertips and only inches in bounds. This is a lesson because I gave every
bit of possible effort that I could give on that play and we were only successful on it by
the narrowest of margins. Therefore, anything less than 100% effort, even 99% effort,
would have not been enough. That is something that a coach has to teach and get across to
his players in order to mold them into a Championship Team, because Championship Teams
have to be able to give 100% effort on each and every play in every game all season. That
day, I had been blessed with the opportunity to learn this lesson in a very real way, and
I have carried that memory with me ever since.
From a coaching standpoint, there were a lot of very special moments. However, winning
Championships are what we play and coach this game for, and Championship games are when
all the excitement and all the hard work come together into one ultimate effort. In
addition, the harder that you have to work in order to win something, the greater value
that you place on it when you achieve it. Being an underdog in a Championship Game makes
winning that Championship Game even more special, because that means that you have had to
work even harder to achieve that success because on paper you might not look to be as good
of a team as your opponents.
At the start of every season, I used to tell my players in a meeting that a Championship
Trophy is worthless without all the hard work that is necessary in order to achieve it.
Iwould say that if someone handed us a Championship Trophy at the start of a season
without us earning it, then it would be nothing more than a hunk of worthless metal. What
makes a Championship Trophy very special is what it symbolizes in the way of hard work,
sweat, dedication, commitment, physical and mental effort, guts, teamwork, love, passion,
and toughness. A Championship is only as valuable as the amount of work that you have had
to put in to win it.
Therefore, taking all of these factors together, my most satisfying coaching wins would
have to be three of our Championships, the 1989 Budweiser Bowl with the Spartans, the 1989
European Championship with the Great Britain National Team, and the 1990 European
Championship with the Spartans. In all of these, we were playing in huge games, we were
the underdog in all of them and not expected by anyone other than ourselves to win, and we
had to put in a lot of very hard work over a long period of time in order to be the best
team on the field that day. No matter how many years I ever coach, no Championship wins
can ever be more satisfying than those three were, because all three of them required
every ounce of everything that we had to give over a long period of time in order to
Do you believe NDMA qualifications were too stringent
for clubs, and that is why many teams folded?
No, I just think that any sport that is not native to a Country will always go through up
times and down times because most potential fans will never have played the game. The
biggest obstacle for American Football to overcome in Britain has always been the
stoppages inherent to the sport with huddles between plays and referees calling penalties.
In the early days of American Football in Britain, the British television stations showed
highlight versions of NFL games with all the time between plays cut out, and so British
people thought that was the pace the game was played at, and they got used to it. Then,
when they went to an actual game, they saw the game as too slow. British fans had grown up
on soccer and rugby where the ball was in play all of the time, even if not very much was
happening with the ball in terms of scoring.
American football is based so much on strategy. It is like a chess match. Therefore, the
stoppage in play is a necessity in order to huddle up and make a very complicated play
call that all 11 players will be able to understand what they should do in order to
execute it. This level of strategy means that American Football does not fit into the
British fans normal culture of continuous play. On top of this, since the fans did not
grow up with the game, then they do not understand or appreciate all the very detailed
strategic situations and calls. The complexity of the game, and the large number of
referees compared with soccer and rugby, also causes there to be a lot of penalties
called, and once again this causes stoppages of play.
In 1991, when I was a Director for the League, I put together a 12-page proposal to the
League in an effort to speed the game up. My proposal was based upon my belief that
Britain's sports' culture could only withstand one full contact sport, and so only Rugby
League or American Football, but not both, would prosper. For example, in Germany, where
they do not play rugby, American Football is huge and the second biggest sport in the
Country. In contrast, in Britain, American Football competes with both Rugby League and
At that time, Rugby League was not the big sport it is now, but they were travelling to
the U.S. to meet and practice with NFL teams in an effort to incorporate NFL weight
training and NFL tackling methods.
In 1989, I had gone to watch my first Rugby League game, and I was certain that our
British American Football athletes were far superior to the Rugby League athletes. In
1991, I went back and started researching how many plays (tackles) there were in a Rugby
League game compared to an American Football game. They had far more plays, even though
the plays were not as exciting as American Football plays. Rugby League players were even
beginning to wear small shoulder pads and some even had primitive-type football helmets
similar to the ones that U.S. football players wore prior to 1940.
Therefore, I saw Rugby League as our main competitor and threat. I saw Rugby League moving
toward us and becoming more like us, and so I felt like we needed to speed our game up in
order to beat them and in order for us to survive as a major sport.
I knew that Rugby League was the same as American Football had been in the early 20th
Century before the forward pass was invented, and so I knew that our modern game of
American Football was a far more exciting sport than Rugby League. However, Rugby League
had the tradition advantage in British culture and so I saw it as a race between the two
sports to find out who could incorporate the other sport's best features first, and then
that sport would be the survivor and the major sport, while the other sport would fade
So, I put together my 12-page proposal designed to speed up the game of American Football
by shortening the time between plays so that more no-huddle offenses would become
prevalent, thereby reducing stoppage time, and by reducing the number of referees so that
less penalties were called, also reducing stoppage time. I even made a proposal regarding
gloves that offensive linemen had to wear that made it impossible to hold an opponent with
so that penalties and referees could be reduced. I was certain that we had to make these
changes in order to survive, and that if we made them then we would win out and prosper as
a major sport.
I presented my proposal to all the League owners, and I gave them all copies of my
proposal. However, although they thought my ideas were unique and made sense, no other
owner could appreciate what I was saying enough to be willing to make the changes, none of
them saw Rugby League as our competitor, and so they did not agree to my proposal.
In 1992, I actually played my Spartans team against a Halifax Rugby League team in a
testimonial where we played half the game as Rugby League and the other half as American
Football. We absolutely crushed them, scoring 48 points on six possessions in American
Football and being ahead 48-0, and then completely out-hitting them in Rugby League to
only lose 2 tries to 1 try, thereby bringing about a win for our Spartans by a 52-8
Over the next three years, Rugby League continued to move in the direction of American
Football, the Rugby League SuperLeague was formed, and American Football was pushed into a
position where Rugby League had taken over. So, in the end, what I had predicted did
actually take place.
When the Manchester Spartans won the NDMA in 1990, they
earned the right to play in the Eurobowl in 1991. Why did you decline to enter in 1991?
As I have said, we had already achieved everything that we could achieve in the game
during the previous three years. 1991 was a time for our players to move on, and a time
for me to move on as a coach. All of us needed new goals to aim for. I decided for 1991 to
be a year of development where I focused on developing young British coaches to coach the
Spartans, and where I concentrated on developing the sport of American Football in the
England school systems and in the city recreational programs.
Why do you think many clubs folded in the early to mid
This was firstly due to the refusal by our sport to speed our game up as I have previously
Secondly, it was due to the resurgence of Rugby League when the Rugby SuperLeague was
formed in 1994 and the players began training and tackling like pro American Football
players, instead of like the weak non- trained players who tackled low around the legs
like they had been before they incorporated American Football techniques.
Thirdly, soccer had for a long time been a completely hooligan-type sport where only men
went to watch games because it was too dangerous for women and children to attend. In the
1990's, the top Premier League soccer clubs like Manchester United changed their stadiums
because of government regulations following the Hillsborough disaster, thereby making the
big soccer stadiums safer for families to begin attending games in these stadiums.
American Football had always aimed at attracting families to our games by showing how our
sport was safe for families to watch, and how we were fan and family-friendly. Soccer took
this market away from us by improving their stadiums and by taking on NFL marketing
Up through the 1980s, 25% of all NFL merchandise sold anywhere in the World was sold in
Great Britain. On every street, British people could be seen wearing NFL replica jerseys
and caps. American Football merchandise was the main fashion statement in the Country. Up
until then, British soccer teams did not get into this team merchandising very much
because they did not yet appreciate its potential income benefits. However, in the 1990s,
after seeing the NFL's success, the main British soccer teams began marketing their
merchandise like NFL teams had done. The result was that soccer replica jerseys and caps
took the place of NFL merchandise on the British streets, and so American Football lost
ones of its main advertising sources. This soccer merchandise also attracted children who
wore these soccer jerseys, and made them very loyal fans, when previously these youngsters
would have been wearing NFL jerseys and been American Football fans.
All of these factors combined together to cause American Football to lose out to Rugby
League and soccer. This loss can be seen in how the London Monarchs, with all their NFL
Millions of Dollars backing them, went from drawing 60,000 fans in games during the 1991
season, to where they only drew small crowds and went out of business a few years later.
If the NFL could not operate a team in England successfully, then how could people with
fewer financial resources be able to do so.
Is it true that the Helsinki Roosters tried to sign you
as their coach after the 1990 Coke Bowl win? Tempted?
Yes, it is true that they offered me the Head Coaching job. I was tempted to go there
because it would have been a new challenge with new goals. However, I had a very young
daughter who I did not want to be away from during the season, and so I turned the
opportunity down. Strangely, at the Spartans we ended up playing against the Helsinki
Roosters a few years later in the European League, and we beat them 21-20 on a 70-yard
touchdown pass on the last play of the game, on a pass play that was a trick double pass
as time expired.
You must be very proud of being inducted into the Minor
Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994? Was there a ceremony you attended?
Yes, I was very proud and very honored to be selected. There are such great players and
coaches in the Hall of Fame. As the years go by, I appreciate this honor even more because
it is based in the United States and there have only been five people ever chosen in the
International category. Only four of these people were outside of the U.S., one of whom is
from Australia, and the other three are Lance Cone, Kurt Smeby, and myself. Therefore, I
feel very honored to be included in such outstanding company. The ceremony was held in the
United States, and so I was not able to attend it since it was during our season in
Why did you pull the Spartans out of the league after
the 1992 season?
I felt that the only possible future of the game at that time was in a European League.
Also, as I have previously said, we had already achieved everything that we could possibly
achieve, and so we needed new goals to aim for that would test us and challenge us.
The FLE is a forgotten piece of Britball, but games were
well supported and showed on satellite TV? Tell us about that and some of the players who
played for you in those 1994 and 1995 seasons?
It was an outstanding League in 1994, and there is no doubt that the talent level in that
League was extremely high because up to 10 Americans were allowed to play on a team. Some
great players played. Plus, we were able to draw most of the great National team players
from all the countries. Axel Gernert of Hamburg did an outstanding job that year as
Chairman of the League.
Due to the financial difficulties for American Football in Britain at that time, compared
with its popularity in other European countries like Germany, we chose to operate the team
in a way that did not overextend ourselves financially, and so we had far fewer American
star players than other teams had. However, we had some outstanding British players.
Unfortunately, though, in order to get these great British players together, we had to
pull them from all around the country. This made practicing as a full team very difficult,
and so I held separate practice sessions in the North and South of England each week.
Therefore, we did not get to practice often enough, and also I had no opportunity to mold
that team together mentally and psychologically.
Coaching a team is like taking a lump of clay, and every day you touch it and shape it and
refine it until that piece of clay is a beautiful masterpiece that is a part of you, that
thinks like you do, that believes like you do. That is what happened in my three years
with the Spartans when we won so many Championships. However, since I rarely saw my team
now, and never saw them all together except on game day, then the difficulty that I faced
was trying to pull the team into a closely-bonded unit. We played well and we won a lot of
games, but we were never able to create that intangible because of our distance apart.
Most of the players who played for me were players who were new to the Spartans, but some
I had coached on the Great Britain National Team. Victor Ebubedike was tremendous for us.
He had gone to camp with the New York Jets after playing for me with the National Team,
and he starred before and after his years with the Spartans in NFL Europe with the
Monarchs and the Claymores. Manny Johnson was a great import player for us at wide
receiver, and he is still playing in the Professional Indoor League in the U.S. now. In
fact, Manny played for me this year with the professional indoor team that I coach. Mike
Carubba had a tremendous arm at quarterback, and Curtis Bell was an outstanding receiver.
Dan Brooks was a good friend and did an excellent job at linebacker. Bob Flickinger came
to me as a tight end/defensive end from a small British League team. He worked very hard
and is an outstanding athlete, and he has gone on to play in NFL Europe for the Claymores
and the Monarchs for 10 years. I saw Bob playing again this year for the Claymores. Rob
Hart came to me then as a college student, and I still remember giving him a try-out at
kicker. I was amazed at his ability to do whatever he wanted with the football as I gave
him different challenges on kick-offs and onside kicks, as well as on field goals. He
could do anything he wanted to do with the football, even though at that time he did not
know that he could. Rob has now gone on to play for 10 years in NFL Europe, and he is the
leading scorer in NFL Europe history. Hazen Choates even came back and played for me for
All of these young men were great football players and they are all outstanding
individuals. It was my tremendous pleasure to have the opportunity of coaching and playing
with all of them.
Just to clear something up, what was the official name
of the team that entered the FLE – was it the Manchester Spartans, GB Spartans,
Sheffield Spartans, EuroSpartans or something else?
We were the Great Britain Spartans. We did not go by a city name because we were Britain's
only representative in the League.
Is it true you lost a lot of your own money in the final
season of the FLE?
Yes, I lost every penny that I had running that team. The sport was in a decline in
Britain, and even the NFL-owned London Monarchs folded around that time with Millions of
Pounds in financial losses. In 1992, 1993, and 1994, American Football had been declining
in popularity in Britain, but we had been able to go against the downward trend by working
very hard and being creative with our plans and strategies. However, in the end, the
overall trend was too strong against us, and so we were taken with it.
I knew before that season began that I would lose all of my money that year, and I told
people close to me that I would. However, I felt an obligation to all our fans, to the
city, and to the league, to continue and complete the season. I told my family that a
captain goes down with his ship, and so I accepted that I would financially go down with
my team in order to play the season, but I felt like that was the honorable thing to do,
and so I was willing to do it.
I did end up with no money after the season, and I had to work three different jobs at the
same time just to pay all the bills and to make ends meet, but I was able to pay every
penny of debt the team owed, and eventually I came out of the financial difficulty and
moved on to coach again.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in
the British game?
We won a lot of Championships, but more than the Championships we won, I think that the
day-to-day act of working hard every day to both play and coach and win 56 games while
only losing 2 games over a 3-year period from 1988 through 1990 is a greater achievement.
However, more than any Championships or games won, I view my greatest achievement as
hopefully influencing the young men who played for me that I tried to touch and influence.
I am proudest when I think back to pre-game and post-game talks that I gave to my team
where I saw the tears in my players' eyes because what we were doing meant so much to
them. I am proud now when I talk to my old Spartans players and they tell me that those
were the best years of their lives. I hope more than anything that what I tried to teach
them through the disciplines, and the commitment, and the toughness through adversity, and
the belief that hard work will solve any problem, have somehow remained with them so that
these qualities have become a part of them to help them to far greater successes after
football and outside of football, and I hope that they have gone on to teach these
qualities to their own children and to their own players if they went on to coach.
What are your biggest regrets in the game?
My biggest disappointment in the game is that unfortunately so much of its history has
been lost. I have such great respect for all of the players who played the game back in
those years. The very hard work, commitment, and effort they put into the game was more
than NFL players even do now. However, time seemed to forget most all of them, and time
forgot almost all of the achievements that they worked so hard to create. I find this very
That is why I appreciate and want to thank Britballnow.co.uk and Matt Heasman so much for
bringing all these memories back to life, and for showing so much respect for the game and
for the players who played it. What you have done is the most important thing that could
ever be done for the future good of British American Football. History is what makes a
game great. We can look at the history of the NFL and of the NCAA to see that.
On my first speech to my Spartan players in February of 1988, I told them that I had a
vision of the future where I saw the future having a British American Football Hall of
Fame in it, where all of the heroes of the game, including some in that very room, would
be enshrined. I wanted to motivate my players to aim for and achieve all-time greatness.
As the years went by, those players in that room gave their commitment and worked hard
enough to deserve to achieve that dream, but up until now their efforts have been
forgotten and gone unrewarded. It would be fantastic if through Britballnow, Matt, and
other people, that such a Hall of Fame could be created, just like the Pro Football Hall
Of Fame was created decades after the NFL began playing. Throughout all of my years of
playing and coaching many sports all around the World, more than any athletes I have ever
seen, the American Football players who played in the British American Football League
deserve to be rewarded for their tremendous hard work and efforts. Therefore, my biggest
regret is my disappointment for all the players because all their great efforts and hard
work have largely been forgotten.
What is the best britball game that you have witnessed?
From a talent perspective, our 1990 (regular season) game versus the Birmingham Bulls was
the pinnacle of Britball, I believe in its history. There was so much talent on the same
field that day. We won by two touchdowns, but we had to have a perfect game plan and as a
team we had to play our best game to win.
From an excitement perspective, I will have to choose our 21-14 Budweiser Bowl win over
Birmingham to win our first Great Britain Championship in 1989. That game was so tough and
so close throughout it. We played great defensively as we tried to contain the great
Trevor Carthy, and Paul Bailey was outstanding for us at running back. In the end, it took
a lot of clock-management strategy by us to use up the clock and win.
The game was a tremendous spectacle at Crystal Palace with it being shown on Channel 4,
with the NFL there, with the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders performing, with Capital
Radio there, and with a full stadium of people. It was a game that was played during the
real peak of British American football.
Who do you consider the best import players to play over
Hazen Choates, Roy Harris, Greg Harris, Jeff Christmann, Cliff Walker, Albert Higgs,
However, I am very biased because these players either played for me, or I played against
them several times over a few year period. Therefore, I got to know them and appreciate
them a lot more. I am certain that there are many more import players who deserve to be on
Who do you rate as the best British and American coaches
to have worked over here?
There were so many that it is impossible to name them all because some did not stay
long. With British coaches, Steve Moon was an outstanding offensive line
coach. He worked for two years as my offensive line coach with the Spartans and with
the Great Britain team, and he was crucial to our success. Kurt Smeby was also a
very hard-working coach who studied the game very well. Kurt was fiercely loyal and
a tremendous man that I liked very much. He always cared deeply for the game of
football and he did a lot of outstanding things for the game as a whole. I really
appreciate Kurt and all of the great efforts he made for Britball over many years.
With American coaches, I never saw Lance Cone coach because he was retired from coaching
when I arrived, but I have heard he was very good. Chuck Brogden did a good job for
a number of years. Andie Capp served as my assistant with the National Team, as well
as coaching as a Head Coach for Bournemouth for a number of years, and he was an excellent
motivator. Northampton coach Don Markham did a very good job. Bob Shoop,
the current Head Coach of Columbia University also coached for Birmingham against us
in the 1989 Budweiser Bowl that we won. Scott Pioli coached for the Gateshead
Senators and we won there every time we played, and he is now the Vice President/Director
of Player Personnel for the New England Patriots. John Shoop coached at Brighton,
and since then he has become the Offensive Coordinator of the Chicago Bears and is the
current Quarterback Coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sean Payton, who is now the
Assistant Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was the offensive coordinator for Leicester
when we defeated them 34-6. It is very nice to see all of these guys doing so well
with their coaching careers since they left Britain, and their current success goes
to show that there have obviously been some excellent coaches who have travelled from the
U.S. to Britain to coach. I think that coaching in Britain was a tremendous coaching
experience for all of them, as well as for myself. All of them were obviously great
football coaches or else they would not have been so successful after they left
Britain and went back to the U.S.
What administrators did you most enjoy working with in
Lance Cone, Ron Weisz, Frank Leadon, and Charles McNamara all worked very hard for the
sport. They all put a huge amount of unpaid hours into the game in order to make the
sport better, and I appreciate all of them. Charles was a real character who deeply
loved the game and who did whatever he could to help the sport. Bill Bowsher was an
excellent referee who did a lot for the game. Wayne Hardman did an outstanding job
with Brighton and while helping with the League. Wayne also served as an Assistant
for me with the Great Britain National Team, and he was a great asset to our success.
Currently, I am certain that Gary Marshall is doing an outstanding job because I
know him to be an outstanding man who has always put the game first. I also greatly
appreciate Nick Halling for all that he has done for the game. He was a writer, a
magazine editor, and then the best play-by-play announcer to ever come out of Britain.
He used to be a very good friend and I appreciate all of his efforts for the game.
Who are your favourite NCAA and NFL teams?
My favorite college team is Furman University because I played there and coached there.
Anytime a player lives, sweats, and works for his team, like we did at Furman, then he
will feel a bond and closeness to that college forever. That is how I feel about Furman.
We were very successful, setting school records for wins and Championships, and over the
past 25 years Furman has gone on to win more Southern Conference Championships than any
other school, including one National Championship.
My second favorite college team is Florida State University because my father went to
school and played there for them. Therefore, I grew up cheering for them from a young age
because of my Dad.
My favorite NFL team is the New England Patriots because I played for them, and so I feel
a closeness for them. However, I am not a big fan of the NFL because I think that the
players make too much money now, and so the beauty of the game has been lost. When I
played, I earned $45,000, which was about the League average. Some players were making
only $22,000. I did not care about the money at all, and I even offered to my agent that
he could keep all of my salary because all I wanted to do was play football. Now, I think
that the majority of NFL players have forgotten that the game is about love, passion,
competition, and is supposed to be team-oriented. Instead, they are for the most part
self-centered, selfish, and money-oriented. There are a few NFL players who are still
playing for the right reasons, and they will always be the most-loved players because the
fans can see this quality in them.
For this reason, I like college football a whole lot more because most college players are
still team-oriented and most still play for the love of the game.
If you could pick an allstar team of British players,
who are some that you would include in the team?
Paul Bailey - The ultimate all-around running back, Allan Brown - An unbelievable athlete
who would have been playing in the NFL if he had been born in the U.S., Victor Ebubedike -
An incredible physical specimen with size and speed, Trevor Carthy - The quickest feet and
highest-proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers of any athlete I have ever seen, Cameron
Dundas - The hard-nosed leader of the Spartans offensive line who led by example, Trevor
Wooley - The very-smart offensive guard who never missed an assignment, who knew
everything he was supposed to do, and who gave everything he had in order to do it, Les
Tuitt - A big, very talented offensive linemen who was as nice a guy as I have ever met,
and who was a tremendous long-snapper, Joe Richardson - A big, dominant offensive tackle
who could dominate a game, Nigel Dias - The best defensive player in the League at strong
safety who was a great team leader and who led by his tough, hard-nosed competitiveness,
Karl Goodwin - Very smart and a great athlete at linebacker, John Parker - A very smart,
all-around great linebacker who could read a game and be in the right place at the right
time, Mike Taylor - A superb safety who would hit with the best of them, Dave Samuel -
Great quickness and strength at defensive line, Les Jackson - A tremendous physical
specimen who after he played for us went on to play for the New York Knights in the World
League where they used to have walk off the team bus first in order to impress the away
fans and players, Martin Owen - A great outside linebacker who could play both the run and
blitz from the weakside to sack the quarterback, Mark Hopkins - A really good,
technically-strong offensive lineman who was a tremendous pass blocker, Richard Dunkley -
A great running back who used his physical size and a sliding running style to pick his
way and follow his blockers to perfection, Phil Wood - A very smart defensive end who
always did exactly what he was supposed to and who always gave his best effort, Jim
Mitchell-Taylor - A great special teams player and hard-nosed defensive end who always
gave us everything he had to give on every play, Neil Pearson - The most versatile punter
and kicker that I have ever seen in football, his rugby background gave him experiences
where he could avoid the punt rush and punt on the run with either foot, he could place
the punts out of bounds whenever needed, and he could even drop-kick when necessary, he
was worth 7-10 points to us every game he was that important, Mike Smith - An unbelievably
strong offensive guard who was built low to the ground and with his strength he could move
any defensive linemen anywhere he chose, and on top of this he was extremely tough, Jason
Elliott - A very good quarterback who could throw or run, Errol Taylor - A very fast
cornerback who could cover any wide receiver man for man and who really learned how to
play man and zone pass coverages, Steve Leatham - Unbelievably quick he had the quickest
first step of any defensive lineman anywhere, and so he was a fantastic pass rusher,
Clifton Mitchell - A tremendous running back who had both size and speed, if he had not
broken his leg then he would have set many records and been considered one of the best
ever because he had such talent and he was so disciplined, after his injury he went on to
fight for the Professional British Heavyweight Boxing Title, Scott Cooper - A player who I
competed against many times when he was a young receiver playing for Glasgow , who worked
very hard and went on to become an excellent receiver for the Claymores, Steve Jones -
Very smart and with a very quick first step to get position on defensive
linemen, Sean Airlie - An excellent and very fast wide receiver, Bob Flickinger - An
unbelievable athlete at tight end, defensive end, or anywhere else I ever put him, he
could dominate with his strength and speed, and he has gone on to play 10 years in NFL
Europe, Mike Jobson - A big, very powerful left offensive tackle who was
both a great run blocker and pass blocker, Leeroy Innis - A very smart wide receiver
with great hands, Gladstone McKenzie - An excellent running back who was so athletic and
strong that late in his career he made himself into an outstanding outside linebacker,
Steve Marsh - A very smart wide receiver who ran great routes and was very good going
across the middle, Jim Burns - A quick and strong running back, Mike Astle -
A very smart quarterback with tremendous talent who had 300-plus yard
passing games for us, Tim Casey - An outstanding tight end who was athletic and fast,
and who was a great receiving tight end, Howard Cooper - A linebacker who worked
very hard in the weight room and on the practice field to make himself into an
excellent defensive player, Steve Casey - A tough as nails tight end who was a great
run blocker with excellent hands.
These are the players that stand out in my mind, and they were all
great players. Just like my listing of the import players, though, I am biased in my
selections because most of these players played for me with the Spartans and/or with the
Great Britain National Team, and the others I played against many times. I am sure that
there are many more players who deserve to be listed but who I did not see often enough to
give consideration to, and so I apologize to them for not including them on this list.
Have you considered coming back into Britball?
If I ever move back to Britain, then I would love to get back into coaching in Britball.
Just like soccer has had its ups and downs in America, history tells us that there is no
question that American Football will get another shot in Britain at becoming a major sport
again. It has now been more than 10 years since its last peak, and so the time for renewal
is definitely getting closer. I would really love the challenge again now that I have been
away for a while, and I could approach it with the same enthusiasm that I did when I first
arrived in Britain back in 1988.
Do you still live in the UK, and what do you do for a
living these days?
No, I live over in the U.S. now. When I returned to the U.S., I first spent a year being a
teacher and being the the Head Football and Head Baseball coach at the high school that I
had attended as a teenage student. In this year back, we set many school records in both
football and baseball, we had great seasons, and it was a fantastic experience coming home
to see all my old friends and to coach their children. I was blessed with this wonderful
opportunity to work with an absolutely wonderful group of young men, and I thank God for
giving me such a happy and rewarding experience. I hope that I was able to influence these
young men positively.
After one season of each sport, I felt the need to get back into professional football,
and so I resigned from my high school teaching and coaching position, and I became the
Head Coach/General Manager of a Professional Indoor Football Team here in the United
States. The indoor game is very exciting and appealing to fans, and again I have the
opportunity of working with some great players and men. It is a new challenge because the
indoor game is so different from the outdoor game. From a coaching perspective, I love the
beauty, complexity, and purity of the outdoor game, but the indoor game is a new challenge
and we have our goals set upon winning the League and National Championship.
What’s the last Britball game you watched?
The last game that I ever saw was one that I played and coached in when we played a game
against Amsterdam. I would like to go back and see some games again now.
Do you have any funny/embarrassing stories about your
times in Britball?
One of my favorite memories was when we played Leicester that year. We were 10-0 going
into the game, but the rest of the country still thought we were not good because they
could not figure out how we won without being able to overpower anyone and with fewer
Americans than anyone. In contrast, Leicester had their Quarterback and Offensive
Coordinator as Sean Payton, who is now the Assistant Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
Leicester were only 7-3 compared to our 10-0, but they were from the supposed tough
Midlands Conference, and the American Football media thought Leicester would walk all over
On the first possession of the game, Leicester moved downfield and Payton scored on a
quarterback sneak from 1 yard. When he got up, he spiked the ball in the end zone very
demonstratively and yelled at us, "Welcome to the NDMA". The NDMA was the name
of our League at that time, and this was his cocky way of saying that we were not worthy
of being 10-0, that up until then we had not played a good team yet, and that Leicester
would teach us a lesson. However, that was the last score Leicester got all day long, and
we beat them 36-7. I had 200 yards receiving that game, and our defense totally shut
Payton down. At 11-0 and on our way to 14-0, the rest of the Country finally believed that
we were for real. I still laugh about Payton saying that.
In 1998 you reformed the Spartans for a tour of the
States to play a series of Arenaball games prior to the start up of a proposed UK/US
Indoor League? A tremendous achievement to get out there and play, but why did this not
It was a great achievement to put together a team and then compete so evenly with
professional teams from the U.S. who knew the indoor game far better than we did. The
League intended to have a Division of the League in Britain, and another Division in the
U.S., but in the end it did not work because the U.S. teams did not want to take on all
the travel to Britain. I felt then, and I still feel, that Arena Football is the best
future of American Football in Britain.
In fact, at one point I spent a lot of money and time in order to buy an artificial turf
field and to own all of the trademarks for Arena Football in Great Britain because I
believed that this was the future due to it being inside, fan-friendly, and very
fast-paced without so many stoppages in play. However, one person on my own can not create
such a League, and there were not enough other people besides myself who were willing to
take on this venture. So, it has not taken off, yet, but I am sure that one day it will
Finally, how would you like to be remembered in
I would hope to be thought of as a warrior who competed as a player as hard as he possibly
could do to win. I would like to be remembered as a coach who out-worked everyone else and
who paid attention to every minute detail in order that he did everything that he could
possibly do to prepare to win through game-planning and practice. I would like to be
remembered as a coach who loved his players. I would also like to be remembered as a
person who for 10 years had a complete and total respect for British American Football,
and because of this tremendous respect for the game gave everything that he had to give in
an effort to build the sport and to make the sport a success in Britain.
I loved being a part of British American Football, and as I always told all of my players,
one day we will all have a lot of great stories to tell our Grandchildren. I want to thank
God and thank all of my players for blessing me with the opportunity of playing with and
coaching them. I love them all. I also want to thank everyone else in British American
Football who was so kind to me over those many years.
In addition, I want to thank the outstanding Britballnow.co.uk website and Matt Heasman
for honoring all of the players and teams and history. I have gone into a lot of detail
during this interview that covers a lot of areas. The reason that I have done this is
because just like Britballnow.co.uk and Matt, I want for readers to gain an understanding
of what the sport was like during these great early years of British American Football,
and for the readers to appreciate all these great players from the past whose magnificent
efforts have unfortunately been largely forgotten. I feel extremely honored to have been
given the opportunity to be interviewed by you, and I hope that my memories of the sport
and of the players who played it will somehow bring life and memories to this forgotten
era of greatness for years to come.
Thank you for taking the time to interview me.