Scottish American football flops to star in film

Some of the Dundee Hurricanes team take a break at a training session. Picture: Complimentary
Some of the Dundee Hurricanes team take a break at a training session. Picture: Complimentary
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A SCOTTISH American football team which earned itself the title of the worst in the league last year is the subject of a new feature-length documentary.

The Season follows the fortunes of the amateur side Dundee Hurricanes as they attempt to recover from their disastrous 2013 season during which they lost all 10 of their games.

The film is being made by Fife-based independent production company Buy the Ticket, run by director Alex Harron and producer Andrew Glen.

Though a long-time American football fan, Harron said that he happened on the idea while researching a potential subject for his first feature-length documentary.

Initial curiosity about the side led to him contacting the Hurricanes when he saw the potential drama in their story.

“I followed them on line during the season, and they just seemed to be going from one disaster to the next, losing all of their games very, very heavily.

“So I went to visit them towards the end of the season, saw a couple of games and interviewed them, I could see there was a lot of scope to make a film: they were getting beat every single game, so to me there was nowhere for them to go but up, and I saw it a bit like the film Rocky but with American football.”

The team reached a nadir when just 17 players turned up for a game against Glasgow, forcing players to double up for offensive and defensive plays, ending with the side down to just 13 men through injury and trounced 36-0.

Despite some initial reservations, the Hurricane’s player manager Matt Hooper said that after seeing initial footage of the film, the team embraced the project and was benefitting from it: “I think it’s certainly helped people to make a concerted effort during training sessions, and they’ve been very focused in that respect. We don’t know what Alex needs or where he’s at in the process, but it’s certainly given us the impetus this season to try and make it as good as we can and it’s pushing everyone a little harder.”

Established in 2002, the Hurricanes is distinguished as one of the longer-standing teams in Scotland. Many last just two or three seasons before collapsing under the expense of running a team, costs between £7,000 and £9,000 to maintain one.

Hooper, 28, has played for the Hurricanes since 2007, having been encouraged by university friends. He said that he was attracted by both the physicality but also the strategic aspects of American football: “I find it’s more like a game of chess because everyone’s got their strategic job to do at any one moment for something to work. So for me, there’s a bit more team work. Obviously rugby is a bit more fluid and the fact that it’s continual play, but the strategic side of American football, trying to work out what will work best for any given play or scheme that you come across.”

With an average age of 25 to 30, the team consists of both Scottish enthusiasts and US players who had previously played at high school

According to Harron, many of the US teammates relish the opportunity to hit the grid iron again: “Americans, once they leave high school, they don’t really play it again because it’s considered quite dangerous sport, so there’s no amateur league and they don’t play it for fun - it’s also quite expensive. So a lot of the American players say that it’s one last chance for them to play again.

“One of the guys said that it was like having a slice of apple pie, playing American football in Scotland reminded him of home.”

Despite being a niche sport with a relatively small following - the Hurricanes matches average around 100 spectators - running a team is expensive, between £7,000 and £9,000, with additional costs for emergency medical services that the league demands.

Both Harrow and Hooper are upfront about the risks players face even at amateur level.

Hooper said that players suffered injuries unique to the sport with different ligaments and muscles prone to being torn: “You have to let people know about these things before they start playing. Also the fact that they wear a helmet means they’ve got added weight on their heads, so when they tackle they have to keep their head up or else they have an added risk of breaking their neck. It’s just making sure people know of these fundamentals.”

Harrow said that one player had suffered eight concussions during the season, one of which resulted in a two week migraine that made him question his role in the team: “He was asking himself, is this really worth it? but eventually it went away and he said ‘Well, I’ve got to do the best for my team’ that’s his philosophy.”

Hooper said that the involvement in the documentary was already drawing extra local interest - previously it had not been widely-known that Dundee had its own American football team - and commitment. He described the effect as a “rejuvination”, with a roster of 43 players, the strongest in recent years and even a win under the belt in the new season.

Even though they lost their match against Glasgow, 19-12, they avoided the repetition of last year’s drubbing. As Hooper said: “We’ve definitely got a good core of players that are helping across the board. We’re definitely on that road of recovery.”

Filming is expected to carry on until August when the season ends, with post-production following and an initial screening at Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre at the start of 2015 before being shown on a limited release around the country.

Harron said he is also in talks with BBC and Sky Sports on the possibility of a broadcast later next year.