The early years of football in the UK

The first game of football played in the UK was on Thanksgiving Day Nov 23rd1910 by US Navy Servicemen visiting the UK on a diplomatic mission (Sinfield 1995). Was to be played at Crystal palace between the USS Idaho (the navy’s div 3 champions) and the USS Michigan (Div 1 champions) and sponsored by the Daily Mirror. However the Michigan team pulled out of the game and was replaced by a team from the USS Vermont.

The team from the USS Idaho won, collecting the Daily Mirror Silver Cup from the Duke of Manchester, by 19 points to 0 in front of a 10000 crowd.

The Daily Mirror was suitably pleased to sponsor a further game a week later also at Crystal palace on the 3rd of December. This was to be the American Navy Football final between the Idaho and the USS Connecticut. Organised by Rear Admiral Seaton Schroeder the final was a much more serious affair, but the Idahoagain emerged victorious 5-0. This time the Duchess of Marlborough presented the medals to the Idaho players in front of a crowd of 12000 spectators (Laird 1995).

The third and final game of the tour was the 24th of December game between the USS Georgia and the USS Rhode Island at Northfleet in Kent.USS Georgia defeated USS Rhode Island 12-0 at Stonebridge Sports Ground, Northfleet, Kent with 4,000 people turning up to watch. A player called Levy was man of the match. 

During the Second World War, with large numbers of US servicemen in the UK, games were played in venues throughout London. One such game was played in February 1944 at White City (London) in the Tea Bowl game between the Canadian Army and the Central Base Section.

With US armed forces in Europe post war, a USAFE (United States Armed Forces-Europe) league was created in 1946 (the league ended in 1993). The first champions being Ansbach (Germany). The 1st UKSC (United Kingdom Sports Conference) winners of the USAFE title were the London Rockets in 1954.

Action from the USA Air Force in Europe Final from December 13th 1952 at Wembley Stadium
Burtonwood Bullets (Warrington, Lancashire) vs. Fursty Eagles in white shirts (Furstenfeldbruck, Germany)

It was played in front of a crowd of 21,000 people at Wembley with the German team winning 27-6. Mr Jack Webb from Rainham in First Down issue number 451 listed other games played at Wembley:

28th November 1953. Landstuhl Raiders 27-21 London Rockets
1st December 1956. London Rockets 32-7 Weisbaden Flyers

After this the Rockets dropped out of the league and no more games were played at Wembley for nearly 30 years.

Domestically it wasn't until Channel 4 began it's weekly coverage of the NFL on Sunday evenings in 1982, that the sport took off. Up until then, the only time you would see the sport on TV in this country would have been on ITV's Saturday afternoon show World of Sport, and then only with highlights of the Superbowl several weeks after it had actually taken place! 

What Channel 4 brought to it's audience was a slickly run production and it's weekly musical montage caught the imagination of the public in their millions. In SuperBowl XVIII, Washington Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins at the end of the first season shown on TV in this country and suddenly many fans had found Redskins clothing and the sport was gaining credability fast.

In Autumn of 1982, many thousands of young men sought to emulate their heroes by taking to the parks of the country. 

© BritballNow 2014