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Features and Events

Reading Renegades

Renegades brave the heatwave

By Ollie Williams
Reading Renegades are in their first full season as an American Football team and scorching temperatures won't stop their training sessions, so we donned some pads and a helmet too.

The BBC's Ollie Williams as a Reading Renegade
Your intrepid reporter tries some pads on for size

It's the day after warnings of a heatwave hit the headlines, so where am I? Underneath the baking early afternoon sun, wearing a helmet and huge shoulder pads, sweating profusely.

Some people do this for fun.

They are Reading Renegades, a fledgling American Football team formed last year, now competing in their first full season.

They're in the Division 2 South West Conference of the British American Football League and, as you might expect of a brand new side, they're currently the whipping boys. But there's no faulting the enthusiasm of the 30 or so people who turn up for training at Reading Rugby Club.

Reading Renegades
Many players have a simple job: block others!

Some of these people are at only their second or third training session - others have played the game since they were children in the USA or at military schools across the world.

Two of the Reading Renegades roster (English: squad) were here first time around. Back in the 1980s the Renegades had their first outing as an American Football team before they folded.

"I believe American Football is back. You can see it here - seventy per cent of our squad are rookies."
Paul Foster

Paul Foster played in the 80s and now, with the name resurrected, he's back for more.

"The original team started off well with a big squad, but finance was difficult. We didn't really have a home as such and over time things died away.

"There were over a hundred teams at one stage back then, before it went out of fashion."

Teams have certainly come and gone since Paul first played in Reading. The Renegades now train in "Gators" jerseys, acquired from a team which folded some years ago.

Paul reckons this time, the Renegades could be here to stay.

"I believe American Football is back. The NFL has high-profile stars, American sport is available on Sky TV, and you can see it here today - seventy per cent of our squad are rookies, most are aged 19 to 25."

Reading Renegades
The Defence, in blue, talk strategies.

That means most of the people around Paul - me included - weren't even born when he first donned a helmet for the Renegades.

"I'm 47. There's a guy playing for one of the Midlands teams who's 51, but generally you're realistically finished in this game in your mid to late thirties."

The game is quite physically punishing, especially in the heat of summer. I meet Nick sat on the sidelines watching the others train. He's only at his third training session and he's pulled a muscle in his leg.

"It was a 'turn and burn' drill. As I've turned I've just pushed off too hard and pulled it.

"The guys are all great, they're all very helpful. They teach me more every session I'm here."

The assembled squad divides up into three or four groups - American Football teams are separated into sections like Offence, Defence and Special Teams - and each goes through different training drills. After that the Offence and Defence get together to practice strategies against each other.

I join in with the Defence, whose job is essentially to stop the other team moving forward. In some respects it is not the most creative of jobs, as Defensive Linebacker Shaun tells me.

Reading Renegades
The Renegades are in their first full season.

"A Linebacker is sort of like a goalkeeper. When the Offence throw the ball to a Wide Receiver, who's upfield, we've either got to intercept the ball or catch the player. Failing that we've got to stop them at the line."

He talks me through a "machine-gun drill", used to warm up the shoulders. Players face each other knelt down on the floor and then clash shoulders. Is this essentially all the Defence do?

"That is almost all of their job," says Shaun. Somehow even Special Teams - come on, kick the ball, go off again - seems to hold greater allure.

It feels like there's an element of frustration creeping in after an hour and a half or so. The team suffered a fairly heavy defeat to Andover recently and they face them again in their next match, so everyone is keen to get things right. But the steep learning curve and hot weather aren't helping.

"This is tackling, not blocking," someone calls out during a drill. "Don't kill someone." The coach tells me I'm lucky he found out I am a reporter, otherwise he'd have given me a nickname. I am not told what that nickname would have been.

"Nobody hurt the quarterback!", yells somebody else. Though everyone wants the training to be realistic, the last thing anyone wants to do is injure one of their own players.

Reading Renegades
Players have to take plenty of water on.

As the training session ends and exhausted players discard their helmets in order to gulp down water, it feels to my untrained eye as though not much progress has been made.

Maybe progress is not the highest priority for the Renegades. For most of the assembled squad it's about the chance to play a game they love, one overlooked by the vast majority of British people. There's quite a large gathering of people playing our football - soccer - on the adjacent pitches. I'm sure they love football, but I can't help feeling the Renegades show a level of dedication few people could match.

Will the team ever reach the upper echelons of the sport in Britain, or maybe even make some sort of mark on a European or global scale?

Paul Foster reckons the British game is improving, but there's still some way to go.

"We played against Greenham Common in the 80s when the base was still there. They beat us 72-0. If that was a soccer match you'd be looking at 16-0."

Now it makes sense. I've lost 16-0 in football matches before and loved every minute. If your heart is in what you do, it doesn't matter that you're still learning, and it certainly doesn't matter that you're slowly sweating to death.

Reading Renegades home games, summer 2006:

15/07/06, 12:00 South Wales Warriors
23/07/06, 16:00 Dominos Oxford Saints
20/08/06, 14:30 Redditch Arrows 

last updated: 03/07/06
Have Your Say
Have you played American Football in Britain? Is it a sport on the up? Have you seen the Renegades play? Let us know your thoughts.
Your name: 
Your comment: 
 
The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

TOMMY NEWELL
ROCKINGHAM REBELS D/E HIT HARD HAVE FUN

Dave Bernal
I played for Rockingham Rebels in the mid-late 80's under Robert E. Lee. Hightlight was beating Medway Mustangs(the coach as well!)Live in California now. Glad to see the league alive and well. I remember the struggles we had at first. We played Reading, or at least we were scheduled to! Hello to all of my friends and good luck to all of the Rookies!!! Signed....A BAFF scarred American player!

Joe M
The player to watch is Alex Tong the Fullback - Hes's unstoppable! Great speed, very strong and technique like a pro!

Steve James
Played for Rockingham Rebels against Reading in the 80's, always a good team spirit, glad to see Paul's still playing. I finally retired last year after 22 years of abuse. ;o)

Matt
New teams always cause a problem - Despite having some sizeable scores against them Reading still have the potential to upset an established team (but hopefully not this week!)

Mike, Berkshire
Having seen their #68 I really wouldn't want to be up against him - he's huge!

Coach, Renegades
Steve, We have others under 5'6. Height doesn't matter. Heart does!

Matthew, Reading
Good luck against Andover this Sunday. Rees is a little 'short' on practice though!

Kevin, Reading
I've seen the Renegades play a few times and they are a good team. Chris Rees and Clive Lyttle are the players to watch out for.

#76 Renegades
Height or weight is no barrier...it's heart and passion that make the player...if you think you can, you will! Come down and try out...you might suprise yourself! Even if playing is not for you, but you love American Football or just want to be connected to a very sociable team, then please drop into one of our games/training sessions or contact us through our website (search for Reading Renegades).

RENEGADE
ALL ARE WELCOME TO COME AND TRAIN WITH US, WE WANT THE TEAM TO SUCCEED

Steve, Reading
We played it at school with a tennis ball back in the early 80,s in the playground we loved it. I would love to have a go but at 5foot 6inches I think not. Good luck Renegades!

Dominic Arblaster
The game on 5 August is an away game in Cardiff.

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