Touchdown Wolverines: Flying the Lancashire flag on the American Football field
Jamie Worrall, captain of the Lancashire Wolverines, an American Football team based in Preston, is refreshingly candid in his response when asked how he got into the sport.
“I was at uni and, to be completely honest, I was collared by 30 cheerleaders at a freshers’ sports fair whose remit was to grab anyone big and, being 18 and single, I just followed them,” says the 6’4”, 21-stone part-time bouncer.
“A chance encounter with a load of cheerleaders when I was hungover has turned into 17 years of playing a sport I’m now obsessed with.”
Originally formed in 1988 from the remnants of the Wigan Wolverines and bolstered by the merger with the Lancashire Chieftains in 1990, the Lancashire Wolverines are based at Preston Grasshoppers RFC and led by head coach Lea Hall, who has been involved with North West American Football since the late ‘80s, turning out for the Wolverines in the ‘90s.
And, as Jamie can attest, it’s a great sport which is only getting more and more popular on these shores.
“I’ve travelled the world playing American Football; I’ve played professionally in Italy and I’ve played for Great Britain,” says Bolton-born Jamie, 35, whose first game for the Roman Gladiators was the derby against Lazio at which 1,000 football ultras were in attendance. “They started throwing flares, so that was quite the welcome for a 21-year-old.
“The sport has opened so many opportunities for me,” he adds, having previously been approached to represent Great Britain in sumo wrestling because of the transferrable skills needed to play his position as a guard. “But it’s the social aspect which stands out and there’s a real family feel at Lancashire.”
Unfortunately, due to Covid, last season was cancelled entirely, with the upcoming British American Football League season rearranged to group teams together geographically, meaning the Wolverines will be playing top-tier Premiership sides such as Manchester Titans, Sheffield Giants, and Merseyside Nighthawks.
Having taken over as defensive coordinator last year, Jack Watson is keen to get started.
“What with kids and work, I can’t risk injuries as much anymore so this will be my first official season as a coach,” he says. “It’s going to be a good test because we’re desperate to get back up into the Prem.
“I grew up with the sport,” explains Blackpool-born Jack, 30, whose family emigrated to Florida when he was six. “I started at eight and played at high school before we moved back to the UK when I was 16. Back here, I didn’t know there was a British league until I went to uni, so I picked it back up.
“I love it,” he adds, having played as a linebacker for the Wolverines for a decade. “A lot of people find the stop-start element boring but, for me, it brings something different in terms of strategy and, as one of the bigger guys, I’ve always enjoyed the rough-and-tumble side of the sport. Each year, the game gets more popular in this country.
“It’s probably one of the only sports where, no matter your build or athleticism, there’s a position for you. It’s brilliant.”
The fact that, no matter your size or shape, there’s a position for everyone is a major reason why rookie linebacker Matthew Kellam has fallen in love with the sport as a first-year Motorsports Engineering student at UCLan.
“I always wanted to try American Football so, when I came to uni, I gave it a go,” says Matthew, who is from South London and who joined the UCLan Rams last year for a few training sessions before Covid struck. “To get more game-time over the summer, I joined the Wolverines and it’s been amazing.
“I can’t wait to learn more about the game and get the season going, especially as there are a few lads from my uni team who play for the Manchester Titans,” he adds. “That should make for a bit of a rivalry.”