Great British Football Teams: the Glasgow Lions

Great British Football Teams: the Glasgow Lions
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The Glasgow Lions were the dominant team in Scottish American football for a decade or so. During that time between 1985 & 1996 they had only two losing seasons and the rest of the time were in the hunt for titles.

This follows on from previous looks at the Manchester Spartans, Leicester PanthersLondon OlympiansLondon Ravens and the Birmingham Bulls. Meaning this is the sixth in a short series of articles looking at teams that have dominated the domestic landscape.

Like the Spartans, Ravens and Panthers before them the Lions are no longer an active team.

The beginnings

The Lions were the team to beat in domestic Scottish American Football. So much so that they never as far as I know lost a competitive league game to another Scottish team. The only anomaly being a game awarded to the Edinburgh Phoenix team in 1992 following issues over player registrations.

Initially there were few signs of this dominance to come. Following formation after an advert was placed in the Glasgow Evening Times the 1984 season saw a 1-3-1 record as they found their feet.

The following season they were placed in the American Football League North and finished 7-4-1 behind eventual Division winners the Manchester Spartans (10-2), Leeds Cougars (9-2-1) & Tyneside Trojans 9-3.

Tyneside did not have enough fit players to take their playoff spot so Glasgow were invited in their stead. A 49-6 loss to the Birmingham Bulls offered some perspective on where they stood.

An established team

The Lions joined the British American Football League in 1986, which was created by the merger of the AFLUK with the British American Football Federation.

In the early days of the sport in this country there seemed to be a continuous shifting of teams and leagues as the game found its footing. The Musselburgh Magnums defeated the Lions 18-16 in a pre-season game, the only time a fellow Scottish team upended the Lions on the field.

Glasgow recovered from that however and went on to have their best season yet going 7-4-1 again, but this time winning their Division. From there they defeated the Nottingham Hoods 44-14 and Leicester Panthers 27-15 to make the final.

Once again the Birmingham Bulls stood in their way and once again they proved a challenge too far. The Lions went down 23-2 in a game styling itself ‘Summer Bowl II’.

Tough Times

Between 1987 & 1989 the Glasgow Lions found themselves migrated into the Budweiser League & they went 13-20-1 over that period.

The best of those seasons was 1988 where they slid into the playoffs following a 6-8 record. However they were soon knocked out of the playoffs 37-12 by the Manchester Spartans.

Lions Roar once more

The Lions got their roar back the following season in the NDMA Coca-Cola League. Regarded as the toughest of the domestic leagues the Lions would go 8-2 in 1990 making the playoffs once more.

Once there they defeated the Bournemouth Bobcats 33-0 before falling 43-29 in the Semi-Final to the eventual champion Manchester Spartans.

Once they had re-established themselves the Lions were very successful. Between 1990 & 1996 across a variety of leagues they went 52-9 in regular season play.

In 1991 the Lions put up a 9-1 record, but were demoted to division 2 after fielding players who weren’t properly registered. The following year (1992) they blasted their way back out of Division 2 going 7-1 before going 3-0 in the playoffs culminating with a 32-14 win against the Kent Mustangs in the final.

Once back in the top Division the Lions made their presence felt once more. A 6-0 season, outscoring opponents by 205 points to 35 saw the Lions into the playoffs. There they upended the Milton Keynes Pioneers 42-8, and the Leicester Panthers 27-24.

Unfortunately once again the final proved a bridge too far. This time they lost out to the London Olympians 40-14 in the 1993 Final.

1994 – a controversial year for the Lions

The Glasgow Lions were by now one of the more established, and you would hope, more respected teams in the Britball world.

For the 1994 season they were in the BAFA Division One competition. A 6-4 record doesn’t really tell the story of the season however.

The Lions were expecting to play two regular season games against the London Olympians and Thames Valley Aces in a neutral site at Manchester.

However the league switched both games to Burton-on-Trent in Derbyshire. Whilst this may have been a reasonable journey from London at the time it was eight hours by train from Glasgow.

A trip to play Thames Valley was undertaken, and won, under duress. The Lions were not prepared to do that again for the London game and, forfeited it under protest. BAFA took a dim view suggesting Glasgow were failing to meet their obligations stated at the start of the season and gave the Olympians a walk over win against them in the playoffs.

Lions of Scotland

Understandably the Lions management were not happy with how things worked out. So they took matters into their own hands and walked away from the BNGL.

Several other Scottish teams followed suit, aside from those playing in the BCAFL, and the Scottish Gridiron Association began play in 1995.

The Lions won the first title but their 58-0 & 76-0 wins against the Dundee Whalers & Granite City Oilers in the Semi-Final & Final respectively weren’t much of an advert for competitive balance.

1996 saw the Lions go 9-0 before defeating the Stirling Broncos 60-6 in the Final. They also picked up the final Capital Bowl game to be played.

The Lions were too dominant in the SGA though. They regularly crushed opponents and for fans and players alike the incentive to carry on began to diminish. The team was disbanded after the 1996 season. Notably several Lions players made it onto the roster of the Scottish Claymores of NFL Europe as national players for their inaugural 1995 season

A few players moved over to the East Kilbride Pirates who not coincidentally would go on to win the next two SGA championships. The Pirates returned to the British leagues in 1999 and are still playing today.

Capital Bowl

The Lions appeared in the ‘Capital Bowl‘ on 7 of the 10 occasions it was played between 1985 & 1995.

Traditionally an invitational event bringing four Scottish teams together the Lions 7 wins saw them outscore their opponents in the Final 152-32, although the games were much more competitive earlier on.

Alternative teams in Glasgow

Glasgow has had a variety of senior kitted football to enjoy down the years. Some actually co-existed or overlapped with the Lions time in the city, but would have been in their shadow for a while.

Glasgow Diamonds

1985-1988 Regular season: 28-21-1. 1 conference championship

The Diamonds were formed as a faction split off from the Lions in 1985. Their final season was their most successful as they went 10-0-0, although they would go on to lose in the playoffs.

Glasgow Cyclones

1991-2 Regular season: 13-6-1. 1 Conference championship

The Cyclones played in the BNGL from 1991-2. In their first year they went 9-0-1 and were eventual Conference champions. The following year saw their coach walk out, a raft of injuries and a 4-6 season which would prove to be their last.

Glasgow Tigers

1986-ongoing. Regular Season: 76-108-5. 1 Division title, 1 Conference title & 1 league title.

The city still has a senior kitted football team as the Glasgow Tigers are still active. The team started in 1984 founded by Glasgow police and started regular season play in 1986 as the Strathclyde Sheriffs.

The Sheriffs became the Tigers in 2002. In 1988 they went 10-0-0 and went on to win the Caledonian Bowl. They have since made seven playoff appearances. Winning one Division and one Conference title.

In 2019, the Tigers competed in the BAFA NFC 1 North, and had a 4-6 record.

The Tigers combination of successes and tenacious longevity means Glasgow still has a team to be proud of.

Banner Image: The Lions in action against the Luton Flyers. Image from Luton Flyers Archive.

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