GREAT British Football teams: The London Ravens

GREAT British Football teams: The London Ravens
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The London Ravens were the first truly great British american football team. They were the first domestic team to dominate and they did so in the first wave of true popularity for the sport in the early 1980’s.

For a lot of people talking about successful teams based in Britain the conversation begins and ends with two teams. The World League Champion London Monarchs and the NFLEurope champion Scottish Claymores.

Let’s take nothing away from them. Both teams were wonderful. Following them as a fan of football in the UK was a great experience. But they were professional teams supported by the NFL.

This is a chance to remember the great domestic teams and the impact they had on the mostly amateur game at home. In the first in a short series we start with the Ravens.

The early 1980’s

In September 1982 the NFL exploded on to Britain’s TV screens as Channel 4 began American Football’s first regular weekly slot.

The effect of that hour-long TV slot took Channel 4, the American producers, and the viewing public by complete surprise.

The result was an outpouring of popularity for the game that few saw coming. Part of that was the creation of more than one hundred British American Football teams.

The Ravens are born

Just a few weeks after the first show was screened, Rowland Pickering organised a group of would-be Ravens to gather at Speakers Corner in London’s Hyde Park.

Curious onlookers, word of mouth and a plug on local radio all led to a surge of potential players. The London Ravens were up and running.

After a wealth of training sessions had piqued curiosity in Hyde Park, 1983 brought the first formal games. There were two wins against the Northwich Spartans (who later became the Manchester Spartans).

In November 1983 came a 6-6 tie with the Paris Castors. This was the first ever international match involving a British team.

The Black Shadow

As formal league structures began to take place the Ravens really found their feet. Nicknamed the Black Shadow they dominated the early years of the sport in this country.

Led by their American coach Lance Cone, the Ravens went on a 63 game 5 year unbeaten run. They became British Champions four times, represented Britain in the European club championship and made up the spine of the Great Britain national side.

In 1984 the Ravens won all ten games they played as British teams began emerging to compete. They were easily the top of an unofficial league table. They played and beat the French champion Paris Sparticus at Windsor 51-0.

In 1985 the London side dominated again. They won all of their games including a 45-7 victory in AFL Summer Bowl I over the Streatham Olympians (now the London Olympians).

1985 was also a banner year for the ravens as they became the first British team to beat an all American opponent as they defeated USAF Chicksands  13-12 on the 4th July.

Initially the Ravens had a British players only policy. That changed in 1986. Now the Ravens joined the growing number of teams with import players.
University of Wisconsin QB Ron Roberts Jnr who had been on the coaching staff in 1985 was their first import player.

The Ravens joined the Budweiser League and again beat Streatham 20-12 for the title.

However, UK football recognised a rival league so the Birmingham Bulls and not the Ravens went to contest the Eurobowl in Holland.

1987 saw the Ravens dominant once more. They were 13-0 including a 40-23 win in the Budweiser Bowl against the Manchester All-Stars. This game was played at Loftus Road in front of 13,000 people and shown on Channel 4.

No Longer invincible

The 1988 regular season saw the unthinkable finally happen. The Ravens finally lost to a British team.

They still won their division and went into the playoffs on the back of a 13-1 record. However they were unceremoniously dumped out of the competition 51-13 by the Birmingham Bulls at the semi-final stage.

Compounding this was an unexpected defeat in Eurobowl II. The ravens went in heavily favoured as the competition was played in the UK. However they were upset by the Amsterdam Crusaders 31-27 at the first hurdle.

The Decline

They had dominated the early 80’s. The Ravens were pioneers of the sport and a beacon of success for other teams to emulate. Yet their time was coming to an end.

1989 saw them look pedestrian by their previous standards. They finished 7-3 and were beaten 34-16 in the first round of the playoffs by the Manchester Spartans who were on their way to their first championship.

Worse was to come in 1990 as the once mighty Ravens finished 1-9. In 1991 they were again a pale reflection of their former ‘Black Shadow’ selves going 2-7-1.

That proved to be the final curtain. A sad end for a once mighty team. We shouldn’t forget them though. The Ravens had the second longest winning streak in Britball history. They won won four national titles from 1984-1987 and had a career record of 75-22-1.

The London Ravens truly were the first, ‘Great’ British american football team.

Banner image oringially from Britballnow.

17 thoughts on “GREAT British Football teams: The London Ravens

  1. I was a big fan of the Raven’s and have some great memories of them.

    I first got into football when I saw Superbowl 19 back in 1985. The first full season I watched was the 85 season with the Bears winning the SB.

    I had a friend who played Britball and he asked me to come with him to the 87 Budbowl at Loftus Road. Following that game I attended every Raven’s home game until the end in 91. I was also there when the Raven’s lost for the first time. The crowds for the Raven’s weren’t always large, but we had a lot of fun. We also got to know the players, and even sometimes went to McDonalds with them. It was like a big family.

    When the Raven’s folded I attended a couple of Olympians games, but it wasn’t the same for me. Then the World League started, so I bought a season ticket for the games at Wembley.

    In a few weeks I will watch my 37th Superbowl. How time flies.

    1. Hi Sophie, thanks for taking the time to read the article. And for giving us a window into the Ravens family – truly fantastic to hear about.

  2. Surely the London Olympians were one of the first British teams to defeat the Ravens. I was there when the Os, led by running back Richard Dunkley, finally lifted the hoodoo after many attempts. I had played for the, then, Streatham Olympians in the 45-7 and 20-12 losses. Indeed we were all told, before the 1985 semi-final against the Birmingham Bulls at Oxford, that the game-day programmes for Summerbowl I at Villa Park had already gone to print featuring Bulls v Ravens. I’ve since grown to suspect that this rumour – and a report that we had been sent a wreath by Birmingham – were motivation tactics by our coaches. It worked! The Streatham “street kids” (a term coined by the press) tamed Birmingham Bulls, who were then generally considered to be the Ravens’ only real rivals. As a Safety, I remember being assigned to help double cover Bulls’ WR threat Maverick Logan almost to the exclusion of anyone else. I heard that a couple of Bulls players were so confident of reaching Summerbowl I that they booked hotel rooms for visiting family!

    1. Hi Alan. Thank you for taking the time to read the article. It is always appreciated. Some fantastic memories from your time with the O’s too!

    2. I was at Crystal Palace sports centre when the Ravens lost to the Olympians, but I can’t remember what year it was.

      The Ravens (and other teams) used to sell lots of merchandise including t shirts, jackets, replica jerseys etc. But I never see anything second hand.

      1. The Bulls was the first loss, I’m pretty sure – in a game at Rosslyn Park rugby club (because Richmond wasn’t available). It was a close game lost right at the end of the game. And I was at the defeat to the Os at Crystal Palace – I think that was the following season. I ended up as the Ravens stats man and game reporter for the fanzine, so I’ve probably got the details somewhere in my archive.

        1. That’s amazing – you must have some fascinating memorabilia from a really exciting time around the birth of the game in this country

  3. That’s what I missed, The Family atmosphere. It was fantastic playing 86-89 with TVC. The whole family got involved and most teams were the same. The football wasn’t always great but the Football community was Outstanding. I “retired” in 91 but went back from 05-09. It just wasn’t the same.

    1. Hi John, Thanks for taking the time to read the article and to interact with it. I bet you have somw great memories from your times with the Chargers too.

  4. I remember back in their early years when i was in my early twenties they had the trials for the team at Hyde Park. They then moved venues. Sure they was near Wormwood Scrubs. But after a session they must have moved venues cause when i went for another session they wasnt to be seen. Anyone know of those early trials and where they had them. Its been bugging me for all these years.

    1. I’m pretty sure they started training at Southwark Park. They started playing at Richmond, as we used to go to all of the games there. Then in about 1990 they moved again to a rugby ground, but I can’t remember where it was. May have been Fulham.

      1. The games moved from Richmond to the Copthall Stadium in Barnet and then to the one I think you mean – it was Hammersmith Polytechnic ground (I think that’s what it was called) where Fulham’s football team trained and the London Broncos Rugby League club played too. That was the final season.
        I was one of the Looneys for years, then became the game reporter and stats man. So we may well have known each other back then Sophie, at least to talk to.

  5. I was obsessed with the sport and my team, the Olympians, from 86′-91. Watching them defeat the Ravens was incredible after a couple of very close games against them, including a 12-7 defeat which the O’s led 7-6 going into the final 3 minutes. I have been a few times the last few years but the amateur sport has declined massively, and I think the rot set in when the US realised they could make money out of UK fans and everyone started to focus on the Monarchs. Shame, but I guess the sport will never be as big here because of the cultural difference. It’s in the blood in the US.

  6. I saw the decline of the Ravens first-hand. Although it was inevitable that we’d start to lose games as other teams caught up, the Monarchs was the start of the slide as a number of key players thought they were going to go pro (players all over the country seemed to misunderstand the small chances of Brit players getting onto the team). A number just never came back. The Monarchs also meant a lot of sponsors for the Ravens and many other clubs put money into NFL Europe instead. And at the same time while I don’t know all the details there were issues with money to pay Americans and to cover uniforms, insurance etc. Things fell apart quickly and despite the gallant attempts of a new owner, he didn’t have the resources to keep funding the club. And the heart of a lot of players went out of the game when a Bristol player died on the field in a game there (he collapsed in a huddle of a heart attack). The final season was so sad.
    But I have some great memories of that period.

  7. Philip Williams
    I played for the streatham Olympians for nearly 10 years. We beat the London ravens 20-12 Great moment I wore a T shirt for years with the score on it It was a great time in my life I tried for six years to get into the Great Britain team which I eventually got into we went to Finland I won a starting position as right guard we played the Dutch and beat them easily and then played Finland in the final and beat them 14-3 as far as I know we as the only British team to this day to win a euro title. I also won two euro bowls with the olympions one against Amsterdam crusaders and the other against Milano Frogs. So I had a fantastic adventure with British American Football. Fantastic people fantastic sport So many great memories and my great fan Bobby Dean.

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