Interview with Pullingtheflag.com
John Hill is the co-editor of Pulling the Flag, a website that offers news, reports and features on the growth of flag football across the UK and beyond. For the last three years, it’s been the primary source of scores, standings, reports and interviews for the domestic flag scene, and recently put together livestream coverage of the 2015 UK finals.
Tell us a bit more about the mission of Pulling the Flag and how many teams you work with in the UK - and beyond.
Flag football has been bubbling away in the UK since before the turn of the millennium, but it’s really taken off in the last few years. We’ve got people from aged 6 to 50 enjoying this sport. My co-editor Joe Cotterill set up Pulling the Flag in 2013 to give people somewhere to read about flag and discover other players and teams around the UK.
It’s pretty much snowballed from there, to the point that we’re now the main source for scores, tables, analysis, features, interviews and even live matches. There are about 40 established teams in the mixed adult league, and that’s not even counting the under–13s and under–17s tournaments and the booming Opal Series women’s league. In recent months, we’ve even started looking elsewhere, finding out how flag is played in places like Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Australia and the USA.
How did you first come across AfterDark Technologies?
We actually noticed it when AfterDark started following us on Twitter. We thought it looked pretty cool, so we shared it with our community on Facebook. If you’ll excuse the expression, our page lit up. That post got passed around like a hot potato, and in all I think over three thousand people liked it from all over the world.
Unsurprisingly, the one thing that people wanted to know was: “How do I get to try this for myself?” One person even joked that he’d miss his wedding to play it. It was a no-brainer to try our luck and ask if we could showcase it in the UK. Luckily, AfterDark was up for punting a few sets over to us so we could put on some events.
Check out this cool video from our game in Newcastle.
What has the feedback been like from players?
Well, one person said it was the most fun they’d had playing flag in a long time. And they play a lot of flag. So yeah, it was pretty well-received.
In fact, when we played a tournament in Scotland, we even got a visit from a police patrol who noticed the lights from up on the hill, and wanted to find out what was going on. If they hadn’t been wearing the wrong shoes, I reckon they’d have dived in and given it a shot.
For one thing, it’s a pretty novel and eye-catching way to play the sport. Very few quarterbacks have ever had to try picking out receivers who are lit up like Christmas trees. But it also opens up a few opportunities that we’re pretty excited about. Britain’s hardly the most tropical place on Earth, so during the winter we’re used to calling it a day in mid-afternoon when the sun goes down. This kit could be a great tool to keep those sessions going through the darker months, and it’d certainly be a unique way to attract new people to the game.
What would you say to other teams that want to try out the AfterDark flag football kit?
It’s a real draw for people who love playing flag. But to be honest, it’s also fantastic for people who just want to try something fun and different.
I won’t lie to you: we did wonder at first how well it would work. Would it be bright enough, or just a so-so glow? How long would the battery last, and would it break once you were darting around the field?
Once we actually strapped it on, we found we could just get on with playing without worrying about it falling off or falling apart. It’s more than bright enough to spot receivers and defenders, the batteries last for hours on end, and the kit seems pretty well put together. These folk have done their homework.
We took it to several different cities across England and Scotland, and people couldn’t stop talking about how much fun they’d had. It’s almost impossible not to play with a big childish grin on your face.
How long have you been involved with flag football? What started your interest in it?
I moved to Newcastle from London in 2010, and decided that sport would be a great way to meet new people. So I joined a new flag team and signed up for a tackle team as well. I was quite excited about finally playing for that tackle team, but I spent more time in the hospital than on the pitch.
When I’d grown my fingers and spine back, I threw myself into the flag side, and we’ve gradually recruited a pretty large group of players - who I can also call friends.
As a journalist, I found myself getting involved with reporting on the game as well, and that’s helped me meet all sorts of people. I now feel less like the member of a team, and more a member of a national community of people that are passionate about a sport.
The British American Football Association published figures saying that UK adult flag football participation is up 33% in 2015, marking the second consecutive year participation has increased at least 30%. Why do you think it’s growing so fast?
It’d be easy to point to the resurgence of interest in the NFL in the UK, and say it’s because of that. But I think that misses the point a bit.
If I had to pick one word to describe flag football, it’d be “inclusive”. In the UK, we have men and women who are passionate about the sport, and many of them play on the same teams. When we covered the national finals live in September, we met a 10-year-old that was playing in his fifth final, and a group of mums who’d caught the bug while watching their children play, and decided to set up their own team. They’ll hopefully be playing in the English women’s league this year.
The real power of soccer in the UK comes from the fact that if you walk down a residential street in Liverpool, London or Newcastle around teatime, you’re pretty likely to find kids practicing their skills against the back gate. Strip away the stadiums, the headlines, and the endless overpriced replica kits, and it’s all built on the idea of a few friends and a ball.
While there’s always scope to get better, smarter or fitter in any sport, at its core flag has that same simplicity that makes it so easy to get started. And once you dip your toe in, you discover this entire community of people that are just as hooked as you.
Enter to Win
AfterDark Technologies nighttime flag football uses advanced fiber-optics and interactive LED technologies to light up the players, footballs, flags and the field.