American Football is now an international sport, being played in over 85 countries around the globe. In previous articles, I have explained the concept of imports to the sport focusing on American players to further develop the game in foreign countries. But Americans are not the only type of Imports playing internationally. Some of the best American Football players in Europe are born with European nationality and can compete with the best around the world. Finland happens to have an abundance of top level European imports playing here and helping shape the sport. I was fortunate to get an interview with United Kingdom import Jonathon Ashton of the Hämeenlinna Huskies. Here’s what he had to say about his import experience.
How many years have you played American Football?
I’ve been playing Football for 6 years now, 3 playing in England and 3 playing in Europe.
Where have you played previously?
WELCOME TO FINLAND
How did you get to Finland?
I started playing when I was 16 so it has been a very fast journey. I was playing junior football in the U.K. and one year of university football before I decided to set up my europlayers account. Finland was the first country that showed interest in me in 2015 with the Kouvola Indians and I snapped up the opportunity to play abroad for the first time, I had a blast playing there and I knew that Finland was a place I wanted to play in again. At the start of 2016 I signed for the Reus Imperials in the top division of Spain to play Tackle. That was an interesting time with the football not being up to the highest standard of the league we were playing in and a few issues with management made that experience a sour one. However, after that it was back to Finland signing with the Jyväskylä Jaguaarit who showed interest once my season in Spain came to an end. The results didn’t come out the way we would have wanted them to but it was a great Summer and once again reinforced that Finland is the place to be, so when Stan started talking to me in late December I was excited to see if we could get the deal done to come back to Finland and here we are.
How do you like it in Finland?
Finland is great. The lifestyle is relaxed and easy. Everything is nice and slow compared to London being so fast and crazy. This summer weather has been interesting this year. I got here in April so I was not expecting the best weather at the start but at the start of May it was still snowing so I didn’t know what to expect for the rest of the summer. When our centre Alex Malchow was about to fly in, I sent him a message to make sure he brings some warm clothes because you never know what to expect out here. He has thanked me many times for this. Thankfully it has started to pick up now and get warmer but it seems when we have a home game the weather is against us. Hämeenlinna is a relatively small city with not a lot of people, so we have a lot of time on our hands but as long as you plan something out in advance you can find a lot of things to take up your time.
How do you like the People in Finland?
The people of Finland at sometimes can be reserved at first but once you get to know them they really open up to you. I feel the language barrier is hard sometimes at start but I feel once they get to know you then they are fine with using the language since most of the people in Finland can speak English fairly well. If you really want a Finnish person to open up then you should have a few beers with them, I find that always works.
What is your go to meal in Finland?
The Two Steaks Burger from Fresno our sponsor restaurant. My plan is to have it renamed the Jonny burger by the end of the season.
FOOTBALL IN FINLAND
Do you spend a lot of time with Finnish teammates or on your own/with other imports?
Since half of us live together in a house downtown in the city, obviously most of the time is spent with the other imports eating at the sponsor restaurant and just chilling around the house. Definitely spend a lot of time with the Finnish players after the camps before the season getting to know the boys and after the games of course, but with the Finnish players having families and jobs it is hard to find the time because they have a lot of things to do.
What level would you compare the football played in Finland to your native Country (England)?
I think the overall level of the Maple League is better than the BAFA Premiership. Because of the ability to bring in import players, so the homegrown players can develop. There are a couple teams in the Premiership that would be able to compete but the overall level is higher over here in Finland.
What do you see as some of the biggest differences between football in your country (England) compared to Finland?
Well, the games are all on television, which gives the sport higher credibility and brings sponsorships to the league. The games are all played in stadiums here, which gives you the ability to get a good crowd, whereas in the U.K. they are mostly played on rugby pitches with no stands and barely any people in attendance. The simple fact that you have American Imports that have been playing for so many years at high levels seriously helps player recruiting to a high standard from team to team in the league.
What are your plans after the season concludes?
The plan for the winter is to stay in shape and see what’s on offer for 2018, but that’s a long way away, still a long way to go this season.
What advice would you give to someone playing football in a different country for the first time?
I would say be prepared for a lot of time on your hands since you don’t practice everyday, most of the days you will go to eat, workout and then that’s all you have to do. Plan out some things to do to keep you entertained in the downtime.
Can you sum up what American Football means to you?
It’s the reason I wake up in the morning, a way of life.