The long way from Castel Giorgio to Frankfurt

Category: European Championship - published 2010-06-20 by EFAF

European Championships in American Football have come a long way since national teams from five countries gathered in the small Italian village of Castel Giorgio in 1983 to play for the first ever EC trophy. This inaugural tournament had in common close to nothing with the European Championship series of today. When the top six teams play for the European crown of 2010 at Frankfurt, Wiesbaden and Wetzlar from July 24 to July 31 not only these six alone do outnumber the pioneer teams of 1983, actually the A-pool tournament is just the final stage of a multi-year tournament which involved 14 nations in the current series. A tournament series with a standardized scheduling formula, grouping teams according to their level of play in the three different pools and allowing EFAF member federations to maintain national team programs, in which building up rosters for the teams may be planned within a given and reliable timeframe.

Still, players and coaches of today should be thankful to the pioneers of 1983, when all of the above and a lot more - for instance: pre-booked hotel rooms by the local organisers - still was in the land of dreams. How did you pick your national team a quarter of a century ago? Well, you asked everybody in the top two or three club teams in your country, who would be willing to spend time and money for the trip - et voila: your roster just emerged out of nothing automatically. If you were unfortunate you had 10 cornerbacks and no linebackers or defensive linemen and it was time to draw straws, which 130 pound defensive back had to turn into a nose guard... And what other teams did you play in the tournament? Of course those from every other nation, in which this „recruiting process“ happened to be successful as well and the team somehow found its way to Italy.

So the Austrians, the smallest of the five nations involved in 1983, but still proud to be part of the inaugurational tournament, were „warmly“ welcomed by host Italy with a 87-0 defeat. The scheduling formula of 1983 dealt with the uneven number of five participants in some strange way. First of all, Italy with its expected win over Austria was guaranteed a spot in the final game. They were the hosts, so they made the rules. To be honest, of course there was a little more reasoning behind it: The whole tournament had to be played in the short timespan of a few days to minimize the costs for the traveling players and coaches. So France by default only was awarded a chance to reach the third place game, if they managed to beat Austria - which they did by 72-0 and thus helped the tournament to attain its true goals: to provide each team with two games and to just merely somehow stage an „official“ European Championship. Germany and Finland battled for the other spots in the final games, with Finland winning 33-8 and later on falling to Italy in the final 6-18, after Germany took third place by beating France by a score of 27-20.

A look into the history books sometimes is very helpful in rating what has been achieved. So when the A-pool European Championships kick off at Frankfurt's Commerzbank Arena on July 24 with the long-awaited clash between Austria and Germany, not only for sure we will see an Austrian team with no resemblance at all to their squad of 1983. This game and the final games one week later will be played in the Commerzbank Arena, one of Europe's top sporting venues, refurbished and used for FIFA World Cup 2006. Of course it would be misleading to compare the European Championships in American Football to the World Cup in soccer, the ultimate in multi-national sporting events. But the progress, that European American Football has made since the 80's, is very easily felt when the possibilities of today are compared to those of 1983.

Even more remarkably, most of it has been achieved in recent years. After the beginnings at Castel Giorgio EC tournaments were held on a more or less regular basis in the 80's and 90's. However, the final tournaments were just an affair for the top four countries. Qualification rounds, in which a single defeat could mean your national team was out of business the same day it had its first game, proved to be useless to the development of the sports throughout Europe. Substantial improvements in the system only came after dividing the countries into different pools of similar playing level in 2003. The second such multi-year series of pool tournaments, which will conclude with the grand final EC 2010 at Frankfurt on July 31, enabled more nations to take part than ever. And the first ever six-team final tournament will certainly set a new milestone in American Football history in Europe.

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