Le Football: A History of American Football in France

Le Football: A History of American Football in France

Le Football: A History of American Football in France

Le Football: A History of American Football in France


There are two kinds of football in France.

American football was first played in France in 1909 during the cruise of the Great White Fleet. Then, during World War I, the American military shipped footballs, helmets, and shoulder pads alongside rifles and ammunition to the western front. A 1938 tour of two teams lead by Jim Crowley of Fordham University maintained the game until World War II, when the arrival of millions of young Americans in France motivated the U.S. military to sponsor several bowl games. During the 1950s and 1960s, when the United States occupied bases in France during the Cold War, American soldiers, sailors, and airmen played more than a thousand football games. When France withdrew from NATO, however, American bases were forced to close, leaving American football without a natural home on Gallic shores.

In the 1970s American college and semi-pro teams tried once more to generate interest in the game among French nationals through a series of tours, but until a French physical education instructor vacationed in Colorado and brought equipment back to France, there was little local enthusiasm for the sport. On the back of that vacation, and from one team in Paris, organized American football in France grew to more than 215 teams with more than 22,000 active players today.

Le Football tackles the struggles and successes of American football in France and discusses how, unlike baseball and basketball, football has never been an overt instrument of American cultural influence. Russ Crawford keeps the chains moving as he shows how the modern, homegrown sport developed largely independent of American encouragement into a small but successful culture.


May 5, 2012. Somewhere in France …

My initial experience with American football in France would make a good movie. À la Caddyshack (1980) or Meatballs (1979), it featured classic confrontations: rich versus poor, old-stock French versus immigrants, and white versus black. Moreover, the underdogs rallied from early adversity to win the big game.

My friend Jean-Marc Burtscher and I arrived early at the field on an overcast, cool day. Only one of the home-he Spartan locker rooms for the game, which pitted Jean-Marc’s team, the Red Star of Noisy-le-Sec, against the Kiowas of Garches.

Noisy-le-Sec is a banlieue (suburb) on the eastern side of Paris, and part of the Seine-Saint-Denis Département, which contains the highest proportion of immigrants of any department in France. It is also one of the poorest départements in the country.

Garches, the home of the Kiowas, is an affluent suburb on the western side of the city. the Hauts-de-Seine Département, where it is located, is one of the wealthiest areas, not only in France but in all of Europe.

The Kiowas were founded in 1989 by a group of friends including Mario Mancuso, Cristophe Mortier, and Philippe Roger. According to their web page, the friends had played on first division football clubs, and after leaving those, began throwing the ball around in nearby parks. They then formed a team and found a sponsor in the mayor of Garches, who provided the field located nearby at Vaucresson. They chose the name Kiowas because Mancuso and Mortier were fond of . . .

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