Kent Exiles' big hits and tough tackling prove rise in popularity of American Football
PUBLISHED: 10:52 30 May 2013 | UPDATED: 15:41 31 May 2013
If you've always wanted to try your hand at American football but didn't know where to start, then look no further than the Kent Exiles.
Despite being a complete novice, I have become hooked on watching the sport in the past couple of years so I decided to head down to the club’s training ground at Orpington Rugby Club, Leesons Way, to train with the team – with more than a little trepidation.
How hard could it be? Very! For a start, trying to catch a ball while looking over your shoulder, through the grille in your helmet, is much easier said than done.
Martin Jefkins, who has been with the Exiles since they formed more than 20 years ago, helped put me through my paces with some passing and tackling drills and told me to enjoy myself.
Jargon such as “hook in” only served to confuse me and having a go at tackling proved no more successful.
Martin, 39, said: “Everyone has to start somewhere. The great thing about the sport is there are positions for all different sizes, abilities and body shapes, especially at this level. It’s not all 350lb tanks.
“When I was a kid I’d played in the playground but I really wanted to play in a competitive team.
“I came to a training session and was hooked.”
The Exiles, who play in the South Central division of the British American Football League (the second tier), attract members and spectators from all over south east London, including Bromley and Bexley, and north Kent.
They are also one of the only teams in the country to allow girls. The solitary girl on the team currently is 20-year-old Sophie Weaver, a running back.
She said: “I do get some weird reactions when I run on to the pitch but I play full contact and don’t expect to be treated differently because I’m a girl.
“Hopefully more girls will give it a go, it’s a lot of fun.”
The sport is, without a doubt, becoming more popular this side of the Atlantic. This year there will be two regular season NFL games at Wembley Stadium, both of which are sold out, and there has been talk of an English franchise.
But if the razzmatazz of the NFL might put you off, one of Kent Exiles’ key players assured me that the brand of American football they play is far removed from what you might see on Sky Sports.
Tom Rowles, 20, from Petts Wood, has played for the Exiles for seven years, rising through the junior and youth ranks.
He said: “What we end up playing has very little fanfare, just a good, hard battle.
“I’d definitely recommend it to someone who has never played the sport before – if you love competition you’ll love the game because it’s a lot about beating the individual in front of you as well as the other team.”
They play at the Beaverwood Club in Chislehurst. For more information, or if you are interested in joining, visit kentexiles.co.uk.