Concrete meets… UEA Pirates American Football

The only encounter I’ve had with American Football was two years ago, when I went to film a match at Colney Lane on a freezing day. Since then, I have been following their results and keeping up to date with how they perform as a team. In reality, I still don’t know the rules and how it actually works. When I write these sentences, I actually feel bad, because as a huge lover of sports, I did not do my best to get to know American Football as much as I wanted to. But as they say, better late than never.

UEA Pirates won their first championship title in 22 years and they are currently competing in the playoffs. It is such an important achievement for the team and I wanted to know how they feel and get ready for these important games while having a busy schedule ahead of them. Last week, I contacted the president Connor Kennedy to have some insights about the team and although he had a really tight schedule, he happily answered all of my questions.

It is a crucial and an exciting time for UEA Pirates and we should share this excitement and support them during this time of the season. Do not forget to keep an eye out on their Facebook page to keep updated on the match schedule and in the meantime, you can continue reading this interview and have more knowledge about American Football, UEA Pirates and how you can get involved.

American Football is not one of the most popular sports in the UK, do you think this is a disadvantage for you?

Yes, I think it has its downfalls when it comes to recruitment, compared to mainstream teams like Rugby or Football, but we always seem to do well after the sports fair during freshers. After all, uni is all about trying new things, I’d always played Rugby and Ice Hockey before uni and thought I’d give American Football a try, as did most of the team – I think the increased popularity of the NFL, such as the games just passed in October in the UK will help us in years to come.

You won your first championship title in 22 years. How does it feel?

It felt incredible on the day, we were expecting a tough final game and we got one, but we powered through and came out with a 47-6 win. The Pirates have only topped their division three times (including this year) since we started in 1987, so we’re all excited to go down as a legacy team.

How are the playoffs going so far? You had an important match on Sunday, did you get enough support?

Playoffs are going well so far, we won our final 16 game against QMBL [Queen Mary] 14-6 on the 3 March, which was a shock to the system after beating them 47-6 the week previous. The boys went into the game already thinking we had won, which ultimately came back to bite us. But we pulled it all back in the second half and carried ourselves through to the Regional Semi-Final/National Quarter-Final this week against Bath at Colney Lane. If we win that game and the one after, then we will be promoted to the Premiership (fingers crossed).

Can you explain how American Football works? I heard a lot of comments saying, ‘It looks like they are always doing the same thing.’

American Football is actually very complex. There is Offence on one side of the ball, whose job it is to get the ball to the opponent’s end zone and score a touch down, either by running or throwing the ball, then Defence on the other, whose job it is to stop offence scoring a touchdown. Our defensive play book, compared to our offensive, is very simple and we have one of the best Defence and Offence in the country.

How many teams you have in total?

Due to the size of the team, we only have one, as do all other universities. This is because our offensive players and defensive players are not on the field at the same time, thus it’s like having two separate teams merged into one big squad, therefore making our one team around 65 members strong.

There are less than two months until Derby Day. How are you feeling about it? Are you doing any extra preparations?

We’re getting very excited for Derby Day, we have won the past six years in a row I believe and we’re looking to continue that streak this year. Essex have a strong squad this year, and are getting promoted up from Division 2 to our division next year. As with every game though, we scheme accordingly, put in reps at training and go into the game as if we’re starting fresh. I’m excited for my second Derby Day at home and to see what UEA Sport and the SU has in store for it.

We have our annual old boys game on the 4 May, three days after Derby Day, which is one of the biggest events in our team calendar so it will be a busy week for us. UEA Sport recognise our Old Boys as the most successful and longest running (23rd year this year) at the University and so we are a big focus for the Alumni Weekend (4-5 May) which is looking to combine all generations of UEA’s sports clubs in one celebratory and sporting weekend.

I assume you have a busy schedule ahead with the playoffs, do you think Derby Day is also stressful for you? Or is it something you like to see as a fun match and a day that you enjoy in general?

It’s a mixture of the two, we know we have a game to play and that it isn’t going to come easy, but at the same time we are there to have a laugh and treat it less seriously than our other fixtures. That being said, we know Essex have a good team this year so we won’t get complacent.

Can someone who never played American Football before join the team?

Of course. Along with most of the team, I had never played American Football before. My only experience prior to joining UEA was watching one Super Bowl game and I had no clue what was going on. It’s definitely a great sport for anybody looking for a change and it suits everybody, no matter what shape/size/athletic ability.

Do you have any open sessions for people to try and play?

We only tend to have one taster session during freshers week, mainly due to the constraints on kit and Health and Safety. There is a lot to know about how to tackle safely, especially when you have a helmet on which can easily manipulate your neck if you do it wrong. This, and the fact that our kit is very expensive and often goes at the beginning of the year when we get a new intake, without the money available to buy more.

Do you feel like you are getting enough publicity for your important games? And if not, how can the uni or you as a club improve that?

I feel like we don’t, compared to other sports at the uni. Mainly because our games are on a Sunday when everyone is hungover from A-list, whereas other BUCS fixtures are on Wednesdays when nobody really has anything going on. We are starting to get more recognition from UEA Sport than in previous years, which is a positive. The UEA Angels Cheer Stunt team usually come to our games and support us which always spurs us on, though we could always do with more supporters.

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October 2021
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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