Roddy Mackenzie reports on two initiatives to boost the popularity of American football
Since the Scottish Claymores became Glasgow's third biggest sports team in terms of drawing power (after Celtic and Rangers), American football has started taking root in local schools. Under an initiative backed by the city's education department, the game will be given a heavy push next year.
The Claymores wrote to all 29 secondary schools in the city in November to canvas interest in a coaching scheme for S1-S3 pupils. Within a week of the letters going out, a third of the schools had replied positively.
The team is planning to send qualified coaches into schools to teach flag football, the non-contact version of the sport, and teachers will be able to acquire basic coaching accreditation.
In a further initiative with Sportscotland's community sports leadership scheme, S5-S6 pupils can gain leadership qualifications in the sport to continue spreading the word.
Coaching the coaches is seen as crucial to the development of American football in this country. There is no point in creating a demand if there is no network to support it. That is where the sport fell down in the 1980s when Channel 4 television coverage created unprecedented interest. The interest could not be sustained. The Claymores have been carefully laying building blocks to ensure fresh interest can flourish.
In June, Hampden Park will host the World Bowl, the championship game for the NFL Europe League, of which the Claymores are members. A crowd of more than 40,000 is anticipated for a game that will reach an estimated television audience of 200 million in more than 150 countries. A substantial part of the Glasgow crowd will be made up of schoolchildren.
"We could not have done this without the support of Glasgow City Council," explained Scott Couper, a former Claymores player who has been working on the team's development of American football but plans to come out of retirement to return to the team next year.
"We see the interest in the game picking up in the schools every year. We expect to get this latest scheme off the ground early next year and it will all tie in with the build-up to World Bowl.
"Our aim is to stage festivals for schools and maybe eventually have a league operating.
"This is very much a trial but if it works in Glasgow we'd like to see it take off in other areas of the country," he says.
The Claymores are also bridging the gap between flag football and the fully-kitted youth game, from which the natural progression is a try-out with the team.
Former Bellshill Academy schoolboy Stuart Hare is the first player to have come through the Claymores' coaching in recent years. He attended a clinic for the first time five years ago and is now part of the team and earning money from the game.
There are about a dozen teams throughout Scotland playing kitted football, from Inverness (Moray Firth Dolphins), to Dumfries and Galloway (Galloway Eagles) and Edinburgh, (Craigmount Cougars, Edinburgh Wolves). These areas were strong in the game 10 years ago and are starting to come good again through active youth programmes.
Stephen McCusker, national coach at the Claymores and a former player, has overseen the growth of the kitted game. He is enthusiastic about a link developing between St Maurice's High in Cumbernauld and the North Lanarkshire Rams team, which will see coaching expertise come to the school in exchange for using its grounds.
"It is the first school that has bought into the sport in a big way and they are happy with what the children get out of it," says Mr McCusker.
"It is important for the sport to have such a link as it also gives the club decent facilities on which to play. Too often, American football is sent to a third-rate pitch after football and rugby."
He adds: "Young players have a mentality for American football that I never had when I was learning the game. Once they get into the sport, they are really enthusiastic about it and they want to learn as much as they can.
"There were more than 100 youngsters at the recent try-outs for the Scotland team to face England on December 1 and the difficulty is keeping up with the demand."
Both Mr Couper and Mr McCusker believe that, for now, getting the best young Scots players to American schools or colleges remains the fast-track to playing professionally and links to a few schools have been established. But in about 10 years the Claymores' programme in schools should bear fruit and they are determined to persevere.