It is merely a couple of sleeps until kick off between Notre Dame and Navy in the college football game in Dublin this coming weekend. All around Ireland and indeed Europe the anticipation is building. Naturally, as we say here in Ireland, ‘There’s always one!’ meaning, there is always someone who is unhappy with the situation, despite everyone else looking forward to, in this case, the big game. Step forward Mr Rick Blaine, a writer for Yahoo, who penned this angry article proclaiming that the game is only going ahead as a ‘merchandising’ exercise.

To further anger the Notre Dame faithful, Blaine has also suggested the Fighting Irish could be in for an upset against Navy

Naturally, it goes without saying that Mr Blaine is entirely entitled to his own opinion, and if he doesn’t think the game should be played anywhere but the USA, well, good for him. Unfortunately, he uses a completely erroneous statement as the main basis of his assault on the decision to play the game here in Ireland. Blaine says, and we quote;

''Europe has shown little interest in American football, no matter how hard the NFL tried to force it on them.''

Woah, woah, woah. Hang on a second there. With all due respect to Mr Blaine, this is an incredibly stupid comment. I say that with authority. Stupid. There is an enormous fan base for Football American style in Ireland and the rest of Europe. It has been growing steadily since the 1980s and the NFL in particular is one of the most popular sports in Europe not called ‘soccer’.

Let’s delve a little deeper than Rick chose to.

First of all, and on a most basic level, the game on Saturday is sold out, and has been for the best part of a year. If Lennon and Harrison came back to life and the Beatles reformed, the tickets for their first gig would only be marginally harder to get than for this game. People in Ireland have been trying for months to get them, and there is absolutely none left. The game is being played at a shiny new Aviva Stadium, however it could easily have been played at the much bigger Croke Park, they could have sold the home of the GAA out twice, without any great difficulty.

That fact in itself should be some indicator as to the public excitement about the game here in Ireland.

Furthermore, football is all over Irish, English and European television. It has become one of the most popular sports to gamble on, a fact that illustrates in dollar figures how popular the sport has become over here. Everywhere you go there are NFL and college jerseys worn by fans all over Ireland, the UK and Europe. Sky Sports, the biggest sports station in Ireland and the UK, has several live games weekly. Last season Chanel 4 showed the Monday night games, and there are countless football related programs on ESPN and ESPN America. College football basically takes over the ESPN America schedule on weekends.

Everywhere you go in Ireland and mainland Europe, football is front and center in terms of popularity amongst sports fans.

Further to this, football is being played by tens of thousands across Ireland, the UK and Europe.

  Notre Dame players relaxing with a
giant chess set at their Irish hotel

There is a huge league in the UK, played out by thousands of weekend warriors, with a passionate and knowledgeable fan-base. Sky Sports, to its credit, takes an active interest in same, and frequently shows highlights from the games, and the quality of these is often praised by visiting American coaches and players. Germany has a massive league, which I believe is actually semi-professional, some players earning money out of it, the popularity and standard of play is that high.

Mr Blaine’s comment was not only flagrantly incorrect, it was also very poorly researched. A Basic level of same on the Internet might have suggested to him that there might be more to European American Football than has, to date, met his eyes. Take for example this simple list of teams in Europe. Take a quick look at it. There are hundreds. Look at Germany and France in particular. They themselves have dozens, each!

There are twenty American football teams in Denmark, for example.

We can only wish Mr Blaine had even taken a cursory glance at, for example, the German, British and Irish American football official web pages, before he wrote his regrettable and frankly insulting comment.

The Irish American Football league is a thing of beauty. It is a combative, passionate and talented league, with a very high standard of play. I can vouch for the ferocity of the defense and tackling personally, having played QB for the DCU Saints (now basically merged with the Rhinos) for three years. Let’s just say, those boys can freaking hit. We had some incredible players on defense in particular, guys like Eoin ‘Foxy’ Fox, Joe Carlyle, Connor Sullivan and Irish American Football legends Dave Rothwell and the late, very great, Steve Christian. The team was littered with passionate, knowledgeable and talented football players. In my first season with the Saints we made the playoffs and enjoyed several literally life affirming, uplifting moments, games and wins.

It is an insult to me personally, it is an insult to hundreds of football players in Ireland, and an insult to tens of thousands of football players across Europe. It is an insult to thousands of football fans in Ireland and an insult to hundreds of thousands of football fans across Europe to say anything less than the sport is huge over here, and growing still.

Myself and a few buddies held our annual NFL fantasy draft this week. In a Dublin bar, no less. That's right, fantasy football, in Europe, Mr Blaine. On the way home my good friend Andy said he was going to go to the Lansdowne area (where the game will be) on Saturday, without a ticket (because, if you recall, they are impossible to get), just to soak up the experience. What Andy was tapping into there was the fact there has been a tangible, exciting ‘buzz’ growing across Ireland for over a year now for this game. It is swelling from the ground level up, and the infusion of support, passion and color from the States, combined with the ground-swell of excitement that has been building here, should lead to a great spectacle on Saturday.

Here’s hoping Mr Blaine not only enjoys the game, but perhaps also comes to appreciate just why it is taking place here in Ireland.

Who knows, maybe the football loving European fans might even get an apology.

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