When you think of football, the US National Football League (NFL) comes to mind with stars like Tom Brady, Aaron Rogers and Tyreek Hill. Next maybe the German Football League (GFL) and at the latest for hardcore fans the European League of Football (ELF) should also be a household name since last year. The main initiator and first commissioner of this league, which entered its inaugural season in 2021, is Patrick Esume, whom most football fans probably know.
Compared to the national GFL and the former NFL Europe, the ELF differs primarily in its structure. For example, only two players from the USA can be on the field at the same time per team and only twelve foreign players can be in the squad. The game is played according to rules derived from those of the NFL.
Esume, who used to play football himself and has gone through various coaching positions, including in the USA, regularly comments on NFL football games and has repeatedly reported in the past on a growing interest in American football in Germany. The former football player Björn Werner, who played for the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL, appears with him in the TV format “ran football” and supported the idea of a whole new European league from the start.
Since September 2021, Werner has been co-owner and sports director of the German football club and founding member of the ELF, Berlin Thunder. The new European league started with a total of eight teams from three different countries in Europe, the Cologne Centurions, Hamburg with the Sea Devils, Frankfurt with the defending champion Galaxy, Berlin Thunder, Stuttgart Surge, the Leipzig Kings, the Panther Wroclaw from Poland and the Barcelona Dragons from Spain.
This year the Istanbul Rams from Turkey, the two Austrian teams Swarco Raiders (Innsbruck) and Vienna Vikings (Vienna) as well as the Düsseldorf Rhein Fire were newcomers, so that the ELF started with twelve teams.
The Berlin Thunder are also there, for whom things didn’t go quite so well in the premiere season. In the end they finished last in one of the four groups, the “Divisions”, but this season everything should be different, says head coach Johnny Schmuck: “Goals are difficult to define this year, last year was too chaotic for that. We want to play for the playoffs.”
In view of the opponents in the division and the league mode, in which only the first-placed and the best runner-up from the four groups move into the play-offs, Schmuck knows that it won’t be that easy. “In any case, our premise is that over the course of the season there will be a clear improvement compared to the previous year,” said the former football player of the GFL team Berlin Adler.
However, the start of the season last Sunday against the Sea Devils went terribly wrong. With a clear 18:43 defeat, the club from Hamburg showed the Berliners their limits. “The defeat was clear and deserved. Pretty much everything that could go bad went bad. Especially on offense we didn’t manage to find a rhythm and give our defense a few breathers. If we correct our own mistakes, the result looks very different,” sums up Schmuck.
The Berliners are one of four big teams in the region. There are also the Berlin Adler, the Rebels and the Potsdam Royals, all of whom are active in the GFL and should be concerned about the development of the ELF. Because for footballers, the EFL is becoming more and more attractive in view of the increasing professionalization, in which everything is offered from nutritional advice to very good medical care.
The transfers of Gino Chongo and Gino Behling-Lang from the Berlin Adler show that the league is becoming more attractive compared to the GFL, even though the GFL currently has more financial options, as these are limited in the ELF due to the upper salary limit. “Each team can only have four American players under contract, as well as a certain number of European players. Even German players must not be paid an infinite amount of salary or provided with an apartment,” explains Schmuck.
At the same time, the high level of sport and the media presence are attractive thanks to numerous television contracts in all participating countries and various other nations. “The ELF is fresh and future-oriented, which unfortunately cannot be said of the GFL. I think the ELF is what active athletes, coaches and fans here in Europe have been wanting for a long time.”
Berlin Thunder will play at the home game premiere next Saturday. Opponent in the local Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark is EFL newcomer Istanbul Rams at 3 p.m. “Istanbul are strong, highly motivated opponents and a well-coached team. Even though the Rams may have less experience than Thunder, Schmuck is cautious: “Until we show what we can do, we’re the underdog. I hope that changes in this game, but it won’t be a sure-fire success and we’ll have to play well, especially offensively.”