In just 11 days a major multi-million dollar football league will kick off. The only thing is the football isn’t soccer or indeed the oddly shaped ball of the american version and the dollars on this occasion are Canadian.
However if you live on this side of the Atlantic in Europe, you may not be aware that it even exists let alone be almost ready to begin. The Canadian Football League or CFL for short is a gridiron based professional sports league in Canada which, for want of a better explanation, is similar to the NFL or American Football that the majority of European readers may already be familiar with. There are quite a few differences however in both codes of football both on and off the pitch.
For starters the Canadian Football League starts much earlier than its American counterpart with the league beginning in June and running through to its showpiece final, the Grey Cup, usually held in November time. 2014 will see the 101st Grey Cup Final.
The league in terms of number of teams is also very different from the NFL. The CFL currently features 8 teams in 8 different Canadian cities across two divisions. The eastern division includes Toronto Argonauts, Montreal Alouettes, Hamilton Tigers and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The western division includes BC Lions, Edmonton Eskimos, Calgary Stampeders & Saskatchewan Roughriders.
There are a number of logistical differences between the NFL & CFL too, notably in the size of the field which is longer and wider than an NFL field at 110 yards long x 65 yards wide, the number of players on the field for each team is 12 compared to 11 in the NFL and the ball in CFL features two wide white stripes while the NFL features none.
Then there’s the difference in the rules of the game which are plentiful and sometimes extremely subtle. The most obvious of which is that in the CFL a team only gets 3 downs (compared to 4 in the NFL) to move the ball ten yards before gaining another set of downs.
So what about the coming season? The Toronto Argonauts who I have had the privilege to see on more than one occasion at the Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto, are current Grey Cup Champions having won the title last season somewhat un-expectantly in their home city in the 100th Grey Cup Final. They will naturally be hopeful of a repeat run to the final this year however the BC Lions are the ones to watch this season. The 2011 Champions had the best regular season record last year and missed out on the opportunity to win back to back titles with a loss to Calgary in the Western Final last year. They’ll be a wounded animal this year and out to win back their title while their Eastern division rivals Calgary who posted the 2nd best league record are perhaps the next best bet for Grey Cup glory.
It is not yet confirmed if live coverage of the CFL will continue in the UK & Ireland on ESPN America this summer but if for some reason it doesn’t you can usually catch extensive highlights on the league website at
For those who enjoy the NFL but are looking for something to fill the void until September comes around again, the CFL is literally the next best thing unless of course you are Canadian and then it is of course, the best thing.