Balancing Act: Alan Bartholomew

February 1, 2018

Alan Bartholomew is an optician who works at Specsavers in North Shields. In his spare time, he helps to run Newcastle Blackhawks, the region’s only flag American football team

My interest in American football began at university when I wanted to play a new sport and joined the full contact team.

I love the fast pace of American football, how technical it is and the number of high intensity moments every game can bring. There is a constant adrenaline rush as on any play – either team could score a touchdown.

When I discovered I had epilepsy, I couldn’t play full-contact football anymore. I looked for a flag football team in Newcastle but discovered there wasn’t one. I established Newcastle Blackhawks and set about trying to recruit players.

Flag football is a five-a-side, non-contact version of the sport. There are no pads or helmets and tackling is performed by pulling a ‘flag’ attached to each player’s waist. The game maintains all the speed and skill elements from the contact sport but minimises injury risk.

The first few sessions for Newcastle Blackhawks only had a handful of players. Often, my house-mates would come down to make up the numbers.

Since then, the club has grown steadily. We had 15 registered players in the 2017 season and are always looking for new recruits.

We train most Sundays from 10.30am-1.30pm at Paddy Freeman’s Park, Newcastle. Our competitive league season runs from April to August. We are in the UK national premiership, having made the national playoffs the past two seasons. In 2017, we were the middle England conference champions. During our off-season, a lot of our players still meet and we compete in friendly tournaments, some of which involve the top sides from across Europe.

I probably spend at least five or six hours a week organising training/squad availability for game days and managing the social media presence of the club. 

American Football is definitely growing in popularity, not just in the North East, but nationally. Most of the growth is due to the international series games the NFL play in London every year. Since we started in the UK national league, the number of teams has increased every year. There are numerous contact teams in the North East with a long history, but we are the only dedicated flag team. Because of this, we have players travel from as far as Morpeth, Hexham and Hartlepool to compete for us.

If you are interested in trying flag football, come to one of our sessions! It’s an easy sport to pick up, especially if you have played another ball sport in the past. It’s accessible for anyone over 16, male or female.

Flag football provides the opportunity to compete at a national level and meet flag community members from all over the UK. A lot of the fun around playing flag football revolves around being able to talk about a sport you love with others who share your passion in addition to actually playing.

Newcastle Blackhawks

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