How this Brit became a Raiders fan well before the NFL went to London

How this Brit became a Raiders fan well before the NFL went to London

What is this strange sport called “American football”?

I was born a Londoner and grew up in the 1970s, getting my sporting fix every Saturday afternoon on the BBC’s flagship TV sports show, Grandstand. Football (aka soccer), cricket, rugby and tennis were my thing.

The only commercial channel back then was ITV who had a rival Saturday sports show, World of Sport hosted by the legendary Dickie Davies. It got the BBC’s cast-offs such as horse racing, speedway and darts, but World of Sport also stepped boldly into the unknown. It introduced the British public to obscure and little-known sports from around the globe; cliff diving from Mexico, log-rolling from Canada, sumo wrestling from Japan, and a crazy sport from the USA played by large men in crash helmets who were even allowed to throw a rugby-shaped ball forwards.

Every game seemed to involve some guy called Bradshaw against ‘America’s Team’, but there was no mention of the Silver & Black. I was intrigued but not yet hooked.

Fast-forward to the early-1980s and following a surge in the popularity of “American football” in the UK, a new commercial TV station called Channel 4 started showing weekly NFL highlights packages and also the annual Super Bowl. UK fans will surely remember Capital Radio DJ and NFL Show presenter Nicky Horne, and co-presenters including British-born NFL kickers John Smith (Patriots) and Mick Luckhurst (Falcons).

But my seminal memories are of Marcus Allen scoring his 74 yard TD against the Redskins in Superbowl XVIII, and also the Jack Squirek pick-six in the same game. A life-long passion was born that heady night in January 1984, but what was it about the Raiders that turned my head? For sure it was a combination of the AFL tradition, the mystique, the maverick owner, the player reclamation projects, the “us against the world” mentality, but perhaps above all it was the logo and uniform.

The question then became how to catch the Raiders every week.

One cold evening in November 1986 I stumbled across AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and Television Service) radio on 873 AM, and I vividly remember a crackly but exciting game against the same “America’s Team” who I’d watched on ITV a decade earlier. With the plays called by Bill King, the Raiders eked out a come-from-behind 17-13 win starting but not finishing with Marc Wilson at QB (4-14-37 0TD 3INT 3 sacks…my first Raider boo-boy), and dramatically grabbing the win through Jim Plunkett’s 40-yarder to Dokie Williams. My early years of regular NFL and Raiders football were on AFRTS radio, and it’s thanks to Bill King and other great play-callers that I think I now have a reasonable grasp of the game, at least for a Brit!

Now, what exactly is Cover 2…

1 Comment

  • Memories! There must be many like us who were glued to thise AFRTS broadcasts, waiting and hoping week after week that the next game up would feature the Raiders. I even taped the radio broadcasts and would listen to them walking to school the next morning after too little sleep! Remember that Cowboys game vividly, and Bo’s Monday Night demolition of the Seahawks a few seasons later. Happy days!

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