From field hospitals to the football field

When most people think of the 1970 film M.A.S.H they recall the highs and lows of working in an American field hospital during the Korean war, but for Riki Samuel, Chairman of AFD Limited, it offered another insight into a world he had never seen before.

“During the film the doctors started playing this game, the like of which I had never seen before and I was fascinated by it. Not just because it was new but because it was being played by guys of all shapes and sizes and everyone had their job. The contact and aggression was also appealing, and although I couldn’t understand the stop/start elements, I admit something clicked with me.”

That game was American Football but it wasn’t until the 1980s that Riki got to see a game played ‘properly’. At this point the UK was full of buzz with the rise of its fourth TV channel – Channel 4. Aiming to be different, Channel 4 gave people a wealth of new programmes – quiz shows like Countdown, soap operas like Brookside and sport. And amongst Aussie Rules and Kabaddi there was American Football.

“What Channel 4 did cleverly was ahead of the broadcast of an actual NFL game they would show a half hour programme on the rules so you could get to follow and understand the game in more detail. It was then I started watching more avidly and became a Redskins fan who were one of the leading sides at that time. While I didn’t know a huge amount about the game I could recognise that Joe Theismann their quarterback was a sensational talent.

Riki’s always kept a watchful eye over the Redskins and the NFL but admits his passion was only really re-ignited when his son Gur went to university. “While studying in Nottingham, Gur discovered the game and started playing and we became hooked together. It’s through his passion for the game I’ve reacquainted mine and it’s because of him, his knowledge and his belief in the game that saw the creation of AFD.”

While son and father may have a passion for American Football they don’t share the same team affiliations. “Gur is a Bucs fan and so we always have a little banter between ourselves. Luckily they’re not in the same conference so it’s only pre-season games so that means there isn’t too much rivalry in the family!”

While Riki has managed to see the Redskins play in America he is over the moon about the fact they’re coming to Wembley. “I am so delighted, I really am, there is nothing better than having guys come and play in your back yard so to speak. I’m hoping they can have a really good game but believe you me the 30th October can’t come soon enough!”

Could London be a lucky omen for the Redskins? It’s been a few years (ok 25 but we were trying to be nice) since their last Super Bowl win, could London spark things into a great season for them?

“As much as I love them, I don’t think they’ve got a chance to be fair! We’re strengthening the side at the moment and I think it’s going to take a few seasons to get all the personnel together to make this a strong team. And sometimes I don’t think we give enough credit to the work the coaches do. In Scott McCloughlan I think they’ve got a great GM and I believe the coaches and co-ordinators are building plans, looking at the strengths and playing to them as best they can.”

Despite the fact that the Vince Lombardi trophy is unlikely to be in the hands of the Redskins come February, Riki still believes there are some names to look out for. “Josh Norman at cornerback and Odell Beckham Jr of the Giants have had a few verbal run ins shall we say but they’ll get to play each other twice this year so expect to see some sparks. I expect Josh to have the edge though. I also think we have a great tight end in Jordan Reid and DeSean Jackson is also a talent so I look forward to seeing what they can do this year.”

But while Riki is looking forward to the Redskins at Wembley, it will still pale in significance to his biggest experience in American Football, one that he will remember for ever probably because it was the biggest experience ever.

Yes, Riki was at Super Bowl 50.

“It was the most incredible and amazing experience ever. If you took about 10 Wembley games and added them together you’d probably only get to about 5% of the noise and colour and excitement that was the Super Bowl.

Americans do a sporting spectacular like no one else. It was raucous, it was so full of life, but it wasn’t just the game, although that was unbelievable, it was all the build up to it, the week long event, the festivals, the whole town it was just the rest of the world stopped and we were in a Super Bowl bubble. We were with about 90,000 people and I can say every single one of them was having the time of their lives.”

Riki went to the Super Bowl with his wife Sara and sons Gur and Roei and he enjoyed the fact that they could all share this experience together. But he also had Byron Chamberlain, AFD’s Director or Pro Personnel and 2 x Super Bowl champion with the Denver Broncos as his guide. “Byron had a replica Broncos jersey made, same as his one from the Super Bowl wins for me to wear at the game which made it extra special too.”

But back to Wembley and back to the Redskins. For him they were the team that awoke his energy for the game of American Football. As an early fan he watched the skills of Joe Thiesmann and John Riggins (I marvelled at his 43 yard touchdown, I still do!) and the seed was sown. It’s a passion he’s brought into AFD Limited which he started with his son Gur, bringing the game of American Football to children across the South East and with plans to expand further across the country.

“When I think about what we’ve been doing with AFD it takes me back to the time I watched M.A.S.H. for the first time. It’s totally inclusive this game, everyone had a role, it was played by people of all shapes and sizes. And being able to offer children in the UK that inclusivity in games is something we work for every day.”

As for the Redskins, we’ll just have to wait and see.