When it comes to American football, the UK has always adopted a somewhat sceptical stance.
Wary glances are cast stateside towards a ‘stop-start’ sport not many people understand.
Of course touchdowns and tailgates will never replace our own beautiful game but with increased coverage in recent years and the NFL’s annual Wembley pilgrimage, the profile of the sport is undoubtedly rising.
And Burnley Tornados are a club very much at the forefront of that movement.
What started out on a small playing field in Worsthorne in 2008 has now become one of the biggest American football clubs in the region catering for all ages and abilities.
General manager Tracey Stewart told the Express, inclusivity is key.
“That is the beauty of American football; you don’t need to be a true athlete to compete. We have children of all shapes and sizes, boys and girls, and they all just take part.
“We need people who are big to stop players, we need people who are fast, who can catch, people who can throw; so you have an individual skill rather than being an all-rounder.”
Teams are divided into flag and kitted. Flag games involve no contact; age groups eight – 12; 12 – 16 and seniors.
Kitted involves helmets, shoulder pads and is full contact; age groups 14 – 16; 16 – 19 and 18+.
There are more than 100 players currently playing with the Tornados with all age groups taking part in tournaments across the country
“We have a big catchment area,” said Tracey. “We cover Burnley, Pendle, Rossendale and Clitheroe. We even have players who travel over from Blackpool, Kendal and Skipton. We have more coming every year and we are always looking for new members.”
It costs in the region of £350 for a player to kit themselves out; an outlay the club believe members should not have to cover.
“Parents are not going to be wanting to pay out that,” said Chairman Ivan Jackson. “Especially considering they may turn up for two weeks and then decide they don’t like it. We provide all the kit so anybody can join.
“We do need constant funding because we want to keep subs down to £12 a month. We’ve had various grants through the likes of The People’s Postcard Lottery, Sport England and Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale CVS. We do fundraising ourselves, like bag-packing events and we’ve had a lot of donations.
“Money can exclude people and that is not what we want. We have always had a system where nobody will be rejected because of funding. If you can’t afford to pay then talk to Tracey or myself and we will sort something out.”
Despite bearing the name Burnley Tornados, the team actually train and play at Holt House in Colne.
Ivan said: “We had been using the playing fields at Prairie. When they started to renovate the Prairie, they could not accommodate us for 18 months so we came to Holt House as a temporary measure.
“But they have been so good to us and the facilities here are so fantastic, we are not going back.”
At the end of the training session I watched, the youngsters are called over by one of the coaches. As they place their hands into the middle, the huddle counts to three before finishing with a cry of “Go Tornados”.
The smiles and the sense of camaraderie present as they troop of together afterwards symbolises just what sport should be about.
Tanya Furk-Stephens’ son, Thomas (13), has been a Tornado for just over two years and she has seen first hand the positive effect it has had on him.
“He started out at the youngest flag level and is now about to move over to the kitted team. Ever since his first session he has just been loving it. He’s really difficult to get out of bed during the week but on Saturday he’s up at 7am, fully ready, raring to go out the door.
“He’s quite a shy lad and not particularly sporty – as in he doesn’t like football or cricket – but he is such a part of a team here.
“Here at Burnley Tornados everybody gets a go, everybody gets to play. They are all treated equally and it’s just so nice to see my son happy playing a sport.”
Burnley Tornados training takes place on Saturdays and Sundays.
For more information visit www.tornadosafc.com