I love football; well… the word love might not be a strong enough word. Watching football on Sunday was extremely important in my family, and no… Im not talking about the sport with the round ball that 11 guys kick around a field for 90 minutes, I am talking about American football, that sport with men in shoulder pads and helmets throwing an egg shaped ball around a field for 60min (… a lot longer if you take all the game breaks into consideration). I’ve been a football fan as long as I can remember, but I had no idea that the sport was quite so global until I moved here to Austria. It was my moving abroad that showed me that everyone loves American football, even here in Innsbruck!
At first, the game may seem complicated, but if you give it a chance, you can catch on pretty quick. The basics are simple: move the ball towards, and ultimately into, the opposition’s end zone. You can do this by running or throwing the ball downfield while the opposition tries to stop you by tackling the ball carrier to the ground. A team has 4 chances to make it 10 yards (about 10 meters) and if they succeed they get another 4 chances or “downs”, if they cannot then the ball goes to the other team. Points are scored when the ball is brought into the oppositions endzone, which is called a touchdown, or if the ball is kicked through the opponents goal posts, which is called a field goal. Don’t get me wrong, these are just the basics, past that there is strategy and various positions and so much fun and suspense!
Presenting, the Swarco Raiders
I really didn’t think that I would find American football in a small European country like Austria, let alone that I would find it in Tirol but then I found the Swarco Raiders ! This year the Raiders are celebrating their 25th anniversary. American football has not only grown in popularity, but also in skill level and professionalism. The Raiders participate in the CEFL, which is modeled after the american system of two conferences and being seen as the future of European Football. The Swarco Raiders are part of the West division with Poland and Denmark opposed to the East division with Turkey, Serbia and Hungary.
The Raiders are the two time returning champions of the Austrian Football League and expectations are high for their performance this year. You wouldn’t know it by their advertisements, or the fact that they play in Tivoli Stadium , but American Football in Austria is an amateur sport. The players participate out of sheer passion, and not for a paycheck! It is also an extremely international and diverse team, some players are imported from other countries, mostly from America, bringing over a lot of talent and motivation raising the level of football in Europe even higher.
Quarterback : Sean Shelton
I got a chance to talk to Sean Shelton , the starting quarterback for the Swarco Raiders. Since the age of 14 he has been involved in football, playing all the way through univeristy. The NFL wasn’t an option for him, but he didn’t want to give up his dream of playing. Through a football recruitment website he got his break playing shortly in France and Finland then ultimately finding his way to beautiful Tirol. “Football combined with being in Innsbruck was kind of an ideal situation for me” Sean told me when we met at the Raiders media day, “Innsbruck is a really nice place to live, there is not a lot of better places to be!’’ For Sean being quarterback for the Swarco Raiders is the equivalent of a full time job with training, preparation and games. He even coaches one of the youth teams! There is a football team for every age bracket, even under 8s! But why even play football!? I mean from the outside looking in it is a brutal game of men trying to hit each other as hard as they can fighting over a ball, but as Sean said it is much more than that: “I think football instills certain values, mainly teamwork. A good player has the ability to work with anyone, you learn to lean on people and rely on people. Football has benefitted me in life greatly”.
NFL, Playoffs, Super Bowl, oh my!
Watching Swarco Raiders play is the only way to see American football in person in Innsbruck but it’s not the only way to watch it live! Every year it seems there are more places offering live viewings of American football games, especially when it comes to the playoffs and the Super Bowl! It’s definitely not easy to be a NFL fan in Europe, given the time change between Austria and the United States, but if you have the drive and dedication you can find somewhere to watch. Playoff games are being presented live on certain Austrian television networks like Puls4 , and bars like The Galway Bay Irish Pub  and 6020. Even the the Swarco Raiders host a Superbowl party every year with all you can eat food and drinks!
Find out where and when to watch a Raiders live here !
Give the game a chance, there’s a reason it is so popular!
All Photos : Bernhard Hörtnagl www.fhb-photo.com