European Football Leagues

European Football Leagues (Major & AAA – Levels 1-2)

After the US Air Force & Army Leagues, the National Football League set about promoting the NFL in Europe. In 1970 the film M*A*S*H saw the first mainstream exposure of American Football in Europe with its climactic Football game at the end. Immediately following this there were expressions of interest from Europeans about setting up a League, and what followed was the Intercontinental Football League, which was to feature 6 teams, including the Rome Gladiators, owned by Bruno Beneck, the director of the most popular TV Sports Show in Italy, who had successfully introduced Baseball 20 years earlier. The League never got off the ground due to the oil crisis and the spectre of Terrorism, but the IFL continued to promote the game, playing a game in 1972 in Paris featuring NFL players, as well as bringing College teams and Semi-Pro Teams from 1976-1978 to play a best-of-5 European Championship.

TV stations started showing American Football in the late-1970s and early 1980s and the first Leagues sprang up, including the Rome Gladiators in Bruno Beneck’s Italy. By 1986 the National Football League had begun to play Pre-Season games in London, Barcelona, Berlin and Dublin. The European audiences soon wanted more so the World League of American Football, featuring 3 European teams, 6 American and one Canadian, was started in 1991. It lasted two seasons before being shelved by the NFL due to the lack of interest from American fans in a Development League. The American Football League of Europe, which ran from 1994-1995 filled in the gap in Pro Football, with its mix of start-up teams and teams from the European National Leagues bolstered by American imports.

The World League returned in 1995 as a 6-team Europe-only League and was renamed the NFL Europe League in 1998. After initial success, attendances dwindled – the fans wanted an NFL franchise – so in 2007 the NFL folded the League and focused on promoting the NFL in Europe through the NFL International Series – starting with one NFL Regular Season game a year played in London, growing to 4-per-year by 2020, with the stated intention of putting a team in London permanently by 2022.

About European Football Leagues

The First attempts at creating a European American Football League were in the 1970s following the hit film M*A*S*H and its climactic ending featuring an American Football game which intrigued European audiences.

Following on from this a couple of failed start-ups led in 1991 to the National Football League (NFL) creating the World League of American Football (WLAF) as a Development League. After two years with teams in USA, Canada and Europe it was shelved and returned in 1995 as a Europe-only league which itself was shelved in 2007 in order to promote the NFL itself in Europe through the International Series of NFL regular season games in London.

Following a number of low-key European Leagues, based primarily in Central and Eastern Europe between 2007 and 2019, the European League of Football in 2021 became the latest big-time Professional Football League in Europe, retaining the rights to the old WLAF / NFLE team names.

United States Armed Forces in Europe Leagues

Among the earliest verifiable American Football Leagues or Associations in Europe are the American Expeditionary Force Football League of WWI which was played in France at the conclusion of the War. There was a European Theater of Operations Football Championship (WWII) in Northern Ireland in 1942, which spread to England and Wales in 1943-1944. Following WWII, the United States found itself almost immediately in a War with Communist Russia, and American Football Leagues were set up in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain & Greece (The United States Air Force in Europe – USAFE – Football League & United States ARmy EURope Football League – USAREUR) which ran right to the end of the Cold War.  One USAREUR League, the Northern Italian League, became the genesis of a National League in Italy featuring Homegrown teams.

Cold War Europe (USAFE and USAREUR)

After World War II and as the Cold War set in, the United States Air Force in Europe set up a Football Championship with three Conferences: United Kingdom, Continental (France and Germany) and Mediteranean (Italy, Spain and Greece) Sports Conferences. There was also a smaller USAREUR (United States Army in Europe) Football League. The USAFE Championship wound down in 1993 due to the end of the Cold War.

World Wars in Europe (AEF and ETO)

The American Expeditionary Force (France WWI) and European Theater of Operations (Britain and Northern Ireland WWII) United States Army and Navy Units played Football Leagues during World War I and II in France, Britain, Northern Ireland, and North Africa.