Wednesday, 22 February 2012

BUAFL: The South Coast Triumvirate

By now most people are aware of the teams, three perennial playoff contenders who between them have accounted for three of the last seven BCAFL/BUAFL Championships. But the complex rivalry between the three sides is more than just a case of familiarity breeding contempt; leading coaches from all three staffs have played/coached and in some cases lived together.

Southern Sundevils 1993-2008 

Prior to the Redhawks and Destroyers even existing, current HC’s Russ Hewitt and Martin Hume played together for the BSL’s Sundevils. Current Stags HC Graham Thorpe1 had retired from playing and was serving as HC of the Youth Team that featured Phil Hume and James Irving (Redhawks OC and Destroyers DC currently).  The successful Youth Team featured a host of players who would later become successful BCAFL/BUAFL players for both the Stags and Redhawks. Martin Hume also attended Portsmouth University, but in the era of pre BUSA determination, he was allowed to play for the Southampton Stags.

In addition to this nearly the entire coaching staffs of last years Destroyers and Redhawks played together for the Sundevils side that made the Division One semi final in 2008. The HC and OC of this team? Russ Hewitt and Graham Thorpe of course…

Southampton Stags 1989 

Once brothers in arms, the Stags and Redhawks rivalry is based on what Solent students perhaps see as “snobbery” and what Southampton University students perceive as an “inferiority complex”.2 Regardless, these teams were united under the banner of the Southampton Stags until 2009 as students at Solent University were allowed, and encouraged to join the more prestigious educational institution up the road3.

The common perception was that Southampton University had supplied the facilities, coaching and kit while Solent provided the bulk of the talented players. This is a generalisation of course as many Southampton University students were fantastic, GB standard players.

However in terms of recent BUAFL awards at least, 2008 League MVP Tam Amarchree and 2009 Defensive Player of the year Ed Butcher4 were both Solent graduates. The partnership was very successful with the Stags winning the National Championship5 in 2006 and 2008. However with BUSA membership no doubt in mind, the league put an end to the catchment area rules and the era of combination team superpowers was over6. Coincidently this is when things got interesting.

Solent Redhawks 2009 

[Soft Break]With the BUSA determination period fast approaching the combined Stags team knew a split would have to happen eventually, it was more a question of when. Many felt that pooling the team resources for one more year would almost certainly bring a third National Championship in four years and give time for both sides to address the issues of recruiting and supplying kit and coaches for single institutions.

Meanwhile at Solent University, the academic focus was shifting from maritime to sport and more money and resources were being put aside under the re-branded ‘Sport Solent’ banner. One of the effects of this was an increase in university based pride amongst the Solent based players and a growing dissatisfaction with being seen as the little brother of the two institutions.

A secondary issue was that under league rules (and with BUSA lurking) Solent students who had not played for the Stags prior to 2009/10 could not play for the combined Stags team, while all students at Southampton University could. This would no doubt have a catastrophic effect for Solent recruiting who would have to ask players to train, sit and watch until the following season. Calls were made, proposals were written and Sport Solent were only too happy to sponsor a new American Football team bolstered by the winning pedigree of former Southampton Stags coaches and players.

 Whether this process was too clandestine for the Stags coaches that remained is still up for debate and perhaps excitement for a new team got in the way of showing a certain sensitivity to the team being left behind. Either way the relationship was over and the Solent Redhawks were born. Initially the core of the Stags side was taken over to the Redhawks (including Amarchree, Butcher and around 18 starters) who consequently went unbeaten in the regular season and beat the depleted Stags squad 32-0 in the first Southampton derby.

In the last two years the Stags have regained much of their former strength and while Solent may argue this is due to the Stags being able to recruit from a much larger student population, this is no longer the case6.  Both sides seem to have gotten over any issues from the initial split and have started holding occasional practice sessions and mini camps together.

Portsmouth Destroyers 2005 

Meanwhile 20 miles east down the M27, Russ Hewitt had begun the process of beginning a university side out of Portsmouth. Presumably he felt joining forces with the Stags side (that by 2007 had nearly two coaches for every position and a game day squad of about 70 players) seemed to lack a competitive challenge. The upstart Portsmouth Destroyers had spend their formative years generally losing, and in particular taking a kicking from the combined Stags side that had been monopolising the division for the past five years8.

Having already been subjugated to a series of painful losses, the confident and unbeaten Destroyers went into their 2010 fixture with the first year Redhawks team with high hopes. A pre match intimidatory gesture from the Destroyers led to the whole team being given individual personal fouls before the ball had even been kicked and worse was to come with the first quarter injury to QB Dayle Greenfield (who suffered a broken leg). The Redhawks were perhaps fortunate to escape with a 3-0 victory that cemented their position as Divisional Champions in their inaugural season. A third south coast rivalry had begun.

Hewitt had the foresight to see the potential lucrative opportunities between the three teams by formalising agreements that Redhawks vs Destroyers will always be played on Superbowl weekend, while the final week of the TVC regular season will always include Destroyers vs Stags.

More recently the Redhawks broke the Destroyer’s fifteen game winning streak that encompassed the 2011 BUAFL championship. The unexpected 6-13 loss, coupled with last Sundays loss to the Reading Knights9, means the Destroyers may have a difficult time making the playoffs if they fail to beat a Stags side that currently sits unbeaten on top of the TVC.

Regardless of this Sundays result, the shared history of all three teams belies a three-team rivalry stemmed from educational, geographical and economic differences. Due to the transitional skill level of BUAFL teams, its interesting to note that only two games in the entire series have been decided by a touchdown or less with all three teams taking it in turns to dominate the division. It remains to be seen whether another team can break the South Coast Triumvirate’s hold over the TVC.

 By the Numbers  

 Stags vs Destroyers

4-2 Head to Head

All Time Points Differential 211-68

(79-0, 21-0, 60-0, 45-0, 0-32, 6-36)

Stags vs Redhawks 

2-1 Head to Head

All Time Points Differential 47-46

(0-32, 11-0, 36-14)

Redhawks vs Destroyers 

2-1 Head to Head

All Time Points Differential 16-28

(3-0, 0-22, 13-6)


1. Im fairy sure Graham is Head Coach, not Offensive Coordinator if that’s not the case apologies for any offence taken. None was intended. 

2. Got a spare 20 minutes? Check the Southampton University and Solent University Internet Memes pages. 

3. Southampton University has generally sat somewhere between 15-20 on the University League Table, while Solent currently sits at 112.  

4. Butcher would also win the award in 2010 as a member of the Solent Redhawks. 

5. In the interests of lucidity I called it the National Championship but feel free to call it the College Bowl, BUAFL Bowl, Insert Sky Presenter Name Here Bowl…or whatever you want. 

6. Cut to knowing smiles in Bristol, Glasgow and Hertfordshire…. 

7.  24,735 enrolled students at Southampton University; 17,445 at Solent 

8. It took the Destroyers nearly four years (5 regular season fixtures) to even register a point against a Southampton based team. 

9. Reading Knights 12-4 Destroyers. Strangely the Destroyers recorded their first ever franchise victory 12-6 against…the Reading Knights.


  1. Just to add, in the last 3 seasons, many of the players from these 3 teams featured a number of Sundevils senior team players.
    There are still players from the Sundevils on current rosters.

    Has there been any move or intention to reform a team such as the Sundevils on the south coast? You speak of this one team as a birthing place for what has accrued 3 powerhouse programmes. Surely combining these programmes in to a BAFL team would be insane and only cement and progress the level these teams perform at.

  2. Personally i agree, although nothing is stopping these players for representing the Hampshire Thrashers.....

  3. Graham Thorpe isn't currently the Stags head coach, after almost a year out he resumed a position as OC of the team. Current head coach is Gareth Thomas, who was was a stags player in the 2006 championship squad, i think.

    1. i thought that may be the case, apologies to Gareth.

  4. Quite a few Sundevils 08 players are now in premiership teams in BAFANL. The Southampton teams have never seemed that involved with the senior side of things though outside of Sunny Ds

    1. Some Solent and ex Solent play for the Hampshire Thrashers, as someone already pointed out, a lot of coaches and players from Portsmouth are with the London Warriors. Not sure about any connections the Stags have had outside of Sundevils

  5. It would be nearly impossible to group the three teams under a NL team. The three teams would have to operate individually but also have a consensus approach to recruitment and operation of a senior team. Several of the coaches also play or coach in London and currently still recruit from their university teams.


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