“American” Football as it is known over here, first hit United Kingdom television screens in 1982 with an hour long highlights programme broadcast one week after the games were played. With no interest in the UK media and with the internet just someone’s dream, there was minimal chance of finding out the scores in advance of the prpgramme.
I am also unable to watch sports unless I want one team to win or one team to lose. No neutrality with me. In that case, I had to choose a team to follow and I was impressed with the black and gold uniforms of a team from Pittsburgh so initially they became the team I looked out for. Later, they became a way of life.
I became so engrossed in this new sport that when teams began to spring up around the United Kingdom, I became an official as I was too long in the tooth to start playing. Becoming a referee provided me with a greater understanding of the rules and formations and I was definitely now hooked on football.
Fan clubs for this new sport in the UK were non-existent, but a young man in the north of England, Jason Clover, began a Supporters Club for the Steelers so I joined. When Jason found it was taking too much of his time, I took over. If I had any spare time beforehand, I certainly didn’t after then.
I had the media information sent over from the Steelers every week by mail and usually it would arrive six days after the game was played. With still no internet, it was slow going. I also found a dear friend in Pittsburgh through the Steelers Digest, Jim Moran, who began to send me a tape of each game.
A major advance from those prehistoric days occurred with my discovery of a NFL bulletin board in New York. This meant I could download the Steelers media information on Mondays when it was posted. I think my modem’s speed was 2.8K so although I suggested it was a step forward, it did cause some upset in the household when the phone became off limits because it was in use for downloading.
I always felt sorry for our member in the Orkneys. There was no way he would get the game preview until after the game had been played, but everybody appeared happy with what I was doing.
In 1993, I organised UK fans’ first visit to Pittsburgh. I had been before in 1985 with my wife and daughter for an exhibition game against the Bears. It was the year we drafted Bubby Brister and I was one of the many who thought he was the man so I made a point of taking his photo as he left the field at halftime.
Ten of us travelled to Pittsburgh in October ’93 to see the 3-2 Steelers play the New Orleans Saints who had won five straight. When we went to the stadium on the Saturday to pick our tickets up, we found one of the gates of Three Rivers Stadium open. So being curious, we walked into the stadium to take photos of each other under the goal post and to work out where our seats for the next day’s game were situated.
While we were taking in the ambiance of the stadium that had seen four Super Bowl winning seasons, the players started to take to the field for practice. This obviously sparked our already electric enthusiasm and we sat there not believing our good fortune. Our excitement increased when coach Cowher emerged, but was shortly brought to an abrupt end when Cowher briefed security to ask us to leave.
The security guy did it in good humour so no harm was done and we were just over the moon to be presented with such an opportunity. A year later we were invited to watch the Saturday morning practice from the sideline next to John Madden and Pat Summerall.
During the adventure we managed to watch the Steelers beat the Saints before travelling to Cleveland where we lost to Eric Metcalf’s two touchdowns on kick returns. In between we managed to fit in a trip to the Hall of Fame, two Penguins’ games plus we watched them practice at the Igloo and also saw a high school game at Mount Lebanon. Not bad for Steeler Nation UK’s first visit to Pittsburgh.