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Our World of Sport: American football - with South East Squadron chairman George Stone


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The South East Squadron American Football Club are looking to do things differently.

Recently founded in an area that had seen one team fold, chairman George Stone was convinced the appetite for American football was still there.

They’ve joined forces with an established youth set-up in Maidstone to help them along their way and there’s plenty to admire in their approach to building a club.

South East Squadron chairman George Stone
South East Squadron chairman George Stone

HOW IT STARTED

We’ve only been up and running for the last couple of months.

We were previously involved in a club that unfortunately shut down - the Maidstone Pumas - but there was still the appetite and potential for a team so we decided to open up this new club alongside an existing youth organisation in the Kent Phoenix.

With the Pumas, it was lack of numbers, lack of direction, lack of funding, there were all sorts of problems.

The biggest challenge in setting up a new club was proving to other members in the football community that it was still a viable product in the right hands.

That was the biggest difficulty, because the previous product had been in so many hands, and had so many chairmen and board members over the years, but it was at a stalemate. So convincing people that opening up a similar product in a similar location was going to do anything other than sit in stalemate was probably more difficult than lifting the shipping containers and getting them moved.

It’s like seeing another takeaway open in the same unit that’s had 15 takeaways before it. You expect it to go the same way.

HOW ARE YOU DOING IT?

We’ve got a full committee of board members that have all got the same vision, they’re all relatively young and have a lot of drive and a lot of energy for it.

Coupled with the fact we’ve joined forces with an established youth section in Kent Phoenix, we’re following a lot of the improvements they’ve made, feeding off the lessons they’ve learnt building their club.

We’re piggybacking on some of the success and some of the relationships they’ve already built in the community, so that when the children have finished at the youth stage, they’ve got a local club to move on to.

They were at Cornwallis for about eight months but the last couple of years they’ve been based at Shepway Community Centre, which is where we are.

They’ve got cheerleaders, and they’re looking to expand into a full American sports centre, potentially baseball, basketball, etc, in the future.

They’ve got a good vision and they’re building a good product and we want to join them on that journey and provide the same for adults.

NUMBERS

We are going to be in the British American Football Association Southern Division 2 next season.

The travel isn’t too bad. We’re looking at south east coastal teams, teams in Essex and Sussex.

Historically, it could have been as far as the Midlands, which is a fair old trek, but thankfully the sport’s grown over the last few years so there’s a lot more local teams to play against.

We’ve got just over 40 members registered for the playing and coaching squad and that’s growing every week.

Considering there are some teams out there established for a decade or so and they’ve not got those numbers at this stage of pre-season, I’m over the moon with what we’ve done so far.

They really are some strong numbers for such a new club. We’re in a stronger position than a lot of lower-league teams in the game. Coupled with the Kent Phoenix, we range in age from six to 55.

Our biggest recruitment pool is ex-rugby players, ex-Forces, or current rugby players and current Forces because the seasons don’t necessarily run at the same time.

South East Squadron training
South East Squadron training

WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?

For myself, it’s the life lessons it teaches young people and adults alike.

I’ve played so many contact sports over the years but the structure, discipline, respect and life lessons in this game are second to none in my opinion.

We don’t just teach people to play the sport, we teach them to be young individuals and citizens. For us, the game gives you a structure of what it’s like to be a good person in society.

So while the kids are having fun and the adults are enjoying a work-out, it fits in with general life and how to be a good member.

We get involved with the children’s schools to make sure they’re attending school and getting good results and if there’s anything we can do as a sports club to assist, we do.

We take young adults that have not always had a focus to channel their aggression and frustrations in life.

We really take members of society who are having some hard times and, through sport, we can help them.

For me, it’s that inclusiveness that really draws people in and keeps them.

It’s the most controlled, explosive, violent, yet well-mannered sport I’ve ever played in my life. It’s the only way I could describe it, because it’s gentlemen fighting.

POTENTIAL

I’ve only been involved for seven years and I’m 32 now, so I came to the sport pretty late.

As you can imagine, with such a violent sport, being in your prime and able to take injuries and recover fast is generally a good trait but as you hit your 30s it’s not so easy.

I’ve only reached amateur level but we have seen some of the students and youth players already attending national trials and potentially being scouted by American universities and taken out to the States.

Our coaching achievements far outweigh our playing achievements, that’s for sure!

The level they actively look, I’m unsure, but there are avenues and channels where you can be viewed by multiple universities and colleges and coaches from America.

If we could get a national player at GB level, that would be fantastic, but to reach what some clubs have achieved where they have a player playing in the highest level, in the highest league in the world, that is the aim one day.

CLUB VISION

It’s about getting our name out there and making the community aware that we’re not just here to churn up a field every Sunday. We are out there to be fully involved in the community.

We’d like media students to come and get experience and report on some action, we’d like physio students to get involved and get some practice.

We really want to be involved with grassroots sport, local students, local projects, charity fundraisers, whatever we can do to give back to the community.

We’re here for you to come and play sport, but if there’s anything we can do to help, we’re here for that as well.

It’s about giving back to the community.

FINAL PIECE OF THE JIGSAW

Currently the league rulings allow females to play within a men’s squad. Long-term, we want our own women’s squad.

I don’t consider us to be a complete club until we can offer youth, men’s and women’s football because there is the appetite for it.

We have several female members at our sister club, the Kent Phoenix, and they really are doing well in growing the game.

The South East Squadron train on Sunday mornings from 10am-1pm at Shepway Community Centre.

To register an interest in playing or helping in any other capacity, they can be contacted via their social media channels.

Read more: The latest sports news in Kent

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