Stanway stunner grabs a vital point in the Battle of the Blues

MANCHESTER CITY WOMEN 2 – 2 CHELSEA LADIES

A late strike by Manchester City’s Georgia Stanway five minutes from time saw the England U-19 striker claiming a point for the home side against a strong Chelsea Ladies sides at the Academy Stadium, as the champions drew 2-2 in the ‘battle of the blues’ and top of the table clash with the South West London side. That result looked unlikely for most of the contest as Chelsea for the best part of the game was on top and dominated their title rival in the game. 

Before kick-off, it saw the gap between the sides standing at just one point and had Chelsea being the only side in the contest after the first forty-five. The away side had City on the back foot from the off and had Chelsea looking the far likelier of the two sides to score, and seemed more of a case of when not if. That goal eventually came in the 5th minute of play, as the ball was pinballing in the City penalty area and ended with defender Millie Bright swinging her left foot to fire it high into the roof of the net for a much deserved 1-0 lead. 

That goal you thought would be the point that would spark the home side into life, but that spark never came. Chelsea kicked on and tested Ellie Roebuck in the Manchester City goal, as she needed to be constantly alert to thwart the visitor’s attacks. The home side was guilty of poor play and a lot of sloppy passing and a lack of creativity from Nick Cushing’s side, as they looked like a side that was lost. With City dealing with key personnel all out injured with club captain Steph Houghton being the recent player watching from the sidelines and saw the Citizens looking massively disjointed. 

Following their first loss in their league campaign during midweek at Birmingham, it saw the home side looking as toothless and poor yet again as they had on Thursday and even against the same opposition in their cup victory last weekend. Ji So-Yeon then doubled the lead for Chelsea on 23 minutes, as another quick attack saw some good passing play by the ‘blues’ and saw Crystal Dunn playing a pass back to Ji inside the box and have the South Korean finding the bottom far corner for a 2-0 scoreline.

It saw City being cut to ribbons by the attacking play coming from the league leaders, as the home side was seeing their current unbeaten streak at home record that stretched back to April 2015, was in grave danger of coming to an end. Their last home defeat came 18-games ago, as Arsenal Ladies were the last side to inflict a home loss in the WSL. Following the second goal for Chelsea, it saw faint signs of a comeback coming from City as they looked to get back into the game. 

A rare attack for the hosts saw chances coming all at once, as firstly, Nikita Parris went close from close range and then saw Julia Spetsmark having an effort too before a ball came outside the area and Jill Scott saw her shot blocked for a corner. Ellie Roebuck then came up big to make a good save from Ramona Bachmann to keep the score at a two-goal game.

At the start of the second half, Nick Cushing made a change and brought on Claire Emslie for Julia Spetsmark, as Emslie instantly posed an attacking threat that hadn’t been there in the first. Five minutes into the second half it saw Demi Stokes putting in a great cross towards the back post and saw the ball met by the head of Nikita Parris to make it 2-1. 

Chelsea had another effort turned away by Roebuck, as the young shot-stopper got down well to make a save from a Bachmann shot. Georgia Stanway then came on for Izzy Christiansen, as the home side looked in search of a second goal to draw level. Nikita Parris was guilty of missing a great chance in the game that fell her way with a quarter of an hour left to play, as a ball came toward the England striker and with no-one nearby, she managed to somehow fire her shot wide of the target and could have been costly.

The home side then saw Jane Ross coming on to replace Nadia Nadim after the Danish International had made little to no impact in the game at all. Ross’s introduction to the game saw the Scottish International along with the two other substitutes in Emslie and Stanway, all proving game changers in the match. With City pushing for an equaliser, they got it courtesy of an absolute stunner by Georgia Stanway with five minutes to go and saw the home side getting back on level terms. 

As the game ticked into added time, it saw the visitors having late chances to take the three points, but a match-saving block by Jennifer Beattie who quite literally used her head, saw the defending making a block and prevented the leaders from scoring at the death. When the full-time whistle blew, it saw the home side celebrating amongst themselves in what could prove to be a huge point overall, but Chelsea will be kicking themselves as they should have had the game killed off far earlier. For the host’s it saw a far better performance in the second half and had their super subs to thank for helping to rescue a point for the champions.

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 Photo Credit – Man City.com

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Moffatt Brace Makes It Seven On The Bounce

 

Manchester STORM 4 – 3 Coventry BLAZE

Manchester Storm made it seven wins on the bounce following a hard-fought 4-3 win over Patton Conference rivals Coventry Blaze on Wednesday night, as Luke Moffatt yet again came up big to lead his side to victory as the stand-in captain twice netted to help seal the win with further strikes by Mike Hammond and Scott Pitt. 

Following huge scalps against the ‘Arena’ sides in Sheffield and Belfast in recent games, it saw the Storm coming into their Valentine’s Day clash with Coventry on a huge high. The last time the two sides met it saw Manchester demolishing the Blaze with a thumping 9-1 win in Altrincham. This time around it saw a more determined Coventry team looking to make sure that lightning wouldn’t strike twice. The Blaze came out the more dangerous of the two sides, with the home side looking very disjointed in their play at both ends of the ice, to begin with.

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Shane Bakker goes close to scoring – PIC: Mark Ferris

Neither side really troubled their opponents netminders much in the early stages, yet Manchester struck first through a Mike Hammond goal at 5.32 after the Storm broke up the other end with the visitors caught short and had Hammond blasting home for the opening goal. Less than a minute later, it saw the game all square once again, after the Coventry forward punished the Storm’s weak defence and saw a pass back out towards goal from Ross Venus and was neatly finished off by Gaelan Patterson for a 1-1 game. Manchester really found it difficult to get into the game and put a string of passes together, while their opponents did well to stifle their play and saw the Storm being very sloppy too in possession.

Coventry took advantage of a poor period from the home side, with the visitors netting through a Jordan Pietrus strike to take the lead and then saw a nice team move that ended up with Marc-Olivier Vallerand scoring the Blaze’s third goal, with a Luke Moffatt goal sandwiched in between for the Storm. The game was very scrappy and had no-one really dominating play in the opening twenty minute of play, but towards the backend of the period, it saw the start of what would be a theme for the rest of the game, with some poor officiating as the night went on. 

Firstly, Manchester’s Dane Byers was boarded hard by Coventry’s Kevin Noble in front of referee Matt Rose, who took no action much to the astonishment of those in attendance. As the horn sounded on the first, it saw Byers looking for Noble as the teams were heading off and had Byers giving him an upwards shoulder barge and had the Blaze man milking it enough to see the Storm man handed a 2+10 by the same officiate that didn’t make the call against Noble in the first place. 

In the second period, it saw Danick Paquette being ejected from the game at 29.49 with the match officials deeming it bad enough to see the Coventry man kicked out for a slashing call and gave the home side a five-minute power play. Stand-In captain Luke Moffatt, then scored his second of the game to tie the game up at 3-3 at 35.09 after a mad scramble around the Blaze nets saw the puck ending up in the back of the net. 

Ciaran Long then took a hit against the boards that saw the British forward hitting the ice and staying down, and after some treatment, the former Phoenix and Basingstoke man eventually left the ice under his own power and looked shaky as he stepped off the ice and didn’t return to the game. From then on, the match officials seemed to lose control of the game and missed clear calls on both sides and penalised the lesser calls and let the bad ones go. 

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Things get heated   – PIC: Mark Ferriss

As the game entered the third period, it saw more poor calls coming and made the game more bad-tempered than it really should have been. Scott Pitt then put the Storm back in front with a powerplay goal at 46.06, with the Canadian Left-winger firing home his shot for a 4-3 lead. Shane Bakker then got a charging call when the Coventry man just avoided taking a hit and saw the chain of poor calls starting to begin.

It saw hooking calls that weren’t hooking calls and then saw the weirdest cross-checking call being made when Trenz lost an edge and clipped an opponent on the way down and saw the penalties feeling like they were being made up as it went on. Manchester then had a player brought down when in on goal, yet the second match official Tom Pering deemed it only worthy of a hooking call and not a penalty shot

Both benches vented their fury towards the match referees, on what was poor nights officiating. Brett Robinson then came charging into the back of Luke Moffatt on the blue line and saw a scrum with the Blaze man picking up a deserved 2+10 for a check from behind. Meanwhile, the string of strange calls saw Ryan Trenz picking up the same penalty too, after he pushed Robinson in the chest and had the two referees deeming it unbelievably as a check from behind also. 

As the game ticked down it saw the home side trying to take the sting out of the game and saw Marc Olivier Vallerand sitting for a slashing call. In the dying seconds, Coventry pulled their goalie and pushed for a tying goal but was to be denied in the final seconds by Mike Clemente, as he prevented the away side from scoring and secured Manchester the points and made it a magnificent seven wins in a row and move them to within a point of Belfast in second place.

This weekend sees Manchester travelling down south to take on two conference opponents, where they have a chance to strengthen their grip on the conference, with trips down to Milton Keynes on Saturday night and then Guildford on the Sunday night.

Parris double moves City back top

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Manchester City Women   4 – 0  Liverpool Ladies

Two goals by Nikita Parris helped Manchester City move back to the top of the Women’s Super League standings after a 4-0 win over Liverpool Ladies at the Academy Stadium. This was the first home game that City had played following seven straight matches away from Manchester in the League and the Cup too. Since that time, it has seen City progressing to the fifth round of the Women’s FA Cup and also remain unbeaten with a goalless game against fellow title rivals Chelsea.

The Blues were minus three of their big name players in goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, club captain and defender Steph Houghton and also midfielder Jill Scott all through injury. It saw the hosts starting strong from the word go and have their recent new signing in Danish International Nadia Nadim going close with a couple of headers that saw Liverpool’s goalie Becky Flaherty dealing with it. Seconds later it saw the home side taking a fortunate lead inside fifty seconds when the ball struck Nikita Parris in the face and somehow ended up in the back of the net.

Abbie McManus then tested the Liverpool keeper from long range after the City defender lifted the ball back over a red shirts player and launched a right-footed volley that bounced in front of the Flaherty and saw her pushing the shot away for a corner. On a chilly early afternoon in Manchester, it saw Ellie Roebuck finally doing something to stay warm as Bethany England had a cross come shot that had the young keeper making the catch.

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Nikita Parris celebrates her second goal during Man City Women 4-0 win over Liverpool Ladies Pic: MANCITY.COM

The first half was a pretty uneventful forty-five minute half in truth, with Claire Emslie having two efforts on goal for City but that was as good as it got. In the Second half, saw the blues continuing their dominating of possession and in the 54th minute, it saw Nikita Parris weaving her way pass Alex Greenwood and then got brought down inside the area by Caroline Weir which resulted in a penalty. Izzy Christiansen stepped up City and fired high into the Reds goal to double their lead for a 2-0 scoreline.

Liverpool’s Bethany England then almost found an instant response for the visitors, as she cut inside Abbie McManus and seen her shot saved by Ellie Roebuck. In the 59th minute, it saw a corner kick being whipped in by Claire Emslie and saw a bullet header from Nikita Parris to net her second of the game and have City 3-0 up as the home side were flexing their muscles.

Defender Abbie McManus scored the fourth goal for the home side, with a touch of good fortune about it too, as Nikita Parris flicked a through ball onwards for McManus to run onto and had her initial shot blocked by Kate Longhurst and saw the ball bounce back off the knee of the City player and into the net with Flaherty down stranded still. The victory moves the sky blues back to the top of the WSL table with attention now switching to their Women’s FA Cup game next weekend against Birmingham City Ladies and a repeat of last year’s final where City lifted the trophy at Wembley. 


Eagles overcome New England in a Classic

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  191px-Philadelphia_Eagles_logo.svg    PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 41   NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 33 193px-New_England_Patriots_logo.svg

In the early hours of Monday morning, it saw the Philadelphia Eagles becoming Super Bowl champions with victory over the favourites in the New England Patriots at Minnesota’s US Bank Stadium, as the NFC East side were crowned World Champions for the first-ever time at Super Bowl LII. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was named the MVP of the game, after the former University of Arizona player, threw for three touchdown passes and even caught a touchdown pass himself, as the Philadelphia man threw for 373-yards in his sides 41-33 win over the most dominant team of recent times.

It was a game that was action-packed from the opening kick off to the final play of the game, as many pundits had already decided the outcome beforehand, with the New England Patriots being crowned champions before a ball was even snapped. But the NFC champions were more than happy enough to play up to the role of underdogs, with Philadelphia having been using that terms for the whole of these post-season match-ups.

The traditional clash of AFC and NFC Champions clashing at the Super Bowl saw many records broken during this year’s contest, as the teams combined for the most offensive yards in a single game this season, as no regular season or postseason could boast that over that year. Another record that got broke was one that had lasted for thirty years, as the two sides totalled 1,151 for offensive play and were 222 more yards than what the previous record was set when the Washington Redskins beat the Denver Broncos back at Super Bowl XXII.

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Brandin Cooks tries to Hurdle a Philadelphia Eagles defensive player

Many former players and commentators felt that the AFC division is the weakest of the two in the National Football League, and when comparing the contenders for this year’s Super Bowl, it is pretty hard to disagree with that point at all, as the New England breezed through their conference games with relative ease over their respective rivals in the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. It felt that the Patriots only challenge in the postseason would come at the Super Bowl itself, as the NFC was one of the toughest conferences to win and that proved to be the case with many sides showing their title credentials.

For Philadelphia, getting to Minnesota and setting up a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX was a battle itself, following tough games against the Atlanta Falcons and host city Minnesota in the NFC Championship game a couple of weeks ago. Facing the Patriots again seemed to be a way of expelling their Super Bowl past, as back in 2005 the Eagles lost out to New England and this was a great chance to gain revenge against the side that beat them thirteen years ago. The Eagles started the game with possession and saw Nick Foles engineering a drive that saw Torrey Smith completing a 30-yard catch on a 3rd & 12 that eventually culminated in a 25-yard field goal being kicked over by Rookie Jake Elliott to give the NFC side a 3-0 lead early on. New England responded in kind with a field goal of their own to level the game at 3-3, and it saw the game starting to take shape with both sides looking to assert their dominance and have both defences struggling early on after the first couple of opening drives for both sides.

Former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, saw him cutting through New England defense and moved his side from the Eagles 30-yard line to the Patriots 33-yard line with a solo run. Philadelphia then scored the opening touchdown of Super Bowl LII thanks to a catch in the end zone by Alshon Jeffery, as the former Chicago Bears man made a superb grab from a Nick Foles throw towards the wide receiver for a score and have the NFC East side retaking the lead. Elliott then went to add the extra point for Philadelphia, but his kick had some curl on it and it missed the uprights and left the score at 9-3.  Tom Brady then came back onto the field and saw him struggling to find one of his receivers with the Eagles defense on top and closing down all options that were normally on offer to Brady. Rob Gronkowski was given special treatment, as he proved to be ineffective in the entire first half for the defending champions, with ‘Gronk’ being shut down by the Philly defensive unit. That meant that New England needed guys to step up, and Chris Hogan and ‘Mr Postseason’ Danny Amendola stood up and accepted the challenge and both of them came up huge for the Patriots when they needed them.

Amendola soon found himself in acres of space near the sidelines for a pass by Brady, as he got the reigning champs upfield. Brandin Cooks then attempted to hurdle Eagles Safety Rodney McLeod on the ten-yard line but instead saw the Philadelphia man catching Cooks in mid-air and looked like he was going to go WWE on him, as he had him in a kind of powerbomb position, but Cooks failed to get by. Stephen Gostkowski then stepped out onto the field for the Patriots and saw his 26-yard field goal attempt botched in the lead up to it, with the snap to Ryan Allen having the ball bobble to the punt kicker, and that led to panic and saw Gostkowski quickly putting boot to ball and could only watch it swerving away and hitting the goalposts to see no points. There was a slight hint of frustration on the face of the Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, but his poker face didn’t give too much at all away.

Prior to the game taking place, there was some concerns from the kickers on where the ball was being snapped too, as the logos on the field were causing problems for both sides on special teams and had the logos leaving the kickers a bit ‘unsteady’ and even saw the Super Bowl logos being painted on the pitch only hours before the big event.

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Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles matching a catch for a touchdown  PIC: BBC.co.uk

Brandin Cooks was then forced to leave the game with a head injury following a scary moment with 13.03 to go in the second quarter when Cooks completed a catch and was looking for a gap to run into, but instead he was hammered hard by Malcolm Jenkins and saw the New England man knocked out cold by the Eagles Safety. That then left a huge hole in the New England offense, with the Patriots on a 3rd & 5 they then attempted a trick play involving Brady as a receiver and have Danny Amendola taking a pass and becoming the quarterback on the play and throwing a pass towards Tom Brady down the sidelines but he was unable to take in the pass and moved the Patriots to fourth down situation.

Philadelphia managed to stop the 4th down conversion attempt and saw them looking now to take advantage of shaky New England side that wasn’t looking too good, especially with Cooks being knocked out cold and being assessed for a concussion protocol and then had their star man in Gronkowski being frozen out by their opponents.  LeGarrette Blount continues his assault on the opposition with a score and picked up the Eagles second touchdown of the game, after he powered his way through the New England side and was a similar story back at Super Bowl XLIX, when Marshawn Lynch did the same to the Patriots with the Seattle Seahawks and saw New England having no answers to stop him in that game either.

Stephen Gostkowski then kicked over a 45-yard field goal to see New England trailing by nine points at the midway point of the second quarter came around. Nick Foles threw an attempted pass out wide to Alshon Jeffery as he battled with Stephon Gilmore – of which Gilmore replaced the ‘benched’ Malcolm Butler in the lineup, as the ball came towards the two battling players it saw Jeffery juggling the ball and fell into the hands of Duron Harmon for the Interception. The Philadelphia defensive was doing a great job of stifling the play of Brady and co but then hit penalty trouble when Jalen Mills was guilty of a hold against Chris Hogan and saw the ball moved upfield for the Patriots to get outside of field goal range. Brady then threw to Hogan for a 38-yard catch that saw New England inside the Eagles half. Minutes later saw James White grabbing a touchdown for New England with just over two minutes remaining, as the running back bounced off a tackle or two and broke free of the Eagles clutches for a score. 

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(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)Rob Gronkowski completing a catch for a Touchdown   Pic: NFL.com

Gostkowski then missed another kick, as his extra point attempt was no good and went nowhere remotely near the posts at all and saw the AFC side trailing 15-12. Philadelphia then found themselves deep in Patriots territory and when a pass for Jeffery saw the wide receiver failing to get the better of Gilmore who looked better the more the game went on, Philadelphia Head Coach Jim Schwartz then opted to run on a fourth & goal instead of going for a field goal and it was viewed by many to be a ‘gutsy’ call by the Eagles coach.

Prior to the snap, Foles shouted towards his offensive linemen a change to the play call and perhaps trying to draw a offsides penalty as well. Instead, though, it saw the ball being snapped towards Corey Clement in the backfield and he flipped it to Trey Burton on the run, before Burton fired a nice weighted pass to quarterback Nick Foles in the end zone for a touchdown and see a surprise play that caught everyone out. That score was also the first time in Super Bowl history that a quarterback had caught a pass for a touchdown and more importantly saw them extend their lead to 22-12 with Elliot kicking the extra.

Following the Half-time break of which Justin Timberlake performed his back catalogue of hits, it saw the second half starting off well for the New England as the Patriots came out a different team and had the Eagles probably wishing that they didn’t have a break, as there wasn’t much momentum. As it was, Tom Brady led a recovery for his side and led to Rob Gronkowski making a grab in the end zone for a touchdown to get his team back in it. It also saw the re-emergence of the Patriots wide-receiver in the second half as ‘Gronk’ threw away the shackles that the Eagles had him in during the first half.

Midway through the third quarter, it saw some controversy in the game, as all season the ‘catch’ rule has been the bain of many NFL fans, players, coaches, pundits and probably even officials too. This time saw a deep pass thrown towards Corey Clements who made the grab before heading out of bounds. This then led to the officials reviewing the play and deciding whether it was a score or if it should be overturned. Using the old style ruling it was a good catch, but using the catch rule today – and it divides opinion. On review, it didn’t look like he had completed two steps with the ball before hitting the whitewash, but then on another angle, he did. Eventually, the ruling of a touchdown stood and the Eagles moved out to a ten points lead at 29-19 with 7.18 left in the third.

New England has made it a habit of always coming right back at opponents and this was no different, as Chris Hogan made a catch in the end zone to score a touchdown and bring it to a three-point ball game. Jake Elliott then gave the Eagles some breathing space with a 42-yard field goal at the start of the fourth quarter to help extend their lead to a six-point gap at 32-26. In last year’s Super Bowl, it saw the New England Patriots infamously put up 19 points in the fourth quarter en route to see them go from dead and buried, to tying the game and winning in overtime for the craziest ever finish to a championship game.

This year, however, they only trailed by six in the fourth quarter, but they still showed their battling qualities and came storming right back at a tough brash Philadelphia side in the second half. As the game went on it saw Philadelphia being limited in their attack, thanks to New England now turning the tables on their opponents and saw their game suffering because of it. With 9.22 left to play, it saw Rob Gronkowski claiming his second touchdown pass of the game and drew New England level with the score. Gostkowski who had such a mixed game with the boot, saw him making no mistake this time around and kicked the extra point for AFC Champions and give them the lead for the first time in the contest.

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Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts after fumbling the ball during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at U.S. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

With the Patriots on top, in both scoreline and play, the Eagles now badly need a response and so with 2.30 left to go in the game, it saw them reaching the New England 12-yard line and needing looking for a score. That response came in the form of Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz, as he dived his way into the end zone for a score and have the ball popping up before regathering for a score. Once more it saw the call being looked at and was just more drama and tension added to this game. The officials decided to double check the play and it dragged up that unwanted argument of ‘catch or no catch’ again.

In a season, where this rule has reared it’s ugly game on pretty much every game and has done more damage than it is meant to do, so this call was gigantic in the grand scheme of things. If it was ruled a ‘no catch’ then it would be 4th & 7, but should it be good then the Eagles were leading again. The touchdown stood and saw the Eagles trying for a two-point conversion to make it a one-score game that would need New England needing to get a PAT to tie the game.

The game clock said 2.21 left to play and saw the defending champions with one time-out remaining, but the telling factor without question was the man with the ball and perhaps the ‘greatest’ quarterback to ever play the game in Tom Brady, as he looked to engineer another possible Super Bowl winning drive. During an incredible game between two top teams, it saw neither side giving up a single sack in the contest. 

With most people thinking, “could the Eagles stop Brady from delivering yet another Super Bowl championship for New England?”, It was probably doubtful that any person in the US Bank Stadium thought “‘WHAT IF, Philadelphia could force a turnover?”, but that is exactly what happened. As the ball got snapped to Brady on 2nd & 2, it saw the quarterback scanning the field and looking to throw the ball, however, Brandon Graham knocked the ball from the gloved hand of Brady and forcing a fumble to which teammate Derek Barnett recovered the ball for the Eagles. Following that huge play by Philadelphia, it saw the Eagles unable to make the most of the great field position they had got from forcing the turnover and were forced to settle for a Jake Elliott field goal from 46-yards out with just over a minute of play to go.

Despite Philadelphia holding an 8-points lead, it saw the Patriots still not giving up hope of producing a late twist to this game, as Tom Brady was nearly tackled in the build-up; but Brady managing to get free and fire off a ‘Hail Mary’ pass upfield and have the ball tipped and see some desperate defending by the Eagles defense to close the game out as time expired and have the NFC East side crowned Super Bowl champions for the first time in their history.

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Philadelphia Eagles’ Nick Foles holds up the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis. The Eagles won 41-33. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

It saw a bitter-sweet ending for the Philadelphia Eagles at quarterback, as Carson Wentz who was on course to be the MVP of the league until he tore his ACL in his knee on a scramble against the LA Rams in Week 14, was forced to watch from the sidelines as back up Nick Foles took on the mantle of trying to carry on with his good work. In six weeks, it saw him from the bench to now being made MVP at Super Bowl LII. For Carson Wentz, it would have been a bitter pill to swallow for the Eagles starter as he had been the man for Philadelphia before his injury. 

The victory is the first championship-winning side to come from the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ since the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series back in 2008 in Major League Baseball. There was some joy for the Brits too, as Running back Jay Ajayi became only the fifth player to win a Super Bowl from the United Kingdom and proudly showed off his national pride with the Union Flag draped around his shoulders.

For the Patriots, it seemed like an ‘end of a era’ of sorts to their team, as talk after the game was of Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels leaving New England to become the new Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts and also the likely move of defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, becoming the Detroit Lions new Head Coach later this week. Rob Gronkowski admitted that he was to review his options and that this game could very well have seen the last ever ‘Gronk Spike’ from the big man. Meanwhile, Tom Brady said in his press conference that he plans to continue on past forty, but what does the future hold for the Legendary head coach Bill Belichick? Rumours have been rife in the media that Belichick may choose to leave New England in the summer with a possible rift inside the camp being blamed.

One thing for sure though, this game will go down in the history books as one of the most entertaining Super Bowl’s played out, with non-stop action and drama in one game. 

When American Football Tried To Crack Europe

  With the 2018 NFL International Series fixtures being announced within the last month or so, it sees London hosting three-games with Wembley Stadium hosting two and Tottenham Hotspur Football Club playing host to the first at their brand new stadium. The explosion of the game on this side of the ‘pond’ has seen people within the sport has not gone unnoticed, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Mayor of London, talking about the English capital being the focal point of American Football in Europe. There have also been mutterings about London netting an NFL Franchise of their own in the future. Technically speaking, London did have a team in the NFL back in the day, but that was in the form of the former ‘World League of American Football’ days.

So with the game on an uplift on these shores, here is a look back at when American Football tried originally in expanding their game across the globe. Before the National Football league burst onto a world scene in the 80’s, it saw the NFL looking to promote the game outside the US in the early 1970’s with an exhibition game that took place in Paris in 1972 and saw a group of players featured in a one-off game that saw NFL Bleu against NFL Rouge.

In 1974, it saw announced in New York City that a new league was to be created and would be including Europe as part of the new set up. The idea was the brainchild of both Bob Kap and Adalbert Wetzel, with the ‘Intercontinental Football League’ being set up.  

Both men were looking to tap into a foreign market and the idea of bringing ‘Gridiron’ overseas for the first time in a league structure was unheard of. Bob Kap was a former football coach in the defunct North America Soccer League and saw him in charge of the Dallas Tornados. Kap came to the United States as an immigrant, having fled his homeland of the Republic of Yugoslavia as it was then during the 1956 uprising. While at Dallas, he also worked under the former owner of the NASL and founder of the Kansas City Chiefs in Lamar Hunt, so there were some strains of American Football links behind him. 

His business partner was a West German entrepreneur in Adalbert Wetzel, as Wetzel owned German football side Munchen 1860 and had him onboard giving the creation of this new league some creditability. The league itself featured six-teams and were to be split into two divisions, with one division being German-speaking and the other being more of a continental division. Teams pencilled for the IFL league in 1975 season were the following:

German Division:
  • Munich Lions           –  Germany 
  • West Berlin Bears   –  Germany
  • Vienna Lipizzaners –  Austria
Continental teams
  • Rome Gladiators              –  Italy
  • Barcelona Almogovares –  Spain
  • Istanbul Conquerors       –  Turkey

There were four more European cities that were to be included for the following year with; Paris Lafayettes of  France, Copenhagen Vikings of Denmark, Rotterdam Flying Dutchmen of the Netherlands and the Milan Centurions of Italy, all seemingly ready to join the year after. However, things didn’t go to plan and never saw a ball snapped in anger, as a few factors put paid to the league never getting off the ground.

Many reasons have been given as to why the league never happened, and those reasons bandied have ranged from an economic recession in American at the time, there was also the NFL players going on strike that summer too and also some political problems that saw friction between the US and Europe. Another reason given was that Europe wasn’t ready for the game to come overseas and in truth, that seems a more likely explanation. In 1982, it saw Channel 4 starting to broadcast weekly highlights of the NFL to viewers in the UK, and in 1986, it saw an estimated 4 million people staying up through the night to watch the infamous ‘1985 Chicago Bears’ thrashing the New England Patriots at Superbowl XX.

The NFL then tried to expand into Europe, following games being played in Canada, Japan and Mexico in years gone by. In 1983, it saw Wembley Stadium playing host to an exhibition game with the Minnesota Vikings beating the then St Louis Cardinals (now Arizona Cardinals) 28-10 to win the ‘Global Cup’. Three years later, it saw the World Champion Chicago Bears facing the Dallas Cowboys and kickstarted annual games played in England up until 1993. Sweden, Germany and Spain

WLAF (1)
World League of American Football logo between 1989-1997  Pic: SportingLogos.net 

With the league becoming more popular in the 80’s, it led to the NFL owners unanimously voting for a spring development league and saw the commissioner at that time in Paul Tagliabue backing the plans for it in 1989. The new development league was called the ‘World League of American Football’ or ‘WLAF’ for short. It saw 26 of the 28 owners in the NFL at that time, helping to fund the league with $50,000 each from the teams to cover the costs. Of the 10 teams in the league, it saw the WLAF office owning five of the sides when the 1992 season came around with three of the five European side being owned by the league.

 

The teams for the Inaugural season of the World League were split into three division and saw 2 three-team divisions and one four-team division.

European Division
  • London_Monarchs_Helmet London Monarchs                   (1991-1997 / 98 as England Monarch)
  • Barcelona_Dragons_helmet   Barcelona Dragons                (1991 -2003)
  • Frankfurt_Galaxy_helmet  Frankfurt Galaxy                    (1991- 2007)
North American EAST division
  • New_York-New_Jersey_Knights_helmet_1991-1992  NY/NJ Knights                           (1991-1992)
  • Orlando_Thunder_helmet_1991-1992  Orlando Thunder                       (1991-1992)
  • Montreal_Machine_helmet_1991-1992  Montreal Machine                     (1991-1992)
  • Raleigh-Durham_Skyhawks_helmet_1991  Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks      (1991)

North American WEST

  • Birmingham_Fire_helmet_1991-1992       Birmingham Fire         (1991-1992)     
  • San_Antonio_Riders_helmet_1991-1992       San Antonio Riders     (1991-1992)   
  • Sacramento_Surge_helmet_1991-1992    Sacramento Surge         (1991-1992)     

 

On Saturday, March 23rd, 1991, it saw the opening game taking place at London’s Wembley Stadium, as the hometown London Monarchs beat the Frankfurt Galaxy 24-11 to become the first franchise to win a WLAF season game. The teams in the WLAF played off for the World Bowl, much like the NFL play for the Super Bowl. In the first final it saw two European sides facing off at World Bowl I, as a crowd of 61,108 watched on as the London Monarchs shut out the Barcelona Dragons 21-0 at Wembley to become the first-ever World Bowl champions.

  • Ohio_Glory_helmet_1992 Ohio Glory (1992)

Prior to 1992 season kicking off, it saw the Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks being replaced by the Ohio Glory who played just one year in the WLAF and following the Skyhawks 0-10 season, it saw the Glory faring not much better despite a 1-9 record that saw them beating the Frankfurt Galaxy in Week 7.

Following the 1992 season, it saw three franchises leaving the league in Sacramento and San Antonio, and brought a halt to the league with reports of next to no interest at all in the WLAF from within the United States. A reporter from the LA Times had been quoted as saying “American fans were less likely to shell out their hard-earned dollars to watch games which featured ‘roster-cut leftovers’ “. After two seasons of World League Football, it saw the league losing money with $7 million dollars being bandied about just in the first year alone.

With a hiatus of the league for two-years, it saw the NFL playing a couple of exhibition games in Sweden, Spain and Germany, both when split and then Unified too. In July of 1994, it then saw the announcement of the league coming back undergoing a huge overhaul with the WLAF now being shortened to the ‘World League’ and having the American sides leaving and having the ‘World League’ entirely made up now of just European teams. The reboot in 1995 saw a 10 team league now shrinking to a six-team league, with three new sides being included. 

  • Amsterdam_Admirals_helmet         Amsterdam Admirals  (1995-2007)
  • Rhein_Fire_helmet       Rhein Fire                      (1995-2007)
  • Scottish_Claymores_helmet     Scottish Claymore          (1995-2004)

Fox Broadcasting Company became the co-owners of the league and was a huge benefactor in getting the World League back on its feet and also had Reebok sponsoring the teams and manufacturing the uniforms off all the sides in it. Not everything was sorted, as the London Monarchs were forced to find a new home following high costs too much to hold games at Wembley and so saw Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane being home for the Monarchs. The WLAF also granted London an exemption in the league, as their pitch was 93 yards long as opposed to a full sized 120-yard scale.

2WLAFlogo
World League Logo – PIC: Worldleagueofamericanfootball

The first season of the revamped league saw one of the three expansion sides finishing top of the standings, as the Amsterdam Admirals finished with a 9-1 record and hosted the World Bowl in ’95. It saw the Dutch side facing German side Frankfurt Galaxy at the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium and saw in front of a crowd of 23,847, the Galaxy pulling off a shock upset to beat the Admirals and win their first of many World Bowl titles.

While Amsterdam had a successful season in their first year, the same couldn’t be said for the Rhein Fire or the Scottish Claymores though, as the Edinburgh based side finished bottom with a 2-8 record. Roll forward a year later, and the Scottish Claymores went from the ‘outhouse to the penthouse’ with the Scottish side claiming a 7-3 record to finish top of the standings and saw them holding the World Bowl at Murrayfield Stadium and beat the defending champions the Frankfurt Galaxy 32-27 at home in front of the biggest crowd to ever watch an American Football game in Scotland, with 38,982 to witness the Claymores victory at World Bowl IV.

 

In 1997, it saw the remaining founding side of the World League in the Barcelona Dragons finally lifting the title at World Bowl V, as the Dragons beat the Rhein Fire 38-24 at the Estadi Olimpic de Montjuic in Barcelona, and was also the venue for the 1992 Summer games. The Monarchs moved away from White Hart Lane to play their home games at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea F.C and saw the London Monarchs blowing the biggest lead in World League history, as they held a 23-point advantage against the Barcelona Dragons but went on to lose 37-32.

NFL_Europe
NFL EUROPE Logo 1997- 2006

The ‘World League of American Football’ was then given a name change for the start of the 1997 season, as it was known now as NFL Europe. It also saw the Monarchs dropping the London from their name and changing it to England, to which they split their home venues between Crystal Palace, Ashton Gate home to Bristol City FC and finally Alexander Stadium in Birmingham. Sadly, the move and name change didn’t help much and saw them folding after the season. World Bowl ’98 saw the Battle of Germany, as Frankfurt Galaxy took on the Rhein Fire and saw the side from Düsseldorf claiming their first taste of success to become champions.

Before the 1999 season, it saw a third German side joining the league as the Berlin Thunder took over the Monarchs and saw half the league coming from Germany. Frankfurt then won their second World Bowl beating the Barcelona Dragons in Dusseldorf at World Bowl VIII to claim a 38-24 victory. As the new Millennium came around, it saw the league beginning to suffer problems and with the demise of the England Monarchs in 1998, it saw the Barcelona Dragons now altering their name to FC Barcelona Dragons to gain fans and saw their fanbase dwindle and struggle with finances and was finished after 2003.

  • Hamburg_Sea_Devils_helmet       Hamburg Sea Devil   (2005-2007)
  • 135px-Cologne_Centurions_helmet     Cologne Centurions (2004-2007)

By the time the 2005 season started the league was now effectively an All-German league with many Pundits dubbing the final two seasons as ‘NFL GERMANY’ as with Frankfurt, Rhein Fire and Berlin already in it, it saw the Cologne Centurions joining in 2004 and the Hamburg Sea Devils joining in 2005 for the remaining couple of seasons. It did see one side breaking up the German sides in the Amsterdam Admirals who were the only non-German side in the competition. The league was renamed a fourth and final time as ‘NFL EUROPE’ became ‘NFL Europa’. Following the 2007 season, the league then came to an end after fifteen seasons of American football and saw the Hamburg Sea Devils being the last ever champions of the competition as they defeated the most successful side in the league in the Frankfurt Galaxy.

The league’s purpose was to originally develop players and set up them up careers in the National Football League but instead it turned into a league that was low on money and loss a heck of a lot over the years too. Only die hard fans cared about the league and so the end of the 2007 season the NFL decided to put it out of its misery and shut the doors on NFL Europa for good. 

Pretty much most of the teams had a star in the making or in some cases, a couple of handy players at their disposal, as former quarterback Brad Johnson played a part in the success of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that won Super Bowl XXXVII, as Johnson played a season with the London Monarchs. In that one season, Johnson picked up 2,227 yards and threw for 13 Touchdowns in his solitary year overseas.

In 1996, it saw the biggest name to date in the league at that point in time, with the London Monarchs signing former Super Bowl winner William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry. Former Pro-Bowler David Akers played a year with the Berlin Thunder before Akers became a mainstay in the league and saw him playing 17 years in the NFL, with stints at Atlanta, Carolina and Washington. Akers will be more known for his time with the Philadelphia Eagles and saw him playing during the Eagles Super Bowl run in 2004.

Staying in Germany and moving to the Rhein Fire, it saw a couple of famous names in their own right amongst their ranks too. Firstly, Defensive-End Terry Crews, now you’re probably thinking you’ve heard that name before but can’t remember it being too much on a Football field. Well, you’d be right. Terry Crews who was an 11th round draft pick for the LA Rams back in 1991, saw his career never really taking off and had him playing just four seasons of NFL football with stops off at San Diego, Washington and Philadelphia, before stopping off in Dusseldorf. However, Crews is more well known for his appearance in Old Spice advertisements.

The second Fire player is a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Line-Backer James Harrison. Harrison, who now plays for the New England Patriots, saw him lining up for the Rhein Fire in 2003 and helped the Dusseldorf side to reach World Bowl XI where they would go on to lose to the Frankfurt Galaxy. The former Kent State player saw his stand out moment coming at Superbowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals when he Intercepted a throw for a 100-yard touchdown off a pass by former NFL Europe Alumni in Kurt Warner. 

The Amsterdam Admirals had a few handy players over the years too. As Kurt Warner cut his teeth with the Dutch side in 1998 and saw Warner using his experiences as a stepping stone to go on and have a successful career and included being named MVP at Superbowl XXXIV as part of the ‘Greatest Team on Turf’ in the St Louis Rams. Warner in the World League led the way with Touchdown passes and yardage with the Admirals in 1998. 

Amsterdam had two up and coming quarterbacks that year, as with Kurt Warner being the main guy for the Admirals they also had Jake Delhomme, who would go onto to lead the Carolina Panthers to their first Super Bowl appearance in 2004. However before that, Dehomme moved teams in 1999 and saw him switching Holland for Germany and the Frankfurt Galaxy to be exact, and he picked up a World Bowl title with the Galaxy in only season.

Back in 1995 it saw the start of the greatest kicker in NFL history, as for the Amsterdam Admirals they had kicker Adam Vinatieri and saw the him kicking 13 out of 14 attempts during his time there in World League. That high standard set him in good stead and helped him kick two field goals that won two Super Bowl titles for the Patriots over the years. The 4-time Super Bowl winner enjoyed his stay with the Dutch franchise and saw him being part of the team that made it to World Bowl III, but lost out to the Frankfurt Galaxy. 

Coming full circle, it saw in 2007 the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell bringing for the first time ever a regular season game outside the US and saw the Miami Dolphins facing the New York Giants at Wembley Stadium in front of 81,176 and has since had almost every team play in London with only five sides having not, with the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks being the sides yet to play in the UK. Over the past few years, it has seen more games played out of Wembley and saw last year Twickenham Stadium hosting two games. 

British fans love their sport and especially American sports too, as sports from across the pond have always been well supported on these shores too. Whether you attend American Football, Basketball and Ice Hockey, you’ll see fans wearing jerseys of their favourite teams in the US or Canada.