With the NFL coming to town again this weekend we spoke to Jonathan Chilton, running back for the capital's very own London Blitz, to ask him how he became involved with the sport, what it's like playing for American Football's British Champions and how you can get involved with the club.
Jonathan, how did you first get interested in American Football?
I was dazzled by the razzmatazz of American football when I was about 12 or 13. There was a Saturday morning highlights programme on Channel 4 back in the mid nineties and there were also live games that I would tape late at night and watch at a more suitable hour. The pads, the violence on the field, the coverage, the cheerleaders, it was an approach to sport which I’d hadn’t seen before which I found enticing from a young age. .
Are you looking forward to the match at Wembley on Sunday and will you be cheering for the Rams or the Patriots?
Yes, I’m very much so. I’ve not been to the International Series game in a few years so it will be good to go back and soak up the atmosphere again. I don’t have any allegiances to either team so I’m just hoping for a good game with lots of big hits and touchdowns.
What's your favourite NFL team and how did you choose them?
I actually have two which some fans might not approve of. When I was young, the best team were the Dallas Cowboys. They had the famous trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin who were unstoppable on their day. At university I also began to like the San Diego Chargers because they had gone from being a poor team to a very good team in a short space of time and developed an explosive offense spearheaded by LaDainian Tomlinson who is considered by many as the best running back of his generation. I also played running back so began to follow Tomlinson’s career.
How did you get started in playing the game?
When I got to university there was an established team and I jumped at the chance to play. I started playing in 2001 for the Stirling Clansmen and played two full seasons. I broke my ankle in training just before my first ever game but it didn’t put me off joined the team again the following season. I played for the East Kilbride Pirates once I graduated.
How did you join the Blitz?
I moved to London and they were the closest club to me at the time. I also knew some of the players through playing in the Great Britain squad. There was a good vibe from the players and coaching staff and it felt like the right team to join. There were very welcoming and there was a positive atmosphere throughout the club.
How much of your week do you spend with the club?
It varies depending on the time of year. Pre-season we train once a week as a team but some of the players will also train together mid week on the track or in the gym. We then have a camp over Easter just before the season starts which is pretty brutal as we cram in about 7 training sessions as well as several film sessions in a 48 hr period. During the season we’ll train twice a week and then play on Sunday (or train if we don’t have a game). We’ve played in Europe for the past three seasons and have played in Paris, Amsterdam, Valencia, Carlstadt, and Berlin so we also travel together as a team. It’s a serious commitment.
What's the social life like?
There are team nights out through the year. We’ve just had our Player of the Year Night at the end of the season. We hire out a venue and show videos and photo highlights of the season and give awards for best positional players, best plays, hits and so on. Everyone puts so much effort into the season it’s very rewarding to look back on the season as a whole. We also have a SuperBowl party and usually a pre-season fundraiser.
If somebody has already played rugby, will they find it easy to adapt to American Football?
It depends on the circumstances. I played rugby for ten years before playing American football, so participating in a physical sport where you’re already being tackled to the ground, stood me in good stead. I didn’t start playing at the highest level in the UK which allowed me to get game time. If you join a strong established team in the top division, competition for places will be high and it can sometimes be hard to break through and might require a little patience before becoming a starter. But if someone sticks with it, and fully applies themselves physically and mentally then there will always be opportunities to play.
How can you get involved with the Blitz on the playing side?
We’ve got some rookie sessions on the 25th November and Sunday 2nd December at Market Road pitches in Camden. 12pm-2pm. The players will go through a variety of drills which gives new players an idea of what position they might like to play. Experienced players are also welcome to join and meet some of the current coaching staff and players. There’s more information on our Facebook group.
Are there other opportunities at the club besides playing?
Definitely yes! We are always looking for volunteers and there are a variety of jobs you can get involved with, from coaching, game day coordination, and kit management to fundraising, website, media, and statistics. We’re a big club and are always looking for people to get involved. You can contact the committee through our website.
And if people simply want to cheer you on, when and where will they find you?
We play at Finsbury Park in North London during the season. Next year’s fixtures will be confirmed early next year and will be published on our website. Traditionally our first game will be in April.