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Football not as fast-paced as it appeared on British TV

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By Lee Kendall

Heres another example of you-cant-always-believe-what-you-see.

On Tuesday night before the Breds soccer game with Grant County, I had a nice long visit with one of the referees for the contest, Alan Southerland.

After seeking Alan out to pay him for his services that evening and introducing myself to him, it took about a nanosecond to realize that he was originally from somewhere other than Central Kentucky.

He is a native of Yorkshire, England, and has been in the United States for 23 years as an Episcopalian priest. The 53-year-old had a church in Georgia for a few years, before then relocating to Arkansas. He has been in Central Kentucky for the past 13 years.

Our pre-game conversation lasted about 30 minutes, and it was clear to me that he had an interesting tale to tell. It was easy to picture him in the pulpit tending to his flock.

He said as a kid in the 1960s and early 1970s, England had three television stations. Two were commercial-free BBC stations and the third was a privately owned station. It reminded me of the pre-cable TV days in the United States when we could pick up three stations through our rooftop antennas a fourth if the weather was just right.

Anyway, he said that a fourth station came on the scene in England at some point while he still lived across the pond and found a different on-air niche. It was a station that concentrated on educational topics that he and other viewers found interesting.

A life-long soccer player in his native country, Alan was interested in finding out about American football, and this new TV station filled that bill.

He said that a new weekly one-hour program on this station set out to explain American football. A taped NFL game was re-aired on this station with British commentators stopping the game at regular intervals to explain the rules and terminology.

They would show what a touchdown was, a field-goal, off-sides, pass interference, just everything that was really significant about American football, Alan said in his still distinctive British accent. It was all the rage in England and a very, very popular program to watch. Everybody watched this program and became really interested in American football.

As he was talking about this program, I was reminded of the old one-hour long Notre Dame Football show I watched as a kid on Sundays. Lindsey Nelson and Paul Hornung called every Notre Dame game on that show and it essentially showed only the best plays by Notre Dame, including scoring drives, interceptions and the like but rarely anything that went wrong for the Fighting Irish in that particular game.

I digress though.

Alan said that because of the popularity of this new TV program, a real NFL game was arranged to be played at the Mecca of English sports, Wembley Stadium.

It was announced that the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears would play a pre-season game at Wembley Stadium and 90,000 seats sold out in no time. Both teams brought cheerleaders and it was going to be great.

However, by halftime, half the people had gone home and by the end of the game the only people left in the stadium, other than the players, were the janitors who were cleaning up.

Why?

Because according to Alan, television had not correctly depicted what American football was really like.

That hour-long program that showed American football had a few commercials sprinkled about, but it never showed that there was a huddle between every play, that the clock stopped whenever players ran out of bounds or the quarterback threw an incomplete pass. The game at Wembley lasted over three and a half hours and the British fans just couldnt believe it. We were used to soccer where the clock never stops and just couldnt believe that this American game lasted so long. It really was funny when you look back on it.