Both men and women are welcome to join the PythonsCAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PYTHONS AMERICAN FOOTBALL TEAM

“I just love American Football. I love the speed, the physicality, and the tactical side as well because everything’s a designed play. I’m sure there’s a better way of putting it, but it’s like chess... but hitting people.”

The enthusiasm with which Sam Comb, the president of the Cambridge University Pythons American Football Club, discusses the sport is certainly striking. Originating in the late nineteenth century and now the most popular sport in the US, American Football is a team sport played by two teams of eleven players on a rectangular field with goalposts at either end. The offense, which is the team controlling the oval-shaped ball, attempts to advance down the field and score points either by advancing the ball into the opposing team’s end zone for a touchdown or kicking the ball through the opponent’s goalposts for a field goal. The defence, meanwhile, which is the team without control of the ball, aims to stop the offense’s advance and take control of the ball themselves.

“Joining the Pythons was one of the best decisions that I’ve made at university”

As Comb suggests, American Football is a full contact sport, and the brutal physicality of the sport has been subject to much public discussion. In the early days of the game, President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to shut down college American football unless students stopped dying on the field, while recent medical research has shown that the damage caused by repeated concussions can have lasting health consequences for American football players.

Comb, however, is keen to stress that incoming players should not deterred by the health risks associated with the sport.

“The issue of concussion isn’t just an American Football issue - a lot of sports, including rugby and football, have had to address these issues. The coaches have to take certain steps in terms of concussion, and there’s a specific league protocol - you’re almost better off playing a contact sport because there are so many regulations around it.”

The team, open to both men and women, play in the BUCS 2A South East division, where they currently stand in second place having won 50% of their matches so far. Most importantly, this year's Varsity match against the Oxford Lancers will be held at Cambridge's Grange Road rugby stadium, and the team will be hoping that home advantage helps them to gain revenge for last year's defeat. 

As well as training and playing, the Pythons also hold a series of social events, designed to foster a strong team spirit. In addition to regular socials after matches and training sessions, the team’s flagship social event is the annual Super Bowl party held at the Cambridge Union, where the Super Bowl final is screened and the kitchen serves a range of American dishes throughout the night, bringing an American flavour to one of England’s most traditional establishments.

Speaking to the team’s players after training, then, it is little wonder that it is the close-knit team environment that really shines through. Comb notes that “we’ve got a load of like-minded guys who all love American Football. It’s good to have that real team atmosphere.” 

Charlie Cooper, meanwhile, a rookie linebacker, describes joining the Pythons as “one of the best decisions that I’ve made at uni.” Like too many of us, Cooper by his own admission spent ’the entirety of first year drinking a lot, eating unhealthily and doing nothing to keep fit so I knew that playing American football would have a positive impact on my overall health and lifestyle.”

Indeed, joining the Pythons couldn’t have been easier: “I’ve honestly found it very easy settling into this team. Most of the other players were also rookies before they joined the University team, which means that both the players and the coaches understand that there’s a learning curve and accommodate that, putting particular emphasis on helping new players to catch up.


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“Everyone’s extremely welcoming to the point that it feels as much like a family as it does a team, and I think that this is in part due to the fact that, unlike other University sports such as rugby or rowing, there is no competitive entry for this team: anyone and everyone is welcome regardless of prior experience or natural aptitude as long as they have the will.”

So, if the prospect of trying out violent chess sounds appealing, there's no reason not to join the Pythons.