Wolves grab Claymores' dropped ball
The Edinburgh Wolves are out to prove there is a strong future for American football in Scottish schools in the wake of the Scottish Claymores' demise.
The Claymores, Scotland's only professional American football team, were disbanded last October after 10 years' playing in the NFL Europe League.
The club had developed a youth policy and done a lot of good grassroots work over the last four or five years. In addition to a far-reaching flag football programme (the non-contact version of the game), there were Scotland youth kitted teams and a junior development squad which spent time with the Claymores' American coaching staff. Steve McCusker, the Claymores' national coach, and Scott Couper, a player with the team, had regularly visited schools and donated equipment so that the game could continue to flourish.
Without the Claymores and their professional expertise, there is a danger that the sport will struggle to thrive. Building up the game in schools will be crucial.
Alistair May, a maths teacher at Beeslack High in Penicuik, Midlothian, believes the game has sustainable roots. He is setting up an Edinburgh Wolves junior team with a view to playing in the British league next year.
At an open try-out earlier this month, 29 players aged 14 to 19 turned up to show their enthusiasm.
"The aim is to play four or five friendly matches in Scotland this year with a view to joining the British league next year," he says.
"There are about half a dozen youth kitted teams in Scotland just now but most are in the west. We wanted to set something up in the east and keep the game going in Edinburgh.
"When the Claymores moved to Glasgow for their last few years, it was considered important to try to maintain a presence in the Edinburgh area.
If there is no junior team to supply players to the senior team in future, it might prove difficult to sustain a club at all. Getting 29 players to our first practice was an encouraging sign.
"We now intend to put coaches through their level one awards and start training properly on February 27."
Flag football has proved popular in Scottish schools and with the US National Football League Super Bowl broadcast on terrestrial television for the first time in over 10 years earlier this month, there are hopes that the game could be set for a new wave of interest in Britain.
Ironically, it will come at a time when there is no British presence in the NFL Europe League since the Claymores went the way of the England Monarchs, who were cut from the league in 1998.
It leaves amateur clubs such as the Edinburgh Wolves to take on any recruits and Mr May is determined there will be a platform for them.
"The youth game in Scotland is actually pretty strong at present and the Scotland youth team regularly beats England in matches," he says. "There are two or three teams in the west and a good set-up in Inverness. The standard has got better in recent years but we need to keep a steady flow of players in the schools.
"For the last two years, the Claymores ran flag events in Midlothian schools and our school sports co-ordinator, Tom Hardie, is keen to keep that going.
"What we want to do is set up a Midlothian flag league for S1-S2 pupils and then a Midlothian junior kitted league for S3-S5s. There are six secondary schools in Midlothian and I want to get in contact with teachers in the other five schools who are interested."
The game in Scotland has been littered with teams setting up and then folding. The Musselburgh Magnums, Edinburgh Eagles and Fife 49ers were all once strong teams, but are no longer part of the scene.
However, Mr May argues that there is still plenty to be optimistic about.
"The legacy of the Claymores is that they have put a lot of coaches through flag leaders' awards and left kit for teams to use," he says.
"I'd like to see youngsters here playing kitted football at an earlier age, maybe even at S1-S2 level if that was possible.
"The Claymores gave players a realistic target to aim for. Players saw the professionalism of the set-up but they also saw that local players, such as Scott Couper and Ben Torriero, could make it with a lot of hard work.
"With the Claymores no longer around, there are still opportunities in the NFL Europe League. Players from English teams have attended national player trials this year and could play for one of the other teams in the league."
When Mr May was 18, he spent his gap year at Wake Forest Rolesville High in North Carolina. It was the first time he had played kitted American football.
"I found the cultural exchange an eye-opener, as it shows you how seriously the Americans treat their sport. They are determined in everything they do," he says.
"It would be good to get young players on scholarships in the American system. I'm sure there would be some merit in an exchange system where we took an American soccer player and gave him a year at one of our schools in exchange for a Scottish American footballer attending a school in the United States."