It is time for our third annual guide to picking a CFL team for UK based fans. The 2019 schedule gets underway at the end of this month with the first pre-season game. So this seems an ideal time to think about who you might support going into the season.
A lot of NFL fans complain at this time year about the long gap from the draft to the season. Why not give the CFL a go? It is a lot of fun with some great athletes and action to grab the attention. Plus, pro football in summer – who doesn’t like that?
Of course if you want to start following a game or a new league it is usually more interesting and certainly more fun if you pick a team to follow.
Perhaps the best way to do that is to find something about a team that attracts you. So to help you out below are a few pointers on each of the CFL teams.
There are 9 teams in the CFL currently. 5 in the West Division and 4 in the East Division which is where we are starting.
Based in Montreal, Quebec, the Montreal Alouettes were founded in 1946, though the team has folded and been revived twice. The league considers all the iterations of the Alouettes as one club dating back to their founding.
The Alouettes had been pretty successful through the 2000’s and have had on their roster, Mike Pringle the CFL career rushing yardage leader and Antony Calvillo pro footballs all time passing yardage leader, (79,816 yards).
Calvillo played for Montreal between 1998 and 2013. However, Montreal has struggled since then and have yet to be as competitive as an era that saw them win 3 Grey Cups.
Team colours: Blue, red and white. Team Mascot: Touché
Suggested fan Twitter: @AlouettesFLDeck
Based in Toronto, Ontario, the double blue are North America’s oldest professional football team. In fact, as they were founded in 1873 they are the oldest existing pro sports team in North America still using its original name. Not to mention the oldest-surviving team in the modern-day CFL.
Team colours: Cambridge Blue, Oxford Blue and white. Team Mascot: Jason
Suggested fan Twitter: @argonautsfanuk
Based in Ottawa, Ontario, the REDBLACKS were founded as recently as 2014. This is a little misleading for new fans as there has been a team in Ottawa, on and off since 1876.
Although the CFL do not see them as a continuous franchise as they do with Montreal, some Ottawans see this team as the continuation of their former representatives.
The REDBLACKS name came from a fan competition and is copyrighted in both English and French (Rouge et Noir).
This Ottawa team has an all time regular season record of 41-47-2. This includes going 2-16 in their 2014 expansion season.
Team colours: Red, black and white. Team Mascot: Big Joe
Suggested fan Twitter: @LumberJoes
Based in Hamilton, Ontario, the Tiger-Cats were founded in 1950 as a result of a merger between the Hamilton Tigers (1861) and Hamilton Wild-Cats (1941).
While the Tiger-Cats were only founded in 1950, football in Hamilton goes back much further than that. In fact, Hamilton has one of the oldest traditions of football in the country.
Those early post merger Tiger-Cats were successful, as the team finished first or second in every year from 1950 to 1953, winning their first Grey Cup in 1953.
Hamilton has an all time regular season record of 528-569-17 and their last winning season was in 2015.
They have appeared in 20 Grey Cup games since 1950, winning 8 times. They last won it all in 1999.
Suggested fan twitter: @BoxJBoys
In recent years the West Division has unarguably been the stronger. These are the five teams you can pick from here.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Based in Winnipeg, Manitoba the Blue Bombers were founded in 1930.
They are a community owned team and ‘Big Blue’ have a very loyal fan base.
Winnipeg has an all time regular season record of 651-611-15. They have appeared in the Grey Cup 24 times and won it on 10 occasions.
Whilst they have emerged from a slump and been successful over the last 3 years (33-21) they have the longest Grey cup drought in the league. They last won it all in 1990.
Team Colours: Royal blue, gold and white. Team Mascot(s): Buzz and Boomer
Suggested fan Twitter: @UkBombers
Based in Edmonton, Alberta the Eskimos were founded in 1949. They are a community owned team with a loyal fan base. The Eskimos colour and uniform choice was decided for them as they started out with hand me down uniforms from the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
NFL fans will probably recognize the name Warren Moon, who helped lead them to 5 straight championships from 1978-82.
Edmonton has an all time regular season record of 677-485-18. They have appeared in the Grey Cup 23 times and won it on 14 occasions. They last won it all in 2015.
The Esks missed the playoffs for the first time in five years last season. They have had a turnover at key positions in the off-season & it will be fascinating to see how they approach the coming season.
Team Colours: Green, gold & white. Team Mascot(s) : Punter & Nanook
Suggested fan Twitter: @EskEmpirePod
Based in British Columbia, Vancouver the Lions were established in 1954. The BC Lions fan-base is one of the smaller ones alongside Toronto and Montreal.
Vancouver is one of the few CFL cities with an NHL team, an MLS team, and a sizable NFL fan-base. According to fan forums the most popular NFL team in Vancouver is the Seahawks by some margin, but that doesn’t mean they don’t support BC too.
The Leos have an all time regular season record of 539-543-24. They have appeared in the Grey Cup 10 times and won it on 6 occasions. The Lions last won it all in 2011.
Throughout this century the Lions have been consistently competitive without ever achieving dominance.
Team Colours: Orange, black and white. Team Mascot: Leo the Lion
Suggested fan Twitter: @BCLionsDen
Based in Regina, Saskatchewan the Roughriders were founded in 1910. Alongside Edmonton & Winnipeg, Saskatchewan are the last of the community owned teams in the league.
The Riders are the 3rd oldest pro football team in existence behind the Arizona Cardinals and the CFL’s own Argonauts.
Saskatchewan has a pretty rabid fan base who have have a tradition all of their own – the carved out watermelon worn on their heads! You will often find someone in a ‘Rider jersey in a sports crowd – and not just CFL games.
I believe they have the largest fan base in the CFL. Invariably if somebody goes on social media & decides to support a team based on how many responses they get from each franchise’s fans they will end up supporting Saskatchewan!
The Roughriders have an all time regular season record of 580-607-23. They have appeared in the Grey Cup on 19 occasions and won it 4 times. They last won it all in 2013.
Team Colours: Green and white. Team Mascot: Gainer the Gopher
Suggested fan Twitter: @PifflePod
Based in Calgary, Alberta the Stampeders were founded in 1945 although they are part of a football tradition in the city that dates back to 1909.
In 1948 the Stampeders became only the second Western Division team to win the Grey Cup. That year, including playoffs they finished 14-0-1 and to this day the ’48 Stamps remain the only undefeated team in CFL history.
Formerly community owned, following financial difficulties they were put into private hands in 1991 and have been privately owned since.
The Stamps are the most dominant team in recent CFL history. Appearing in 7 consecutive Western Finals they have won 5 of them and therefore appeared in 5 Grey Cup games.
The Stampeders have an all time regular season record of 661-526-21. They have appeared in 17 Grey Cup games and won it all on 8 occasions.
Calgary have been in 4 of the last 5 championship games and won two of them. They last won it all last year, in the 2018 final.
Their rivalry with Edmonton is known as the “Battle of Alberta”. For Stamps fans the return of 2018 MOP and Grey Cup MVP Bo Levi Mitchell at QB will have been a welcome sight following him testing the free agency waters.
Team Colours: Red, white and black. Team Mascot: Ralph the Dog
Suggested Fan Twitter: @CFl_Horsemen
So what now?
If after all of that you still aren’t sure who to pick then why not do it randomly?
Alternatively you could wait for the next expansion team. If it comes you’d be looking at the Atlantic Schooners and be in on the ground floor.
If you are looking to get in to the game then the CFL does great weekly highlights videos. Over the last 5 years BT Sport have shown CFL games too.
Another avenue to explore is TSN/CFL fantasy football. It is very easy to play and adds another dimension to following the game.
However you approach it I cannot recommend it enough. It is a fun, fast game that you will really enjoy.
Because things like the ‘waggle’ anfd the line gap might confuse you to begin with, a beginners guide for UK fans is available here.
Banner image from Westernmustangs.ca