Meet The Brits Who Are Tearing Up The NFL Right Now
For as long as we can remember, Brits have tried to break America. But the list of the great and good to have failed in their respective quests is almost endless - Robbie Williams, Oasis and, erm, Lord Cornwallis, to name but a few. For a while it was a long-running joke - perhaps a point of pride - that the artists we held dear thanks to their grim take on our damp isle, their uncouth accents, their parkas, were the very things that repelled our American friends.
But then Adele happened. One Direction happened. Our tastes were merging, and it wasn't just music, nor was it a one way street. We were eating pulled pork and Americans were watching the Premier League. Robbie Keane was playing in LA, and he was soon joined by Steven Gerrard. Even the NFL, the most American of uniquely American sports, was starting to play games in London.
Despite all of these overlaps, there was something missing - and it's to do with that last one. The NFL is currently huge in the UK, but are there any British players in the NFL? The answer is yes - and while these three might not sound like they grew up within earshot of the Bow bells, their accents are as British as the UK passports they all hold. Plus they're all very good at American Football. Here's how they each made it from the UK to the NFL.
JAY AJAYI, RUNNING BACK
Having moved to the States when he was only seven, Jay Ajayi isn't exactly your typical Brit. He probably doesn't eat doner kebabs. I doubt he has strong opinions on rail strikes. He's unlikely to show up to work hungover after falling in love with the sesh during yesterday's pub quiz/bus journey/court hearing.
But he still hails from England, and in this post-knocked-out-by-Iceland era he's one of the few English footballers worth getting excited about - even if we're talking about a different code. Ajayi was born in London. While he may have hopped across the pond before he hit Year 4, the capital has clung to him like gum on a Bakerloo line seat. The Miami Dolphins running back regularly visits family in England, has an adorable London-tinged accent and he's a huge Arsenal fan, and not in the "I love the EPL and support The Arsenal" way that many Yanks are: Ajayi is genuine - an anorak, and it looked like he might cry and/or throw up when he met Thierry Henry.
He's also very good at American Football. At the time of writing, he leads the Dolphins with seven rushing touchdowns and over 1000 rushing yards. What a lad.
MENELIK WATSON, OFFENSIVE TACKLE
Like most kids from Manchester, Menelik Watson's first love was football. Raised by a single mother in Longsight, Watson dreamed of escaping an uneasy childhood by playing for his beloved Manchester City - and it didn't seem like too implausible a goal. He was a skilled footballer, graced with an athleticism unusual for a boy his size.
Sadly, these ambitions came to an end during a meaningless kick about with friends, when he broke his ankle so severely that doctors were worried they might have to amputate his foot. Watson was 12. While the ankle healed (and his foot remained), he was told he couldn't play football again.
Basketball was another story. Despite never having played, Watson was inspired to take up the sport thanks to the success of a former pupil at his school, who'd gone on to play at the collegiate level in the States. Given his expanding frame and remarkable agility, Watson adapted to the physical and technical aspects of the game with ease. Despite a few setbacks, Watson's talents were soon spotted by a former college coach called Rob Orellana. He eventually helped the Manc, now 20, gain a scholarship to Marist College in New York state - a Division One school - in 2009.
It did not work out. Yet Orellana did not give up on Watson. He was too fluid an athlete for a man of his stature, and Orellana knew there must be a physical feat at which Watson could excel. After a brief stint at boxing, he introduced Watson to the American Football coaches at Saddleback, a community college in Mission Viejo, California. Impressed by his 6'6 frame and explosive speed, they put him in pads. He struggled at first, but was soon dominating on the offensive line. So impressive was his development that elite universities were offering Watson scholarships after one season of competitive football. He chose Florida State, where he played as right tackle before being drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2013.
When he was picked in the second round of the Draft, Watson had played only 19 games of American Football up until that point. Fast forward to 2016, and he's currently a key part of the Raiders' playoff-bound offensive line.
JACK CRAWFORD, DEFENSIVE END
Like Watson, Crawford moved to the States when he was a teen. Growing up in Kilburn, north London, Crawford was noticeably larger than his contemporaries (photos of him playing rugby as a kid make you feel very sorry for his opponents). Because of his imposing size, someone suggested he try basketball. And like Watson, his physical presence and unexpected agility meant he was a natural.
Crawford was soon attending camps over in the States. At age 17, he was spotted by St. Augustine Preparatory School, New Jersey, who offered him a scholarship. Yet thanks to the endless amount of red tape that unravels whenever sport and academia is combined in America, Crawford wasn't allowed to play for the team in his first year. As this stipulation didn't extend to the school's football team, he figured he might as well stick on a helmet and pads now that he'd come all this way.
Crawford's performance on the football field at St. Augustine caught the attention of college scouts. He was offered a scholarship by Penn State, where he played as a defensive lineman for all four years he was eligible. After being drafted by the Raiders (they obviously have a thing for Brits) in 2012, Crawford served as a solid back up over the next two seasons.
After being released in 2014, he signed for the Dallas Cowboys. With nine starts under his belt, Crawford is currently having one of his best seasons.