AMERICAN Football team Cardiff Cobras are just one win away from their first divisional final in a decade.
This weekend they travel to face bitter rivals Swansea Titans in the British Universities American Football League. The clubs locked horns in the reverse fixture last weekend, with the Titans running out 21-13 winners to condemn the Cobras to their first defeat of the season.
A win on Sunday would see the Cobras advance to the Division One final and knock out Swansea in the process. Lose, and Swansea takes all.
Cardiff Cobras are one of the oldest American football teams in the UK, entering the British collegiate league in 1987. A hotbed of rugby, South Wales would seem like a likely source of British American football players
American football is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK. British clubs are no longer relying on rugby coverts and players who fancy a go after watching the Superbowl.
Chris Brinkworth, 22, is studying Ancient History at Cardiff University while also turning out for the Cobras at quarterback.
“Unfortunately last Sunday, our perennial rivals beat us in a well-fought match. It was a tough game but also great to play in. As two of the strongest sides in Division One, it was always going to be a battle and they won the first.”
The structure of the league means that the Cobras will get a chance to avenge their defeat immediately, as they travel to Llandarcy Academy in Neath for the away fixture this Sunday.
Club president and captain Toby Lock, 21, is looking to leave his side on a high this Sunday.
“The winner of this match is the winner of the Division and that means a lot to all of us. For the majority of us this is our final season with the Cobras, so we’ll be sure to leave everything out on the pitch. I’ve played every match in the past three seasons and for a lot of us the Cobras have shaped our university life.”
Despite numbers growing over the past decade, American Football is still a minority sport in the UK and Chris’s path to playing for the Cobras is typical of many players in the University league.
“Before university, I had no prior experience of playing American Football. I was always quite sporty, and the lads were really friendly at the Athletic Union fair in freshers and somehow I ended up playing.”
Most of the players on the Cobras team had never played the sport before coming to university. However, with the development of youth teams throughout the UK, more people are joining the league with previous playing experience. This is driving the standard of the league higher every year.
The game is gaining more exposure in the UK and playing numbers are increasing year on year – with participation doubling from 2011 to 2014. This is due in part to the NFL brining 14 regular season matches to the UK in the past decade.
However playing costs are still high when compared to Rugby and Football. Pads start from around £70 and can be as much as £200, with helmets costing even more. The Cobras are encouraging new players by providing a lot of the equipment as part of their membership.
Playing American football in Cardiff is bound to draw the usual, and normally negative, comparisons with rugby.
The Cobras quarterback is quick to hit back: “We get a lot of stick for playing and liking American Football from rugby fans. They say the pads and helmets are just for people too scared to play normal rugby- that’s an unfair comparison. The kit is all very well but it actually increases the chance of serious injury because people throw themselves more into tackles.
“The game is so tactical – it’s as much like chess as it is rugby.”
There are far fewer rules on tackling in American Football than in rugby, with players just being told to avoid the face cage and back of the helmet.
The club is always looking to attract new players, and Chris has a few words of wisdom for anybody thinking of giving American Football a go.
“It’s such an enjoyable game to play. There are so many facets of the game that allow people to find a role they enjoy. We usually go and watch the NFL after our matches and we’ve got a great team spirit. We’ve got over 70 members now.”
With most of the Cobras players bowing out after this seasons climax, they will need American Football to continue to grow in South Wales to maintain their proud record on the pitch.