American Football Teams in Scotland
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Three years ago a group of friends came together to toss around a ball with the goal of supporting each other’s mental health.
Now the team christened the Moray Distillers is preparing to go toe-to-toe against flag football non-contact teams from across the UK in their debut season in the national leagues.
Helped by a surge of interest in the sport across the country, their ranks have swelled to more than 30 inspired by the greatest in the NFL.
So, what are American football in Scotland like without the glitz and glamour of the US and an Eminem halftime show?
American football teams in Scotland
One-two Raasay, 21 Scapa – it should come as no surprise that the Moray Distillers playbook is inspired by whisky.
It may not be the NFL, but it does not mean these men and women do anything half-hearted.
Three quick words and players know exactly what they’re doing, whether it is a quick run and stop, a deep route, or a cut across the field.
Distillers co-founders Stuart Lee and Dave Ronald initially came together about 20 years ago – inspired by a poster at Lossiemouth High School.
Stuart, who is also the team manager, said: “It might seem strange to say, but there’s something almost enjoyably simplistic about it.
“When you’re running and you see the route or lane develop in front of you, and then you catch the ball in open space.
“It’s almost like a form of freedom.
“And there’s a place for everyone too. People have in their head you have to be super-fast, super-fit, and super-strong but some people who come along on Saturdays have bust-up knees, bust-up arms, and some of them are completely broken – but we still enjoy playing.”
Head coach Dave added: “It’s the ultimate team game. You can’t rely on just one person, everyone has got to do their job. Everyone is involved in making each other better.”
American football growing in Scotland
Across Scotland and the UK, American football is a sport on the up.
In their debut season as the most northerly British American Football Association (BAFA) registered team the Moray Distillers will go up against sides from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Glasgow.
Full contact teams also play in Aberdeen and Inverness, where the Highland Stags won the Saltire Division last year to win promotion.
Traveling to away games from Elgin adds to the challenges of running the Moray Distillers.
There are also challenges closer to home – but organizers persist in overcoming the hurdles whether it be dog mess on the field or trying to find somewhere to play.
Dave said: “It’s the love of the game, it’s fun.
“From my experience, other teams have generally received more help getting started from councils.
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“It’s also a lot harder for us to access facilities in Elgin compared to other parts of the country.”
Super Bowl weekends traditionally generate extra from prospective new players.
And the prospect of Aberdeen-raised David Ojabo being drafted into the NFL this year is expected to generate a further surge in interest.
But are people surprised to learn that Cooper Park in Elgin is an unlikely home to quarterbacks and touchdowns?
Stuart said: “Absolutely, a lot of people are shocked the sport is as big as it is.
“You do get the odd sneering comment, saying it’s just touch rugby or whatever.
“But once they got over that initial shock and wonderment about what I do at the weekend, people are really interested in quarterbacks and everything else – they find it fascinating.
“It’s not LA with the big lights, but in my time playing it’s definitely getting larger thanks to things like the NFL games in London and the Super Bowl becoming more mainstream.”
It’s like a family
Playing through the worst wind, rain, and mud Elgin can throw at them has formed a close-knit bond within the Moray Distillers.
Through the last three years, players have come together to move from a group of friends to one of the newest American football teams in Scotland.
However, the initial aims of that social get-together are still what keep so many of the team returning.
Stuart said: “To be honest, the main reason for getting the team together was mental health.
“I was going through a rough patch and decided a focus on sport would be beneficial and it really developed from there into a team.
“It’s gone beyond just being a team now, it’s a family. We meet up outside football, people have gone on stag dos, and weddings, players have been through pregnancies, and teammates have been through rough patches and we help them.
“It’s family now.”
The Moray Distillers train weekly at Cooper Park in Elgin on Saturdays from 12.30 pm to 2.30 pm and welcome players of all abilities.