Friday, 5 April 2013

The GB Bulldogs: A History

Damian Bayford was the Head Coach of the GB Bulldogs 93 and the Leeds Celtics of BUAFL from 90-91 and 92-93 founding the team in 1989. He now lives in Japan but has stayed in touch with the Bulldogs alumni which include a number of Britball stalwarts including Jake Box, Pete Parsons (BAFRA), Fergus Kehoe (Southampton Stags), Pete Laird (Napier Knights), Derek Chapman (Merseyside Nighthawks).

Spring 1993 - At the then BCAFL General Meeting it was mentioned that there were a couple of teams in Germany who would be interested in an international game.

The Oregon High School All Stars were again touring the north of England in 1993. They had a schedule to play games against several senior teams including the Trafford Falcons, the Merseyside Nighthawks, and the Lancashire Wolverines. One team they had scheduled to play had to withdraw at short notice just before the tour was to start.

The tour organizers approached me to see if I could get a university team and a venue arranged. The League gave the game its blessing, and invitations were sent out to the Northern Conference teams.

The 1993 GB Bulldogs


There was only time for the bare essentials of putting a team and playbook together. Players from northern University teams including Glasgow, Hull, Teesside and Leeds got together for a single trial and training session before the game. The venue left a lot to be desired as the floodlights were frankly inadequate, but the players acquitted themselves magnificently, with the Northern Collegiate All Stars falling to the Oregon All Stars by just two scores.

This was the game that cemented the place of University American football in the UK, and showed what the universities were capable of.

Plans were therefore set in motion for a tour of Germany in the summer. Like the Northern Collegiate All Stars, the team was to be run by students, and funded solely by the players themselves.

Two trials were held, one in the north (Leeds) and one in the south (I think it was Oxford). Roughly one hundred players from virtually every College team in the BCAFL and (and even one or two players from Universities that had yet to officially join the league) came to each of the trials.
I chose players with several ideas in mind. Toughness, speed, leadership, camaraderie. There were some extremely difficult choices, and I apologize to players who perhaps should have been chosen but for my lack of ability in assessing their skills correctly.


The selection process was made easier of course by the experience of the Northern Collegiate All Stars game. Those players who had distinguished themselves at that game had proven themselves worthy. It was the leadership, dedication, and above all enthusiasm of players like Mike Jackson, Pete Laird and Graeme Crane, working with players from rival teams that made them team captains.

I was also assisted in the selection process by the advice of coaches who came to help out, and equally importantly the input of players themselves at the trials.

The tour was to exemplify what was best about university football in the UK. It was by students, for students, with no hidden agenda, no aggrandizement, done purely for the enjoyment of the game and the challenge.

There had been no direction from the league regarding citizenship qualifications. I wanted the tour to be as inclusive as possible, so all players who lived in the UK attending a UK college were deemed qualified to represent the team.

Unfortunately there were a few players who were selected who had to drop out, for injury reasons, graduation commitments, or other scheduling clashes (including at least two College Bowl MVPs).
I had originally intended a party of 40 players and 3 coaches (including myself). I simply was not approached by any coaches wishing to go on the tour. It was an easy decision to increase the number of players to 42 and let the team coach itself. With the exception of a few top coaches in the BCAFL at the time, I believed that many of the “senior” players selected for that tour were better able to lead the team (at least in the spirit and direction I believed in) than anybody else.
And they did.

We traveled by coach down from Leeds, picking up players along the way. It was only when I got on the coach myself that I learned that the League had given the team the name “Bulldogs”.
When the weather permitted, the team trained. I asked the captains to focus on two things. One was fundamentals, the other was communication. We didn't do anything fancy.

The Defensive alignments and assignments were rudimentary at best. The focus on the field was cohesion. Players knew they had to cover for each other and to rotate in and out with each other. The Defense ran itself. There were no blown coverage’s. Even special teams were very disciplined, giving up no returns to mention. This is because the players knew they had to discipline themselves.

Offenses of course benefit a little more from sideline guidance. Unfortunately the weather was so bad in Passau that the passing game was all but washed out. Not that I am adverse to passing the ball (as some would have you believe) but I do think that physical football requires a team to run the ball until the opposing defense shows it can stop it.

The offense, which had to be basic because of time restrains, was based on two principles. Running straight followed by misdirection plays.

Of course, the tour was supposed to be fun. Everyone took every opportunity to socialize (with each other and our German hosts) and enjoy themselves. There was such a spirit of enjoyment that even the dire accommodation, (bunking down two to bed in a business hotel or on mattresses laid out in one big gymnasium) couldn’t dampen the Bulldogs’ spirits (for too long anyway)
The games were to be my last. It was clear that a new generation of coaches were going to take university football on to a higher level than I could. It was time for me to step aside.


I moved to Japan shortly after watching the ‘94 Bulldogs beat the Oregon All Stars.

The Bulldogs defeated the Passau Red Wolves 36-6 and the Konstanz Falken 46-0

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