Discover more from Football Archaeology
Today's Tidbit... American Football at London's Crystal Palace in 1910
American football's popularity continues to grow internationally. Leagues comprised of natives and American ex-pats exist in many countries. We also have NFL and college games played in the U.K. and Ireland that are like football's destination weddings; most prefer they just stay home, but some tag along to make a vacation of attending.
American football exists due to our playing Canadians in rugby, and we've continued playing cross-border games despite different rules developing in each country. Early exposure to American football in other parts of the world was less common. As we've covered previously, the first of those games included:
The Universities of Texas and Missouri playing in Mexico in 1896
Teams from the Navy's U.S.S. Kansas and U.S.S. Minnesota, then part of the Great White Fleet, played in Nice, France, in January 1909.
While the U.S.S. Kansas and U.S.S. Minnesota game was the first American football game played in Europe, the following year saw three games played by U.S. Navy battleship crews while visiting the U.K. The ships, with crews exceeding 800, had more men available for their football teams than most colleges of the time.
London's Daily Mirror newspaper promoted the games and awarded silver cups to the winning teams. The first two games were at the Crystal Palace in South London, where the Crystal Palace relocated from Hyde Park following the Great Exhibition in 1851. A third game, between the U.S.S Georgia and the U.S.S. Rhode Island, occurred at Northfleet in Kent on Christmas Eve.
The Crystal Palace games drew sailors from the various ships in the fleet and Londoners who viewed the games as curiosities. An Englishman who had played football in the States described football as akin to rugby, but it allowed "off-side" or blocking and:
"The rules have been altered a lot within recent years to humanise the game, but it is still a very desperate game to play."
'England To See College Game,' Daily Mirror (London, UK), November 18, 1910.
The London weekly, The Graphic, emphasized the violence that marked football, telling its readers: "North American football has the reputation of being more dangerous than a South America revolution!"
The first game saw the U.S.S. Idaho, which won the 1909 Philadelphia Naval Yard football championship, play the U.S.S. Vermont on Thanksgiving Day before 10,000 people. Game details are unavailable, but the Idaho walked away with a 19-0 victory and a silver cup awarded by the Duke of Manchester.
Next, the U.S.S. Connecticut, based out of the Brooklyn Naval Yard, challenged the Idaho to a game the following weekend. Once again, the Daily Mail promoted the game and provided a silver cup, this time awarded by the Duchess of Marlborough.
With the teams based at rival naval yards, they had the support of the crews from other ships from their home ports, and perhaps other Londoners wanted to see what all the fuss was about. More than 12,000 attended the game and saw the Idaho win again, this time 5-0.
After the third game, the fleet sailed to France, and with their departure, all interest in American football went with them. Interest in American football spiked again during WWII before dwindling again, resurfacing in the 1980s when NFL highlights and Super Bowls were televised in the U.K. In addition, London hosted several exhibition games, the 1990s saw the formation of the World League of Football, and the 2000s saw the NFL International Series begin, with London hosting all the games from 2007 to 2015.
Today, more than 60 U.K. college teams play American football across three divisions, and interest in American football continues to grow.
Subscribe for free and never miss a story. Support this site with a paid subscription, buy me a coffee (or two), or buy a book, blog-used or logoed item in the store.