The Cambridge Pythons are a mixed-gender American Football team at the UniversityCambridge Pythons

Athlete Profile

  • Name: Harry Richer
  • College: Gonville & Caius
  • Degree: HSPS – 3rd Year
  • Hometown: London

Harry Richer is one of a steadily growing number of Brits who are beginning to embrace the most popular sport from across the Pond. In recent years, the NFL has taken this country by storm, with matches taking place at Wembley and Twickenham, and Super Bowl parties springing up across the UK. Richer, now Vice-President of the Cambridge Pythons, is one step ahead of the curve. A rugby man by origin, he threw his first American football at the age of 16, and soon caught the bug. 

Can you give us a brief summary of American football?

The game is much simpler than it seems. We play four 12-minute quarters, just like in American college football. The NFL plays 15-minute quarters. But even then games often last for two to three hours.

Effectively there are two sides of a team, the offence and the defence. When a team’s offence have the ball, they have four plays to try to gain 10 yards through either running the ball or passing it. If they gain the 10 yards then they get another four plays to try to gain another. If they don’t then the other team’s offence gain the ball at the last spot where the other team failed, and then they begin on offence. If they reach the end zone, then they score a touchdown. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but it is very easy to pick up once you watch or play a game.

How did you first get into the sport?

I’m quite unique in British American football in that I played the sport before I came to university. I have played rugby since I was 11 and when I was in lower sixth form a friend of mine played for a local American football team, and invited me along. I went to a session and fell in love with the sport. That year I played rugby and American football, but give up rugby the following year to focus on American football. Almost everyone who comes to play for us, though, has never played American football before and learn the sport from scratch with us.

What’s the hardest thing about the sport?

The hardest thing about the sport is probably the fact that everything happens incredibly quickly. At the start of each play, a player will have to make several reads and decisions within only a few seconds. American football is often criticised as being a slow sport because of the number of breaks there are, but it’s a game of short bursts of intensity and players have to make a lot of decisions in that time.

What traits helps facilitate success in American football?

It’s hard to say. American football is really a sport for individuals of all shapes and sizes. We have players starting for us whose heights range from 6ft4 to 5ft5.

Who is the most famous athlete in your sport?

At the moment, the two most famous individuals to be playing are probably Peyton Manning, who is the quarterback of the Denver Broncos, and Tom Brady, who is the quarterback of the New England Patriots. 

What is the state of the sport in the UK?

It’s actually pretty good. The sport has grown massively over the past few years, in part thanks to the increase in NFL games played in Britain. There are currently over 80 universities with teams competing in what we call Uniball. There are a similar number of teams playing in the adult leagues as well. Every year new teams join the league and the sport won’t stop growing.

Of course, the sport has grown at an unbelievable rate in the UK over the past few years, and the more UK audiences watch the sport the more they are likely to want to play it. Indeed, some of the NFL matches look set to played at Twickenham, White Hart Lane and Wembley: I think that is fantastic for the growth of the sport in Britain. The more the people of Britain are exposed to the sport, the more the actual British game will grow.

Are you looking forward to the Super Bowl?

I’m really looking forward to it – it’s not only an amazing spectacle but always a fantastic game that shows so many people what a great sport it is. Every year the Cambridge Union hosts a Super Bowl party where they show the game live and have lots of food and drink. That’s where I’ll be watching it!

What kind of facilities do you have access to?

As a team, we are very lucky with the facilities and support we have. We have seven committed coaches who support the club and allow us to be very competitive at a national level. For our home matches, we are very lucky to play on a full-sized proper American football pitch, rather than just a converted rugby pitch.

What kind of competitions are there?

All-American football teams in Britain are split into three divisions with regional conferences in each; the top teams in each division will compete in playoffs for promotion or be crowned national champions. We currently play in the BUCS Division 1 South East Conference. We play an eight-game season excluding Varsity or any play-off matches. We won our first three games and went into the Christmas break top of the table.

Your team is mixed between men and women. How much of a positive thing is that?

It’s a huge positive. Every player on any American football team plays an integral role and the more that can be done to get more women into American football the better.

What kind of training schedule do you have?

We currently train three times a week. We have three-hour training sessions on Sunday mornings, followed by a classroom session Tuesday evenings where we review footage of our past games or opponents and go over our playbooks, and finally we have another two-hour training session on Wednesday evenings. Our matches are on Sundays and so they will replace our Sunday training sessions.

And how do you reconcile a Cambridge workload and your training schedule?

Playing American football is a similar commitment to playing any other university sport in Cambridge. Sometimes it may get stressful and busy, but what you gain from it makes it all worth it.

How might you persuade somebody interested in American football to get involved?

I’d tell them it’s the fastest-growing sport at UK universities, that the Pythons are undefeated at the top of their league, that it’s an opportunity to earn a Half-Blue.  You don’t need any experience in American football, and there’s plenty of time to get you up to speed with the number of matches we have. We also have Varsity coming up so it’s a really good time to take up the sport. And if anyone’s interested they can get in touch on our Facebook page.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity