American football in Abu Dhabi
Gridiron is rising in popularity in the city as new league starts 1 Comments
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Do you know your quarterback from your wide receiver? Do you know the difference between a touchdown and a field goal? If so, you’re probably a fan of American football. And now one of the biggest sports on the planet has arrived in Abu Dhabi.
The NFL Superbowl in America is watched by 111 million people every year and the sport is becoming more popular in the UAE – so much so that in June, the Emirates Football League was formed. What’s more, they’re on the lookout for new players.
The league starts in November and for the inaugural season, four teams will clash: two from Dubai, one from Al Ain and one from Abu Dhabi. The teams will play each other once home and away, and then will face each other in two play-off semi finals, before the final, called the Desert Bowl, next March.
Abu Dhabi’s team is called the Wildcats and head coach Charles Gillespie is currently putting his players through pre-season training.
‘American football in the UAE started with a college in Sharjah, and then in Dubai a team called the Falcons were started up,’ says Charles. ‘Now, to have a league with people from different emirates is very exciting.’
Charles moved to Abu Dhabi a year ago when his wife got a job teaching English. Originally from North Carolina, he played football at school in the US while growing up. His mission now is to whip into shape a group of men from different backgrounds and turn them into a team who can walk away with the Desert Bowl trophy.
‘We have two local guys on our team,’ he adds. ‘We have a guy who was with the Dubai Falcons and the rest of the team is made up of Americans, Egyptians, Sudanese: it’s a group of men coming together to learn football.’
Anyone can join, as long as you are reasonably fit. ‘We’re looking for someone who is going to the gym at least three times a week, mixing cardio, cross training and weight training. Because of the humidity, you need fitness for the conditioning drills.’ The good news is any age group can join. ‘The youngest guy on the team is about 21 years old and he’s a Zayed University student,’ says Charles. ‘The oldest guy I have is an American who is 53. He’s been a wonderful asset to the team.’
But there are still places on the Wildcat’s roster up for grabs. ‘We’re looking for more talent,’ he says. ‘We’ve been converting a few rugby players and it’s been fun teaching those guys. Rugby players have such high energy and passion.’
Gridiron, though, isn’t a sport for the faint-hearted. Even though naysayers claim the shoulder pads and helmets the players wear prove it’s a sport for wimps, this kit is actually used for tackling. ‘It’s a different level of aggression that comes with pads,’ he says. ‘We cover tackling when wearing them. At the moment we are dealing with footwork and techniques. You’re not as small as you were when you get the pads on.’
If you want to join the league you’ll need to put your hand into your pocket because an American football uniform doesn’t come cheap. ‘We’ve ordered helmets and pads, girdles and knee pads, mouth pieces and practise uniforms,’ says Charles. ‘Each player is having to spend Dhs1,500 for a standard kit.’
The Emirates Football League is also looking for sponsors. ‘We are talking to a few companies, but we’d love to get some airlines or banks on board to sponsor the league,’ says Charles. ‘We think it’d be a great opportunity to promote their businesses.’
Kids are also welcome to try out for the Wildcats and game days will feature two match-ups: one for children aged nine-18 and another for the grown-ups. ‘The kids will be put through the same drills as the adults are, if not more,’ he adds. ‘The youngsters will be working as hard.’
The games will be played at Zayed Sports City and Charles is hoping fans come along and watch the team’s match-ups. He also hopes to create a similar atmosphere to what you’d find at an American stadium, including getting fans to tailgate, which means to have barbeques out of the back of 4x4s. ‘Kids can’t go a day without eating,’ he laughs. ‘We want to create the whole experience. Whether you’re playing or watching it’s a great day out.’
The new season starts in November. For more information and to try out for the team visit www.eafl.ae.
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