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.
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.