AMERICAN FOOTBALL: There's a Storm coming
WHILE I like to call myself a big American football fan, my experience of the game stretches as far as a few sessions in pads at university and many, many hours religiously sat in front of my TV on a Sunday night watching three back-to-back NFL games.
So when I was invited to spend an afternoon training with Swindon Storm, my eyes were fully opened to a sport I thought I knew well.
I have watched on in awe as the likes of Peyton and Eli Manning thread the eye of the needle with incredible passes, I have winced as big hitters Ray Lewis and Sean Taylor shake the bones of their opponents, and I have been envious of the way Adrian Peterson and LaDainian Tomlinson dance into the end zone.
But that was nothing compared to how I felt having been thrown into the deep end in a full contact session with the Storm.
Having been quickly taught the basics of tackling away from the squad I was soon involved in the drills, and while the players were very welcoming earlier in the day, this did not extend to the field of play.
I was soon sent crashing onto my face by a linebacker twice my size, before again tasting dirt as I slipped off a tackle of my own.
Drills over, it was time to run some plays, and dubiously this 5ft 7inch reporter was placed at linebacker, a position usually populated by 6ft 5inch giants in the professional game.
When watching on TV the offensive and defensive lines seem to collide with little or no thought, but my first experience down at eye level showed me that is far from the case.
There is so much to think about, so much to spot, will the quarterback pass or hand off for the run? Who is going to be blocking for the running back to storm through?
It is hard enough to identify who your man is, let alone stop them.
Eventually, after a number of missed tackles and being hurled to the ground, I was moved to the safety of cornerback, where, without being too big-headed I never allowed the receiver I was marking a sniff of the ball.
As the session ended I felt pain in muscles I never knew I had, but left with a new found appreciation for a sport I already loved, and impressed with the organisation of what is still a very young club.
The Storm currently find themselves in limbo as they are not attached to a league, but are working towards meeting the British American Football Association (BAFA) requirements to start competitive play from next season.
League rules state each club must register at least 30 players in order to compete, and while the Storm currently have exactly that number, head coach Steve Bennett is still pushing for more.
“The minimum is 30 players, and we have just registered our 30th but I feel you need to go into the season with 60 players,” he said. “Every position on the field is almost its own sport in its own right, and requires different levels of athletic ability and different skills, and the fact there are no substitutions means everyone specialises.
“It is a very exciting sport and it is moving forward very quickly, and there has been a massive surge in popularity over the last four years since the NFL starting playing regular season games at Wembley.
“We pride ourselves on being a friendly club with no egos, and we welcome anyone of any size, shape or athletic ability, and all we ask is that people give it a go.”
The Storm take to the field tomorrow for a friendly against Gloucester Centurions at Ballards Ash in Wootton Bassett as they continue to work towards league membership, with the game kicking off at 2pm.
Entry is free, and the Swindon Lightning cheerleaders will be performing at half time, while Swindon’s American and Retro Cars Association will also be in attendance along with a barbecue.
For more information log on to www.swindonstorm.org.uk.