Jaguars Live UK Tour Hits Manchester

By Simon Carroll

With football getting ever more popular in the UK, NFL teams are helping grow the game internationally at a grassroots level – as well as grasping every opportunity to develop new markets. Simon Carroll spent Sunday with a contingent of players and coaches from the Jacksonville Jaguars as they headed to Manchester for the latest leg in their live UK tour:

Jaguars LB Foye Olukoun putting some UK linebackers through their paces

“You gotta widen that base.”

Twenty-three years ago (please don’t try and do the maths) as an eighteen year old university student reluctant to go to bed in the early hours of the morning, I happened to stumble upon American Football. The most niche of any sport Sky Sports carried back then, the ‘OG’s’ of Kevin Cadle and Nick Halling would bring a smattering of hardcore fans in this country live action of a game alien to almost everyone else. And if you had told me back then that – just two decades later – a star NFL linebacker would be in the UK helping coach up talent on these shores, I would have assumed you were indulging in some of the more illegal pastimes like the rest of my student flatmates were at 3am.

But that’s exactly what was happening at Bury Grammar School, Greater Manchester on Sunday. Foye Oluokun, a two-time tackles leader in the league, is rolling his sleeves up with some of the UK’s best linebackers, correcting stances and postures before they run through drills. Elsewhere, NFLUK royalty Vernon Kaye is speaking to Pro Bowl long snapper Ross Matiscik, testing his tastebuds with local cuisine. And somewhere on the training field, Hall of Fame offensive tackle Tony Boselli is introducing ‘Jag Tag’ – a version of flag football – to some lucky school kids who have no clue they are in the presence of greatness.

Football Goes Global

It would have been a surreal moment if I wasn’t acutely aware of the determination of the NFL to grow the sport internationally. First came the International Series in 2008, delivering a regular season game to the UK for the first time in history. One game became two, then three – and now Germany, Mexico and Brazil all have a contest of their own each season.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are at the forefront of this international drive. Agreeing to play one home game a year at Wembley Stadium, the Jags have featured eleven times in London. They played twice here last year, and will do the same again this season. Trevor Lawrence recorded his first ever win in the city. When UK fans think of the NFL over here, they think Jacksonville first – and that’s not by accident…

In 2022, the NFL announced they were allocating international marketing rights to different franchises. This was expanded earlier this year, and now 25 teams have a presence in 19 different markets. The Jaguars were of course an obvious choice for the United Kingdom, and have been on a mission to increase their visual presence on these shores ever since.

Grassroots Growth

Jaguars Hall of Fame OT Tony Boselli helping out wit 'JagTag'

It’s not all business though. The Jags aren’t here just to sell more jerseys; they want to make a lasting impression on football in this country. That begins at the youth level, where the team has created ‘JagTag’ – a simplified version of American Flag Football which is sweeping across schools in the UK.

Over 87,000 children are currently playing the game and helping introduce the sport to kids who before would never have had exposure to it. It’s an entry point for them – and after that it can be flag football, contact football, the NFL Academy, and beyond. There’s now a pathway to the NFL for UK talent – and the Jaguars are helping to grow it from the ground up.

On Sunday, Ross Matiscik was helping a group of children successfully deny a touchdown, before teaching them all how to do ‘the Griddy’ in celebration. For Matiscik, bringing the sport he loves to others is something of a passion project:

“It’s just great to see these guys having fun, man. I’m privileged to be invited over here to help grow the sport, to give them that opportunity to get involved. It’s similar to how I started, to how most of my teammates started – playing pickup ‘ball in the park with your friends. If a handful of them go on to play further, it will be worth it.”

Evening Entertainment

Later that evening, The Jaguars contingent (joined by Special Teams Coordinator Heath Farwell) greeted NFL fans at another live event. Hosted by Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds, the quartet were grilled by a much more knowledgeable crowd already in love with the sport. Drinks were had, stories regaled, and questions asked – and it’s fair to say that the special guests were impressed with the knowledge in the room. One lucky Jags fan won two tickets to the team’s game against the Patriots at Wembley later this year, seeing off the rest of the attendees by winning a quiz. Tony Boselli, a frequent visitor to the UK, was not in the least bit surprised:

“People over here, they get it.”

To finish, a ten year old boy on the front row asked Heath Farwell how the team had prepared for the new kickoff rules, prompting the panel to replace Neil Reynolds with him in the host chair. The ‘American’ prefix is no longer needed – it’s official; Football is not niche in this country any more. The Jaguars have played a huge part in that.


The 2024 Jacksonville Jaguars Live UK Tour began in Bristol, and continues on to Dublin. If you are interested in keeping up with any future UK Jaguars activities, or if you are a school looking to get involved in ‘JagTag’ and would like more information, click here:

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