The Wall: The Story of the Ness Monsters American Football Team
American football is probably not the first sport that comes to mind when you think of Inverness but this city has a proud gridiron heritage. The city is currently the home of two teams. One of them is the Highland Stags which is an adult team who were established in 2015.[i] They train in Inverness but play their home games at Ross Sutherland Rugby Club in Invergordon and have been competing against teams from across Scotland for the last 4 years. They are currently attempting to join the British American Football Association National Leagues. The other team is the Highland Wildcats who are a youth and junior team that who were created in 2001 by the Inverness Blitz Academy of American Football (which was established in 1999).[ii] They have one of the best coaching setups in the United Kingdom and are best known for overachieving on the national stage by winning the youth British National title (Britbowl) on 3 separate occasions and the plate competition (Britbowl Plate) 3 times. Both these teams are not the first local American football teams from Inverness as that distinction belongs to the Ness Monsters.
The first American football game played in the Scottish Highlands occurred on the 3rd August 1918 as part of the ‘Grand Fete’ at the Cameron Barracks in Inverness.[iii] The two teams consisted of U.S. Naval personnel based at the US Mine Laying Bases at Inverness and Invergordon who assembled mines for the North Sea Mine Barrage. During their downtime, the men would participate in American pastimes such as Baseball and American Football. Throughout the war, other games of American Football took place between the men of U.S.N. 18 (Inverness) and U.S.N. 17 (Invergordon).[iv] These games took place at the Northern Meeting Park (on the 27th August) and at Caledonian Park (on the 28th September) and a game at the Naval Grounds in Invergordon (the date of this one is unknown).[v] Unlike baseball (check out my earlier article for more details), American football didn’t catch on with the Highland public and when the U.S. Navy left Inverness in the fall of 1919 they took the sport away with them.
The Ness Monsters were formed in October 1986 and a month later they selected the clubs committee at the Dillingers Nightclub in Inverness.[vi] Weirdly they were not the first local American football team in the North of Scotland because a team was established in the Shetland Islands in 1985 called the Shetland Redeyes.[vii] These teams emerged during a time when American Football was surging in popularity throughout the UK and nearly every town and city from Bristol to Lerwick started up their own team.[viii] This phenomenon has been mostly attributed to the creation of Channel 4 in 1982 who broadcasted NFL games to a British audience the 1980s. At the sports peak in popularity, over 4 million people watched the sport every Sunday.[ix]
The Inverness-based club originally tried to gain associate membership with the Budweiser League (the largest American football league in the UK at the time) for the 1987 season but their attempt to gain membership with the league failed. With recruitment exceeding expectations, the team got together with 5 other teams around Scotland to create the Thistle League in 1987.[x] The Monsters played their 1987 home games at Telford Street Park (the home of Caledonian FC at the time) after signing an agreement with the Highland League team prior to the season.[xi]
The Monsters played their first competitive game on the 19th April 1987 against the Capital Clansmen (Edinburgh) in the Thistle League. The game was played in front of 600 people at Telford Street Park, Inverness and the result of the game was 44-0 to the Ness Monsters. The touchdown scorers in this game were Mike Knox (1), Brian Turnbull (1), Stephen King (1) and Smart Lloyd who scored a hat-trick of touchdowns. The spectators also saw one of the Capital Clansmen players rushing 64 yards into the Clansmen’s own end zone for a safety after the player lost his bearings.[xii]
During the 1987 season, the Monsters scored 252 points throughout the season but, unfortunately, conceded 268 points despite winning half of all their games.[xiii] In the same season, they tried to organize a game with the Granite City Oilers that was dubbed the “Ness Bowl” but it was cancelled due to the Oilers pulling out of the game as they accepted a chance to play the Kent Rams in Crystal Palace prior to the Wembley Bowl.[xiv] The next season the Monsters would repay the favour by pulling out of the game themselves.[xv]
The following year (1988) the Ness Monsters moved to the Bught Park in Inverness and competed in the newly formed Caledonian American Football League.[xvi] However unlike the season, the Ness Monsters had a shaky start losing two games in a row (Strathclyde Sheriffs 29-8 Ness Monsters and Glasgow Diamonds 13-12 Ness Monsters).[xvii] After these setbacks, the Monsters went on a two-game winning streak which included a 122-6 victory over the Inverclyde Comets.[xviii] They then lost two more times in the season (one defeat at the hands of the Forth Valley Generals and the other against the Strathclyde Sheriffs) but were able to finish the season in second place which booked them a spot in the Championship game.[xix]
The championship was decided at Annfield Park (not to be mistaken with the football ground in Liverpool), Stirling in the Caledonian Bowl which was played between the Ness Monsters and league leaders the Strathclyde Sheriffs.[xx] Unfortunately, for the Ness Monsters, the Sheriffs were just too good on the day and ran out 46-12 victors.[xxi] The Monsters didn’t finish the season empty handed though as they won a bowl game against the Caithness Vikings, a newly established team based in Wick, that became known as the Caithness Bowl.[xxii]
In 1989, the Monsters joined the Baron First League which was a competition between clubs of England, Scotland and Ireland.[xxiii] The Inverness-based team were put into the Scottish conference of the competition with the Forth Valley Generals and the nearly formed Livingston Chieftains.[xxiv] The Monster’s finished a respectable second with 2 victories (both against the Livingston Chieftains) and a tie (against the Forth Valley Generals).[xxv] Unfortunately for the Monsters, because two teams dropped out prior to the start of the season, they didn’t qualify for the playoffs.[xxvi] The Monsters did, however, win some more silverware in 1989 as they defeated the Caithness Vikings in the second and final recorded Caithness Bowl held in Wick.[xxvii]
The Monsters were then going to compete in the newly formed British Combined Gridiron League for the 1990 season.[xxviii] Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances the Ness Monsters had to pull out of the league.[xxix] There was attempts to play games throughout the year in the north of Scotland with the Fort William Phoenix, Caithness Vikings and the newly formed Kinloss Kurgans but this was not enough to keep these clubs afloat and they all faded into obscurity.[xxx]
11 years after the club had folded the Ness Monsters reformed for two games against the Fort William Phoenix who re-emerged at the same time as the Monsters.[xxxi] The first of these games was played in during the December of 2000, which resulted in the Phoenix, winning 50-0 in Inverness.[xxxii] In the return game at Fort William on the 28/01/2001, the Phoenix won 36-0. [xxxiii]
Two years after the exhibition games against the Fort William Phoenix, the Monsters attempted to join the second division of the BSL (British Senior League). Unfortunately, this bid failed, and they were unable to join the league for the 2003 season. After this, the Monsters carried on for a few more years before being replaced by the short lived Northern Phoenix in 2005.[xxxiv]
We hope you enjoyed this piece written by Tom Green. If you'd like to join us for a tour in Inverness please check out our tours here: www.walkingtoursin.com/inverness
Our Source List
[i] “About”,. Highland Stags. https://highlandstagsblog.wordpress.com/about/ (accessed on 21/04/2020) [ii] Paulin, David, Inverness Blitz Academy of American Football, (Self Published: Inverness, 2004) [iii] “Baseball match in Inverness”, Sunday Post, 10 August 1918, p.3 [iv] Hands, All, The Northern Barrage: Mine Force United States Atlantic Fleet, (United States Naval Institute: Annapolis, 1919), pp.88-89 [v] “Sports in Northern Meeting Park”, Inverness Courier, 23 August 1918, p.2 “Grand American Football Match”, Inverness Courier, 27 September 1918, p.1 Camp, Walter, Spalding’s Official Football Guide 1919, (American Sports Publishing, New York, 1919), p. 252 [vi] Carson, Cal, “Joe Montana’s comeback”, Aberdeen Press and Journal, 8 November 1986, p.20 [vii] Harrison, Neal, “Shetland Redeyes plan showdown with Strathclyde Sheriffs”, Aberdeen Press and Journal, 3 September 1985, p.7 [viii] ‘Great British Gridiron’ in Linden, Eric (ed), Daily Mirror Guide to American Football 1986/7, (Mirror Publications: London, 1986); [ix] Heasman, Matt; Elliot, Mark (ed), The 2004 British American Football Almanac, (Lochsong Publishing: Bournemouth, 2004), p.7 [x] Biddiscombe, Ross; Rowe, Peter; Anghelides, Peter; Crowhurst, Vivian, First Down British American Football Media Guide 1987, (Mediawatch International: Oxford, 1987) [xi] “Monsters for Telford Street”, Highland News, 14 February 1987 [xii] “Magic start for Monsters”, Highland News, 1987 [xiii] Paulin, David, “Appendix 1: Ness Monster”, in Paulin David, Inverness Blitz Academy of American Football: 2006, (Self-published: Inverness, 2006), pp.81-85 [xiv] James, Kevan, “Oilers join the Greats”, Aberdeen Evening Express, 20 June 1987, p.23 [xv] Farquharson, Colin; Love, David, “Monster let-down for Oilers”, Aberdeen Press and Journal, 16 April 1988, p.18 [xvi] Love, David, “Monsters feel right at home”, Aberdeen Press and Journal, 29 April 1988, p.29 [xvii] Paulin, David, “Appendix 1: Ness Monster”, in Paulin David, Inverness Blitz Academy of American Football: 2006, (Self-published: Inverness, 2006), pp.81-85 [xviii] “Monster Mash”, Highland News, 21 May 1988 [xix] “Sheriffs arrest Monster’s hopes”, Highland News, 9 July 1988 “Monster set for Bowl Playoff”, Highland News, 16 July 1988 “Scorpions stung by Monsters”, Highland News, 23 July 1988 [xx] “Annfield Agony”, Highland News, 13 August 1988 [xxi] “Annfield Agony”, Highland News, 13 August 1988 [xxii] “Annfield Agony”, Highland News, 13 August 1988 [xxiii] Paulin, David, “Appendix 1: Ness Monster”, in Paulin David, Inverness Blitz Academy of American Football: 2006, (Self-published: Inverness, 2006), pp.81-85 [xxiv] “Thrown to the lions”, Highland News, 20 May 1989 “Green Machine Halted”, Highland News, 10 June 1989 [xxv] Clyne, Fraser, “A Monster bashing”, Aberdeen Evening Express, 27 May 1989, p.3 [xxvi] “Our Season has gone”, Highland News, 3 June 1989 “Monsters keep fingers crossed”, Highland News, 8 July 1989 [xxvii] “Hard Monsters Keep Title”, Highland News, 5 August 1989 [xxviii] “Historical League Tables in the UK”, . Britballnow. http://www.britballnow.co.uk/history-index/historical-league-tables-in/ (accessed 21/04/2020) [xxix] Tremlett, Mike, “Kurgans gather strength from beating by the best”, Aberdeen Press and Journal, 12 April 1990, p.41 [xxx] “Gridirion game kicks off in Moray”, Aberdeen Press and Journal, 2 November 1989 [xxxi] Paulin, David, Inverness Blitz Academy of American Football, (Self Published: Inverness, 2004) [xxxii] “Monster Effort in American football Dolphin sessions”, Highland News, 26 August 2000 “Monster Effort in American football Dolphin sessions”, Lochaber News, 26 August 2000 “Fort grill Monsters with fast attacks”, Highland News, 23 December 2000 Paulin, David, Inverness Blitz Academy of American Football, (Self Published: Inverness, 2004) [xxxiii] “Playing”, Highland News, 10 February 2001 [xxxiv] “Phoenix in flames”, Inverness Courier, 25 March 2005