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Photo by Lee Woolcock
Dave Chambers home
Coach Dave Chambers at work
Half-time in the Barcelona Búfals locker room and the team was ahead 7-0. Head coach Dave Chambers shouted, “Do you want to win?” and the room thundered with a resounding, “YEAH!” But when he followed up with, “Can you win?” the response was a bit more modest. After a few more efforts at enthusiasm, Chambers waved them off and the team wandered down the hall and out onto the field. Within five minutes they gave up a touchdown and a field goal, handing a 10-7 advantage to the Badalona Dracs.
It was an exceptionally warm day for winter, and the 50 or so fans in the stands were, in the main, more interested in conversation than in the game. One exception was Salva Blanco, who played with the Dracs for nearly 11 years and was in attendance with his sister. “Since it’s such a beautiful day, we came out to watch. If it were cold, we would have found something else to do.”
The problem with attendance, he believed, was the complexity of the rules. “It’s a minority sport, difficult to follow. You have to get caught up in it in order to understand it, and the people who come one time don’t get it and they leave. The percentage of spectators who aren’t friends with the players is very low.”
The Búfals barely held back the Dracs aggressive offence for the rest of the half, and never managed to get close to their own touchdown zone again. Still, when the game was over, Coach Chambers was quite cheerful. “They only lost by three. Last week, they were beaten 21–0. In my view, they will be a winning team this year. They’ve just got to believe in themselves.”
Chambers, a 46-year-old Englishman and ex-probation officer with a Masters degree from Birmingham University, just may be the man to turn them around. A veteran player and coach of the British American Football League, Chambers has taken his British teams to the finals four times and won one championship. In 1986, he even tried out as a linebacker for the New York Giants. “I coached for about 10 years in England and within the sport, as a player, I was recognised as one of the top 10 players that ever played in England. Some say the best defensive player that ever played—I was a linebacker. I think if I’d have been born in the States, I would’ve been playing pro football.”
He moved to Barcelona a year ago, and after a 10-year hiatus from the sport Chambers decided to return, just to improve his Spanish while volunteering as an assistant coach. He found the Búfals on the Internet and went in to talk. As it turned out, they hadn’t had any kind of a coach for two years. “So, it was by default, actually, that I became head coach.”
Literally overnight, he found himself in charge of a team that was somewhat demoralised. Despite being among the founding teams in the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Americano (LNFA), and having played the first league game ever in Spain in 1988, the Búfals have never finished a season with much of a record. They’ve never even qualified for the Copa de España, although their nearby neighbours on either side –the Badalona Dracs and the Hospitalet Pioners (sic)—together have won six out of 13 national championships.
Currently, the Spanish League is composed of 10 teams: the Badalona Dracs, Barcelona Búfals, Coslada Camioneros, Gijón Mariners, Granada Lions, Las Rozas Black Demons, L’Hospitalet Pioners, Rivas Osos, Sevilla Linces and the Valencia Firebats. “Historically, in Spain, the American Football League has been most powerful here in Catalunya,” said Willy Bistuer, Búfals manager and director of the website www.footballspeech.com. “Five or six years ago it was the Dracs. And now you have the Pioners. They have a good structure, a lot of people working.”
The most significant difference between the Pioners and the Búfals is money and resources, according to Bistuer. “They have sponsors, and they’ve been able to make a deal with the Ajuntament de l’Hospitalet. It’s an investment that’s paid off because the team has put l’Hospitalet on the map, given them publicity. The Pioners don’t have to pay for their practice field, for example. But here in Barcelona we can’t do the same. Here, there are very few fields and a lot of us to share them.”
Assistant coach Enric Mora has been repeatedly frustrated in trying to get some kind of support from city hall. “The Ajuntament is so impersonal that you can’t even arrive at the first door. There’s no way to even get an interview with anybody there. We are the only team in Barcelona who is in the top national division for American football, yet we have to pay nearly €800 a month to use the field.”
While other teams manage to cover costs through sponsorship, Búfals players must pay to play. Aside from buying their own equipment, it costs each player about €500 per season in order to cover field rental, inscription in the league, insurance and transportation. The Pioners, on the other hand, are actually able to pay salaries to some of their players, like David Malino, their new quarterback from Charleston, South Carolina and a veteran of the European League.
The Pioners also have two full defensive and offensive teams, while the Búfals must combine similar positions into single players. “The running back, who is used to taking hits, also plays as a linebacker,” explained Bistuer. “And the receiver doubles as the cornerback.”
Tight end and linebacker Aleix Ruiz doesn’t mind doing double the work. He simply enjoys playing. “I used to live in the United States, and on Saturday nights we would go watch the games. I really liked it. I love the spectacle of it. So, when I got back to Barcelona, I found the Búfals right here next to my house.”
Coach Chambers believes that Ruiz could be one of the best linebackers in the league. He lavished equal praise on the Búfals young quarterback, Roger Navás. After their loss against the Dracs, the 21-year-old Navás stood casually on the sidelines and revealed a soft-spoken passion for the sport. “I’ve been playing for seven years, and the truth is that it’s a sport which, physically, I’m in love with. Everybody has to work hard, you have to function like a team with everybody in a block. There’s nothing like it.”
Navás and Ruiz play in the Senior League, but the Búfals also have Junior (15 to 21 years of age) and Cadet (up to 15 years old) leagues. Because of the overlapping age limits, many of the players, like Ruiz, manage to be on both the Junior and Senior rosters. The average age of the Búfals is about 28, the oldest player being 38.
Coach Chambers admitted that he had met with some resistance in trying to build the Búfals into a winning team. But he’s certain that he can do it. “We actually have some very, very talented individuals. There’s no way this should be a losing team. When you look at the reason why we’re a losing team, it’s all about the mentality and the attitude. I’d like, through coaching, to show them a different way of looking at the sport.”
The Spanish League season lasts from the end of January to the end of May. The Barcelona Búfals play at Estadio Joan Serrahima in Montjuïc; Carrer del Polvorí 13 (Metro Plaça Espanya, Buses 13, 50, 61).