Padel, pickleball, drone racing and footgolf.
The list of the fastest growing sports in the UK and Ireland will surprise many, and whether these are simply passing fads or here to stay only time will tell.
American football was also once on that list, and today it’s estimated that around 30,000 people are members of a team that plays competitive games.
Who knows, perhaps that increasing popularity could lead to more youngsters in the UK and Ireland trying their hand at a very different kind of football – if they show promise, they may just make it all the way to the NFL.
That’s a path that a surprising number of British and Irish players have taken over the years, with Dan Whelan the latest to make the grade in the big league.
The 24-year-old from Ireland has been selected in the Green Bay Packers squad for the 2023/24 season – the first Irishman to strap on his shoulder pads in the NFL since Neil O’Donoghue in 1985.
Whelan had something of an edge over his British and Irish peers – his family moved to California when he was 13, so his sporting upbringing was more football and baseball than soccer and hurling. But plenty of Brits and Irishman have appeared in the NFL before and since O’Donoghue’s heyday in the 1980s.
The most successful British-born American footballer, in terms of legacy, has to be Osi Umenyiora. He moved to Alabama in the US when he was fourteen, playing for his school team at Auburn High School. This gained him a scholarship at Troy University to play for the Troy State Trojans. After college in 2003, Umenyiora was drafted in the second round by the New York Giants.
Not only did he win two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, he also broke the record for the number of sacks in a single game – a Giants landmark that still stands to this day – and delivered the 2010 season best for most forced fumbles.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Umenyiora enjoyed more than a decade in the NFL, from his debut with the Giants in 2003 right through to his final campaign with the Atlanta Falcons in 2014.
From London to the Super Bowl….Jay Ajayi’s rise to the top of the NFL, like Whelan, also rested on a big family move.
The Ajayi’s swapped the capital for Maryland when Jay was just seven years old, and a later switch to Texas saw him become a star of track and field at high school.
But Ajayi decided to utilise his outstanding turn of speed on the football field instead, becoming a running back for Boise State University before being selected by the Miami Dolphins in the NFL Draft of 2015.
Selected for the Pro Bowl in 2016, Ajayi would then join the Philadelphia Eagles, where he would rush for more than 400 yards as he helped Philly to their first-ever Super Bowl win in the franchise’s history.
Injuries would bring Ajayi’s NFL career to a premature end in 2022, but not before he had secured his legacy as one of the most successful British-born players in American football history.
Super Bowl champion Jay Ajayi is officially retiring from the NFL this weekend.
The London-born RB will be an honorary captain for the @Eagles tonight. 🇬🇧🏈
Congrats Jay, and all the best in retirement! pic.twitter.com/uOFaontFsi
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) January 8, 2022
There aren’t many Scotsmen that have made the leap to NFL stardom, but kicker Lawrence Tynes broke the mould when he teamed up with Umenyiora in New York.
Tynes was born in Greenock and moved to the USA aged 10. Like Osi Umenyiora, he also played college football at Troy University. Unlike Umenyiora, however, Tynes was undrafted in 2001 and didn’t sign as a full-time player in the NFL until joining the Kansas City Chiefs in 2004, switching to the New York Giants in 2007.
The Scot was the place-kicker in the Giants’ two Super Bowl victories of that era, holding his nerve to slot two winning field goals in overtime in the NFC Championship games of both 2007 and 2011 – the only player in history to convert two OT goals in play-off action.
At the time, Tynes was only the seventh person from Scotland to play in the NFL, and a career field goal record of 81.5% from more than 200 attempts is the stuff of legend.
Another Scot was agonisingly close to joining the list of British Super Bowl champions.
He was the kicker for the Carolina Panthers between 2012 and 2018, and it was the 2015 season that would prove to be Gano’s halcyon days in the NFL. He finished the campaign with 146 points, a Panthers record, as they progressed to the iconic Super Bowl 50.
Sadly, the Denver Broncos would have just too much for the Carolina franchise, running out 24-10 winners. But Gano continued unabashed, with the man from Arbroath enjoying Pro Bowl selection in 2018.
A unique slice of history belongs to Efe Obada: he was the first player to move directly from a European football team to the NFL.
The defensive end tried out for the London Warriors and impressed in his first outings in American football – so much so that, after just five games in the UK, Obada was signed by the Dallas Cowboys on the recommendation of Aden Durde, a coach with ties to both the Warriors and the Cowboys.
After stints with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons after being released by the Cowboys, Obada finally found a home with the Carolina Panthers. He would make his NFL debut in 2018, staying for three seasons before switching to the Buffalo Bills for the 221 campaign.
The 31-year-old is now an active member of the Washington Capitals roster.