It is time to look at another great British american football team: The Manchester Spartans. A team that had a brief but brilliant existence in the British leagues from 1984-1992.
Leonidas King of Sparta the seventeenth of the Agiad line is purported to have inspired the words of a famous epigram on the Greek monument at the site of the Battle of Thermopylae.
It reads something akin to: Go tell the Spartans, thou who passest by, That here, obedient to their laws, we lie, and is in memory of Spartan heroics.
The Spartans are well remembered throughout Western culture as their name surfaces many times not least in the naming of sports teams. So let us remember a UK version of the ‘Spartans.’
Following on from our recent look at the Leicester Panthers, London Olympians, London Ravens and the Birmingham Bulls this is the fifth in a short series of articles looking at teams that have dominated the domestic landscape.
Like the Ravens and Panthers before them the Spartans are no longer an active team. Having played from 1984 they quit to join a fledgling European league in 1992 and never resurfaced on the British scene.
A Mixed Beginning
The Spartans were the second oldest team in Britain, formed as the Northwich Spartans in 1983.
They would be the first victims of the infamous Ravens ‘Black Shadow’ losing their first two games to the London team by scores of 48-0 and 28-0.
In 1984 there was no formalised league structure and the Spartans went 4-7 following a move to Manchester.
1985, the first year to see formally organized leagues in the U.K saw the Spartans improve to 10-2-0. They promptly lost to to their neighbours the Manchester All-Stars (see below) in the playoffs.
In 1986 they went 10-0-2 and again reached the playoffs. This time they fell 35-7 to the Birmingham Bulls in a semi-final clash.
Somehow they slipped up in 1987 finishing 2-8-0. However they would very quickly turn this around.
A brief but brilliant run of success
In 1988 the Spartans won more games than any other team in one season (15). This included a 14-0-0 regular season run. However they once again fell at the semi final hurdle.
The Spartans came up trumps in 1989 as they emerged as British Champions. After a 9-1-0 regular season they finally made it through the playoffs.
In the championship game they defeated the Birmingham Bulls 21-14. All the talk at the time was of the Bulls QB Russ Jensen walking out on the team on the eve of the match!
This should not take away from the Spartans success. They did what they needed to do to win on the back of Paul Bailey’s “Britbowl” record 245 yards rushing.
The Spartans proved it was no fluke by winning the title again in 1990. WR Allan Brown scored a hat-trick of TD receptions as they edged the Northants Storm 27-25 in an exciting final.
They were also the first British team to collect a Eurobowl title. 1990 saw the Spartans defeat the Dublin Celts in the first round, and then triumph 34-22 in the final against Legnano Frogs of Italy.
Following a defection of star players the team struggled to a 2-8-0 record in 1991. They bounced back in 1992 going 7-3-0 before losing 49-0 to the London Olympians in the playoffs. This was their last domestic game in the UK.
The Football League of Europe
The FLE was a semi-professional league founded in 1994. The Spartans were one of the 8 founder members. Now however they were the Great Britain Spartans & were based in Sheffield.
In 1995 the FLE re-branded as the American Football League of Europe (AFLE) but the end was nigh.
No further seasons followed for the European league and the Spartans were not seen again either in domestic or European competition.
ALTERNATIVE TEAMS IN MANCHESTER
Manchester has had a variety of senior kitted football to enjoy down the years. Many teams actually co-existed or overlapped with the Spartans time in the city.
The All-Stars ran from 1985 to 1990 for most of which they were overshadowed by the Spartans.
Went 32-37-1 all time & were most successful in the 1986 & 1987 seasons as they went 19-3 over two years.
They finished runners up to the all-conquering Ravens in 1987 losing 40-23 in a game watched by 13,000 people and televised on channel 4.
A 1-9 season in 1990 proved to be their last.
The Falcons had the briefest of sojourns in Manchester. Formed from the Stockport Falcons they only played in 1995 & 1996.
Hardly made much of an impression with a 4-13-1 all-time record whilst in the city of Manchester.
The Heroes were actually a break away team from the Spartans. They played from 1986-1989 and had a regular season record of 16-23-1 over that span.
These Colts were originally formed out of a merger of youth kitted teams. That youth team played in 1989 & 1990 before a team turned out for the 1991 & 1992 senior seasons.
Went 14-7-1 all-time. Including a 9-1 1992 season that saw them knocked out in the playoffs before disbanding.
Football in Manchester today: The Manchester Titans
As can be seen from the list of teams above there was always some kind of american football going on in Manchester between the mid 80’s and 90’s.
A brief hiatus followed, but that was broken by the emergence in 2005 of the Manchester Titans.
The Titans had playoff runs in 2005, 2007, 2009 & 2010. The latter two coming after 10-0-0 regular seasons. In 2010 they made the “Britbowl” final, where they were downed by the London Olympians 35-13.
The Titans were relegated in 2011 following a league restructure. However they have since fought their way back & following a 9-1-0 2017 season secured promotion to the Premier Division for 2018.
The Titans are currently playing out a BAFA premier league season and arguably the most successful Manchester team.
Not because of their championships but because they have had success and long-term stability in a way other Manchester teams never managed.
Banner image: The Spartans D on duty in the 1990 “Britbowl” final. Image from flickr.com