DrAt that time, 30 years ago, they called it the “Big Bang.” There was a great roar when the World American Football League started. In Frankfurt, at the Galaxy professional club matches in what was then known as the Waldstadion, I witnessed an unprecedented booming performance at a German sporting event. But the project, funded by the National Football League (NFL) from the United States and later launched as NFL Europe, was in red and disbanded in 2007.
Now the International League has started again: the European Football League (ELF). At the end of June, eight teams, six of them in Germany, will play their first matches and take US national sport in Europe to a new level in a league that largely follows NFL rules and is modeled on the franchise system. .
Proximity to NFL Europe
The names of five teams indicate their proximity to the NFL at the time: Frankfurt Galaxy, Berlin Thunder, Cologne Centurions, Hamburg C Devils and Barcelona Dragons. Then there are the Leipzig kings, the Stuttgart scorpions, and the Wroclaw cheetahs from Breslau in Poland. Unlike the NFL in Europe, where almost only Americans played, in ELF local players have to be first and foremost. The number of professionals from the home country of this sport is limited to four per team. These are not professional teams yet, but according to the league they compete under “professional” conditions.
TV presenter Patrick Essom as ELF commissioner and media entrepreneur Zeljko Karajica (Sports & Entertainment Holding) as CEO wants to conquer the continent with some kind of soccer revolution. Most recently, the league made a coup and signed former NFL player Kasim Edibaly for the Hamburg C Devils. First hit: 13 league matches were broadcast live on Pro Sieben Maxx and ran.de.
But despite these promising signals, there were problems, too. Both the Ingolstadt Pretorians and Hildesheim-based German Knights withdrew in 1367 from Lower Saxony from the original eight divisions. Leipzig and Cologne advanced in their favor. In Berlin, the collaboration with football veteran Roman Motzkus ended after the departure of lead investor Axel von Saldern. “Suddenly our most important contact is gone,” says Esume. The successors in Office of Thunder have yet to be identified, but according to Esume they will be presented this week.
Ambitious and problematic
The head of the German cavalry was Christoph Heine, who was once director of the Frankfurt Galaxy NFL Europe Club and a marketing man with experience in the sport. He does not want to comment on the details more than fellow Ingolstadt teammate Ramin Kasmi, who points to his club’s press release. You can read “No agreement” with the ELF and “Negotiations have stopped”. Motzkus, the resigning Berlin club president, tells more. “Of the 16 points we agreed upon with the league, we did not score ten,” he says. “It gave us to understand that they would orient themselves differently.”
Although the new project is ambitious, it poses a problem for German football – especially for the German Football League (GFL). With the end of Ingolstadt and Hildesheim, a number of the top German players had no perspective at first. In Hildesheim, after the planned change of team to ELF, the Invaders were not registered with the GFL. In Ingolstadt, the dukes move to the third class.
There was also collateral damage in Hamburg and Frankfurt, with ELF Sea Devils and Galaxy recruiting players, coaches and officials from GFL Elmshorn Fighting Pirates and Frankfurt Universe on such a scale that the clubs ran into trouble. Elmshorn no longer reports the first division, Universe tries to create a GFL team from second and third division personnel. With no first division relegated team relegated next season, it is hoped that the main team will return to competition again by 2022.
“I’m really sorry for the players,” says former coach Hildesheim. ELF has already left “a mess,” says association spokesman and board member Axel Streich. “Football is not promoted here, it is hurting.” In teams that will not compete in ELF, “the players are the spoiled ones”. Esume counters: “It’s not as if we have breathed in these clubs with all their players and coaches. They have all volunteered to join us. This is their right.” The GFL view is different. Ultimately, “ELF sites use existing structures and capitalize on their own business,” says Streich.
Esume confirms that Karajica, at the time still managing director of Pro Sieben Sat 1, asked GFL and USAF Germany a few years ago if they wanted to participate in a European League. Now a “coach”, as former French national coach Essome could be called, and Karajika are realizing their idea of a league of their own. They dream of developing players there for the NFL.
Tillman Engel doubts this will go well. The former director of Frankfurt Galaxy at NFL Europe is a consultant for the German Bowl Finals for the German Confederation in Frankfurt. “There’s an unbelievable amount of knee fracture,” he says of the ELF. Above all, he rejects one thing: “this brutal dismantling of German football”.
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