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Super Bowl dreamin’: Most northerly American football team in Scotland from Elgin prepares for debut season

Collage of Moray Distillers players in action playing American football.
The Moray Distillers are now the most northerly American football team in Scotland. Photos: Jason Hedges/DCT Media

It may not be the bright lights of the Super Bowl in LA, but for the most northerly American football team in Scotland a muddy patch next to the Cooper Park skate park in Elgin is the field of dreams.

Three years ago a group of friends came together to toss around a ball with the goal of supporting each other’s mental health.

Now the team christened the Moray Distillers is preparing to go toe-to-toe against flag football non-contact teams from across the UK in their debut season in the national leagues.

Helped by a surge of interest in the sport across the country, their ranks have swelled to more than 30 inspired by the greatest in the NFL.

So, what is American football in Scotland like without the glitz and glamour of the US and an Eminem half time show?

‘A place for everyone’

One-two Raasay, 21 Scapa – it should come as no surprise that the Moray Distillers playbook is inspired by whisky.

It may not be the NFL, but it does not mean these men and women do anything half-hearted.

Three quick words and players know exactly what they’re doing, whether it is a quick run and stop, a deep route or a cut across the field.

Plays are called with as few as three short words. Photo: Jason Hedges/DCT Media

Distillers co-founders Stuart Lee and Dave Ronald initially came together about 20 years ago – inspired by a poster at Lossiemouth High School.

Stuart, who is also team manager, said: “It might seem strange to say, but there’s something almost enjoyably simplistic about it.

“When you’re running and you see the route or lane develop in front of you, and then you catch the ball in open space.

“It’s almost like a form of freedom.

“And there’s a place for everyone too. People have in their head you have to be super-fast, super-fit and super-strong but some people who come along on Saturdays have bust-up knees, bust-up arms and some of them are completely broken – but we still enjoy playing.”

Head coach Dave added: “It’s the ultimate team game. You can’t rely on just one person, everyone has got to do their job. Everyone is involved in making each other better.”

American football growing in Scotland

Across Scotland and the UK, American football is a sport on the up.

In their debut season as the most northerly British American Football Association (BAFA) registered team the Moray Distillers will go up against sides from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Full contact teams also play in Aberdeen and Inverness, where the Highland Stags won the Saltire Division last year to win promotion.

Travelling to away games from Elgin adds to the challenges of running the Moray Distillers.

There are also challenges closer to home – but organisers persist in overcoming the hurdles whether it be dog mess on the field or trying to find somewhere to play.

Dave said: “It’s the love of the game, it’s fun.

“From my experience, other teams have generally received more help getting started from councils.

How to watch Super Bowl LVI

When: Sunday, February 13 at 11.30pm (UK time)
Channel: BBC One, Sky Sports NFL and Sky Sports Main Event
Live stream: BBC iPlayer or SkyGo

“It’s also a lot harder for us to access facilities in Elgin compared to other parts of the country.”

Super Bowl weekends traditionally generate extra from prospective new players.

And the prospect of Aberdeen-raised David Ojabo being drafted in the NFL this year is expected to generate a further surge in interest.

But are people surprised to learn that Cooper Park in Elgin is an unlikely home to quarterbacks and touchdowns?

Stuart said: “Absolutely, a lot of people are shocked the sport is as big as it is.

Close-up of player's jersey holding American football in both hands.

“You do get the odd sneering comment, saying it’s just touch rugby or whatever.

“But once they got over that initial shock and wonderment about what I do at the weekend, people are really interested in quarterbacks and everything else – they find it fascinating.

“It’s not LA with the big lights, but in my time playing it’s definitely getting larger thanks to things like the NFL games in London and the Super Bowl becoming more mainstream.”

‘It’s like a family’

Playing through the worst wind, rain and mud Elgin can throw at them has formed a close-knit bond within the Moray Distillers.

Through the last three years players have come together to move from a group of friends to one of the newest American football teams in Scotland.

Group photo of Moray Distillers American football team.
The Moray Distillers with co-founders Dave Ronald, left, and Gordon McClatchey at the front kneeling. Photo: Jason Hedges/DCT Media

However, the initial aims of that social get-together are still what keeps so many of the team returning.

Stuart said: “To be honest, the main reason for getting the team together was mental health.

“I was going through a rough patch and decided a focus on sport would be beneficial and it really developed from there into a team.

“It’s gone beyond just being a team now, it’s a family. We meet up outside football, people have gone on stag dos, weddings, players have been through pregnancies, teammates have been through rough patches and we help them.

“It’s family now.”

The Moray Distillers train weekly at Cooper Park in Elgin on Saturdays from 12.30pm to 2.30pm and welcome players of all abilities.

The team can be contacted through their Facebook page HERE