The Matt Hampson Bowl And The Birth Of Football America UK
What Started As A Germ Of An Idea To Have A “Re-Union” Game, And Then Evolved Into An Epic Charitable Gesture, Ultimately Led To The Formation Of A Company That Has Become The UK’s Premier Supplier Of All Things American Football.
Throughout the eighties and into the early nineties, The Leicester Panthers were one of the premier programmes in the UK. Perennially in the play-offs, they finally became the National champions in 1996 and then…folded. In a scenario that is undoubtedly played out across the whole country on a regular basis, former players reminisce about their glory days and tell each other how great it would be to reform the team and play a game, just one more time. In November 2006 former Panthers players Rex Harrison and David Hagger had that conversation. This wouldn’t just be a get together with a few guys in the local park throwing a ball around, it would be something on a far grander scale. The former Panthers players could take on the local university team, The Loughborough Aces, they could play the game at The Leicester Tigers famous Welford Road rugby stadium, they could get a sponsor to pay for new kit and uniforms for the whole team! Harrison and Hagger’s vision knew no bounds!
The Aces, under head coach Jason Scott were up for the challenge, the Tigers were happy to rent out the stadium, a key link provided by one of the ex-Panthers players, led to the Ladbrokes charitable foundation being happy to make a contribution to the costs, along as the game would benefit a charity. In that regard, the opportunity presented itself for the match to benefit one of the Tigers former players, Matt Hampson.
Hampson was a promising England under 21 international, who suffered a freak neck injury in 2005 whilst taking part in a scrummaging practice. Not one to dwell on his misfortune, he determined that he would focus his efforts on raising funds for others who had suffered severe sports injuries, and the Matt Hampson Charitable Trust was formed. A further connection between the Panthers and the Tigers was the fact that their Rugby union World Cup winning England captain, Martyn Johnson, was also a former Panthers junior and senior player. It was all coming together perfectly, “all” they needed to do now was to organise the players equipment and uniforms. David Hagger…over to you!
A quick internet search located a company in Texas called “Football America”, this was going to be easy, right? Not so fast, first off he needed to work out the individual requirements of the sixty players who would be suiting up in the famous black and old gold. The uniforms needed to be designed, striping and logos sorted, commemorative patches applied. Helmets, pads and gloves for everyone were needed, and oh, you might want to throw in a few footballs as well!
After seven months of intensive planning and training, the game went ahead on May 28th 2007. In front of a large crowd the veteran Panthers players, including Johnson and his brother Will, also a professional rugby union player, rolled back the years and came out on top by a score of 20-3. The event had been a great success, raising almost £50,000 for the trust. The veteran players had fulfilled their dreams and celebrated at a post-game dinner excellently organised by Graham and Sue Harris. The only question now was, what do we do with all this kit?
Initially storing it in his garage, Hagger had the idea to put it on ebay, the result was a bidding and buying frenzy! Securing more funds for the trust. There was clearly a big demand for football equipment in the UK. Shortly after, Hagger received some bad news, he was being made redundant, then in a double blow, so was his wife, Julia. Out of adversity, an opportunity to move in a different direction presented itself. They made the decision to invest the funds they had, and Football America UK was born.
From their humble beginnings, the company has seen exponential growth, which shows no sign of slowing. The demand for football related products stems across Europe and the business is happy to meet it.
With David and Julia still at the helm, they now have twelve staff working out of their offices and showrooms in Markfield, on the outskirts of Leicester. Interestingly, their longest serving member of staff, John Pimperton, was on the Loughborough roster for the Matt Hampson Bowl game.
The charitable gesture that provided the genesis for the business to be formed, is still reflected in the company today, as they continue to support numerous projects and events. In football terms, the Haggers put up a hail mary and the football public not only completed the pass, they’ve ran it in for the score.