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Meet Germany's American Football stars

The Local · 12 Jun 2014, 18:33

Published: 12 Jun 2014 18:33 GMT+02:00

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On the eve of the 2014 World Cup, it might seem in soccer-mad Germany like "the beautiful game" is the only sport there is.

But ever since US troops occupied West Germany in the aftermath of World War II, bringing their beloved "gridiron" football with them, America's favourite sport has quietly become more and more popular in the country.

Since the first official German American Football club, the Frankfurt Lions, formed in 1977, the sport has spawned a national association (the AFVD) a full national league, a ladies' league, several junior leagues and hosts of regional and local clubs, who have competed for a place in the annual "German Bowl" since 1979.

And the German national team, which played its first games in 1981, has been European champions for six times. They defended the title against Austria in front of around 27,000 people in Vienna's Ernst Happel stadium on Saturday.

While German Football League (GFL) teams often employ players on secondment from American leagues and the national team is not closed to players of other nationalities, many of the 2014 squad's top players were German-born.

Marco Ehrenfried, Germany's quarterback in Saturday's final, is one such player. Starting his career in the junior team of his local club, the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, 21-year-old Ehrenfried joined the Rhein-Neckar Bandits as soon as he was old enough in 2012, scoring 39 touchdowns in 15 games in the 2013 season.

Ehrenfried's pinpoint pass to Wide Receiver Niklas Römer brought the side a key touchdown in Saturday's final. But in the 2014 season Ehrenfried will return to the Schwäbisch Hall, while also studying history and sport to become a teacher.

The 26-year-old Römer, meanwhile, was named Germany's Most Valuable Player twice in the 2011 World Cup after he made key scoring catches in both of Germany's winning games, against France and Australia. Originally from Cologne, he plays for club team the Braunschweig "New Yorker" Lions.

Römer courted controversy in 2013 when he posted edited pictures on Instagram of him running past opposing Dresden players shown in flames, with the caption "Dresden is going down like '45", according to Bild newspaper. The comments were seen as mocking victims of allied bombing raids on the eastern German city in 1945.

German Linebacker Kerim Homri made his name as a key defensive player for the Braunschweig Lions, where he has been on the roster since 2008. The 24-year-old ranks among the GFL's top ten tacklers – and in the league's top five German-born tacklers. He was awarded the AFVD's Player of The Year award in 2011 after making 130 tackles that season.

But other members of the German squad are nationals of both Germany and the USA.

Running Back and general all-rounder Danny Washington started his career aged 15 with the Darmstadt Diamonds. The 28-year-old, who has joint US/German citizenship, now plays in multiple positions for the Rhein-Neckar Bandits, a side coached by his father, former NFL player Marvin Washington.

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And Joe "JoJo" Joyner, a 30-year-old Wide Receiver for Germany, who also has joint American and German citizenship, started off his career playing college football for Guilford College, North Carolina, before joining GFL side the Franken Knights in 2010.

Germany's close relationship with the USA has clearly paid off for the German side, with three consecutive wins in the European championships and three World Cups as the top placed European team.

And, to an extent, it runs both ways: a few German players have been plucked from their GFL teams (viewed as semi-professional at best by the US American Football establishment) and drafted into the NFL, including 28-year-old Markus Kuhn from Weinheim in southwest Germany, who was recruited by 2011 Super Bowl winners the New York Giants in 2012.

SEE ALSO: Football fans plan World Cup 'sick leave'

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