The Rise Of The Knights

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Jamie CarterBlog
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Rise and conquer is the motto of the Northants Knights. They are certainly living by that. The Knights (not to be confused with the Rushmoor Knights or Worcestershire Black Knights) are a success story for new teams to follow.

Bringing back American Football to Northamptonshire in 2016, following the demise of the Northamptonshire Stormbringers in 1997, has not been easy. But going from being an idea of Club Chairman, Jack O’Beirne, to a team smashing Division 2, with a successful Academy, in less than a decade, is good going.

Let’s go back to the start. It’s late summer in 2016. David Cameron has stepped down as PM. Team GB have finished second in the medal table in Rio De Janeiro. Drake has had us all nodding along to his banger, One Dance. Jack and his friends, Vince Garlick and James Redding, were delivering the first training session for the Northants Knights.

This had all stemmed from a boozy evening in February watching Superbowl 50 with the Denver Broncos beating the Carolina Panthers. They liked what they saw and found that a league in the UK did exist. They immediately set their sights on joining it. But instead of joining an already existing team, they found that there was enough interest locally to create a brand-new team.

Whilst interest in the sport is on the up and up across the UK, the talent pool and interested players doesn’t appear to be growing as quickly, making recruitment even more challenging.

Jack put a lot of his focus on marketing the new team. Hence why the first training session didn’t happen until the end of the 2016 season. But this has paid off. The Knights not only have an adult team, but they also have an academy too. In addition to recruiting, going through the associate process would also be a challenge.

The former Associate Process Manager, Richard Colin, maintained a tough standard to meet. This is not just ‘on the field’ things such as proper markings, enough players, qualified coaches etc, but also ‘off the field’ things such as letter-headed correspondence. However, this rigorous process seems to have been beneficial.

Following the Covid pandemic, BAFA have allowed new teams into the league with pretty much a non-existent associate process, leading to an increase in forfeits on the grounds of not enough players or similar reasons. The Knights were advised of a 2-year probationary period. But other teams seem to not have that. Or BAFA just doesn’t enforce it.

The Knights got off to a good start winning their first kitted scrimmage 6-0 against the Hereford Stampede. They also featured in the memorial game for Rudie Gumbs and Jay & Rik Dhesi. This memorial game brought veterans from Northants University, Northants Nemesis, Peterborough Saxons, and even some from Leicester Falcons together to play against the Northants Knights. The Knights were scheduled to play the Cambridgeshire Cats in the 2020 Memorial Game prior to Covid-19. The Junior team was formed in 2018, giving the adult team a solid recruitment pipeline to draw fresh talent from.

But it was 2021 when the Knights really made their presence felt in British American Football. The Adult team was placed into the Central East conference. Here they faced two experienced the Nottingham Caesars and the Lincolnshire Bombers. They also faced other new teams, Scunthorpe Alphas and South Lincolnshire Lightning. The Knights finished as runners-up, only losing to the Caesars (3 times). But despite being the runners-up, they scored more points than any other team in the conference at 213. That’s a potent offence by any measure.

Especially when you consider that they got a burger and a shutout against an experienced team, the Lincolnshire Bombers. The D looks solid too with only 64 points conceded, the second-lowest in the conference that year. The Junior team finished the year 6-0 in the U19 Midlands Division 2 and was crowned as champions. In fact, the Juniors recently celebrated their back-to-back championship with another undefeated run this year. Back in May, two Knights Juniors were called up for international duty in Denmark for GB Lions. The Youth team also finished as runner-up in the BAFA U16 Midlands B.

This year, the Knights have shown another strong performance in only their second year of playing competitive contact football. Head Coach, Wayne Gumbs, has ensured that the culture is a strong desire to win. From his own playing experience at the Peterborough Saxons and Leicester Falcons, comes a leadership style of winning against the odds.

So far, the Knights are top of the SFC2 North and undefeated. Frustratingly for them, they have had cancelled games. In fact, 2 fixtures have been forfeited (by other teams) due to a lack of game officials and players.

The only reliable fixture they have had has been their old foes from the Associate Process, the Hereford Stampede. The Stampede have also been the only team to keep a game against the Knights close (26-20). All other games have seen the Knights score at least 30 points on their opponents.

Are the Northants Knights Division 1 ready? Yes, they are! They surely seem to be strong contenders for the Division 2 championship run this year.

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