Back in the late 1980s to early 1990s, Channel 4 showed a lot of sport, that the other channels (BBC and ITV) didn’t show. This included Sumo (Chiyonofuji is still the greatest exponent of the sport), Baseball and American Football. I would sit and watch the Sumo and American Football, with my mum, and soon I was hooked. My neighbour and friend, Colin, also started watching the baseball and American Football. Later, we both had our own baseball mitts, bat and ball and would often be outside seeing who could make the best catch, best pitch and longest hit.
We then discovered that the National Football League (NFL) was going to start a World League of American Football (WLAF), and that London would have its own team. This was great news to us, so we followed the story with interest. Sure enough, in 1991, the World League launched with 10 teams; London Monarchs, Barcelona Dragons, Frankfurt Galaxy, New Jersey Knights, Orlando Thunder, Montreal Machine, Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks, Birmingham Fire, San Antonio Riders and the Sacramento Surge.
The London Monarchs were to play their home matches at Wembley Stadium, which would also be the venue for the first World Bowl at the end of the season. We then discovered that the London Monarchs would be using the International University, Bushey, as a training ground and that some of the players would occasionally pop into the Red Lion, Bushey, for the odd drink. Both of these locales were close enough for Colin and myself to walk to, so we did. We caught the odd glimpse of Stan ‘The Man’ Gelbaugh (quarterback) and Jeff Alexander (running back), along with others as they trained, by peering through the fence of the International University. Another highlight for us was seeing the London Monarchs cheerleaders, known as the Crown Jewels, practising their moves. Every time we visited the Red Lion, we missed the players, but the walls were slowly being covered by signed photographs of the players. (I shall have to go and see if any of the photographs are still up.)
When the season started, Colin and I had already decided that we would have to go to as many matches as possible, and we did. The London Monarchs first match was held in Germany, where they beat the Frankfurt Galaxy, 24-11, in front of 23,169. We went to their first home match, on March 31 at Wembley Stadium, where they beat the New Jersey Knights, 22-18. And it was brilliant. All the excitement that we had seen on the television, we were suddenly a part of, along with 46,950 other people, and it was addictive.
The following week (April 6) the Orlando Thunder came to Wembley and Stan and the Nasty Boyz (the offensive line) sent them packing by beating them 35-12, in front of 35,327 people, much to our delight.
The London Monarchs then travelled to America for their match against the Birmingham Fire, which the London Monarch’s won 27-0, in front of a meager 18,512.
Their next home match was against the Montreal Machine, in front of 35,294 fans on April 20, and saw the London Monarch’s destroying the Montreal Machine, 45-7.
The following week (April 28), 33,997 fans watched the Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks arrive and then sent packing, after losing 35-10.
The next three matches were all played away, but the London Monarchs still won every match;
May 6, San Antonio Riders 38-15 in front of 12,328 fans.
May 11, New Jersey Knights 22-7 in front of 41,219 spectators.
May 18, Sacramento Surge 45-21 in front of 21,409 people.
The London Monarchs returned to Wembley for their last match of the season, to play the Barcelona Dragons, on May 27, in front of 50,835 fans, who wanted to see the London Monarchs complete the season unbeaten. Unfortunately, Colin and myself couldn’t make it to this match, which would turn out to be the London Monarchs only loss of the season, losing by a mere three points, 17-20. When we heard the news we were gutted, but it meant that we could still, possibly get our revenge. Now that the season was over, the London Monarchs were assured a place in the semifinal, and with their record we could get through to the final. Sure enough, the London Monarchs travelled to Giants Stadium, New York, to take on the New Jersey Knights in the semifinal, on June 2. The Monarchs destroyed the Knights, for the third time, 42-26, in front of 23,149 fans. Meanwhile, at Legion Field, Alabama, the Birmingham Fire were taking on the Barcelona Dragons in the second semifinal, which saw the Barcelona Dragons win 10-3.
So the stage was set for the grudge match of the year:
The London Monarchs with 9 wins and 1 loss
The Barcelona Dragons with 8 wins and 2 losses
On Sunday June 9, 1991, in front of 61,108 die-hard fans, the Barcelona Dragons and the London Monarchs met at Wembley Stadium for World Bowl I. And we were there. And what a match it was, too. After being the only team to have beaten us, the Barcelona Dragons were about to have their wings clipped. With the Crown Jewels getting the crowd on side, Stan ‘The Man’ Gelbaugh and the Nasty Boys offensive line launched the attack The Dragons were left flightless as the Monarchs won the match, by a convincing 21-0 score.
Below is a link to the highlights of World Bowl I.
In January 1991, the single Yo-Go Monarchs was released, which Colin and I both bought the 12″ version of. It has a catchy tune and I still play the song every now-and-again. We also bought an American Football and a replica London Monarchs shirt each, which I still have.