Dave Cressey, founder of the original UK-based Ravens fan club, shares the history of the group from its early days of a desperate-to-talk-football couple of purple-obsessed pen pals to the sleek social media driven machine it has now become.
Up to the 2000 Season the Ravens were almost unheard of in the UK. A good example is that SKY Sports had only once shown the Ravens live in their previous four seasons. Even when they eventually showed them live, it was as the opposition to the Vikings in the ‘99 season. The Vikings offence, coached by Brian Billick, was putting up record breaking offensive numbers and looked likely Super Bowl contenders.
With the internet in its infancy, NFL news was scarce. One source was the (now defunct) ‘Touchdown’ magazine. I had sent a couple of letters to the editor requesting a mention of the Ravens so as to get in touch with other UK fans – they were not published.
Even in the 2000 season where the Ravens were to go to the Superbowl, there was little positive coverage. The pre-season news focussed on the Ray Lewis trial. Then as the season unfolded it was about the Ravens offence and its inability to score touchdowns.
Still in Touchdown magazine there were scant mentions. Then they did publish a letter from a fan, but with no contact details. I rang the magazine and asked if they could send me this guy’s contact details, or pass mine on or something! They wouldn’t – citing that fans have to openly request their details to be published or exchanged.
SKY’s NFL commentator and resident Steelers fan, Neil Halling, at the very end of the Ravens Superbowl winning run had not once predicted the Ravens to win. Until we reached the Super Bowl, when Halling begrudgingly said “…and they (the Ravens) had nailed ‘em all!”
I watched SB XXV on my own; as the match progressed I just kept thinking that there MUST be Ravens fans out there! Other than the win I had backed the Ravens to win the SB at 80/1 – netting me the best part of £600. I said to my wife that most of the money would go on memorabilia but some I would put towards setting up a fan club.
I wrote to Touchdown Magazine primarily to slag off the coverage of the Ravens during the Super Bowl but also to publish my contact details. They had to print this time! They did and also published a letter from another fan – Paul Baddock. We made contact!
There was hope that the Ravens solid D would allow them to repeat their win the next season. It was not to be. The omens were not good when, for the first time the SB Champions did not open on TV, then the season was delayed due to ‘9/11’. An injury ravaged season saw the Ravens limp into the playoffs as a wildcard. They hammered Miami then fell to the Steelers.
Paul and I exchanged letters and phone calls for a while. We both wanted to get something started but did not know how to do it. The internet, and predominantly chat rooms would be the answer. Paul was very diligent on going onto US based Ravens chat rooms. He had played for a UK team and was very knowledgeable about the game. Occasionally he crossed paths with fellow Brits and would try to get them involved. Later on it was decided he would handle the US stuff and I would look for UK contacts and deal with social stuff in the UK.
Thanks in the main to Paul’s work, over the next few months we started to make the occasional contact with fellow fans. The most influential was Gordon McGuiness (now an NFL and College football analyst with Pro Football Focus). There were also contacts made with fans in Sweden and Germany. There was a time when we discussed the option of being the ‘Euro Ravens’ but it became clear that the bigger number of fans was going to be from the UK and Eire.
Birth of the UKRavens
Being a fan of the Baltimore Ravens was never going to be easy. Even getting the name was not easy! We looked at other name combinations and went for ‘UK Ravens’ (note the space!) Problem, there was already an internet based fan group of an on-line video game with the name. Anyone looking for us would find them! I emailed their web-site co-ordinator to explain the problem and asked him for his help, even offering to pay if needed for them to change their name. The guy was very rude to put it bluntly.
Luck was on our side when the leader of the game group contacted me. Are you the Dave Cressey who played rugby for Hull Ionians? We had played together at the same club! After a pleasant chat, mainly about rugby, we agreed to modify our name by removing the space and that they would pass on my details should anyone come looking for us. The UKRavens were born.
UKRavens Road Trips
The ‘holy grail’ was to get to live games in Baltimore. Thanks to Paul and Gordon’s work on the Ravens chat rooms and message boards we made contact with the ‘Ravensnest’ organisation led by Doug Phillips. It was there invitation to come over that led to my first trip in October 2004. It was a great trip. I met a lot of people who knew of the fledgling UKRavens, many offered genuine help and support. Baltimore fans got introduced to the art of celery throwing!
The second UKRavens trip was in 2006 for the match against the Raiders. Certainly the East Coast Chapter of Raiders fans won’t forget the ‘celery shower’ they got from the UKR gang during the pre-game tailgate. Paul Baddock, Chris Quayle and Ben ‘Stockers’ Stockwell all made their first trips. We also met up with our Baltimore resident UKR Ben Mortimer and soon to be wife CJ.
The third trip was in 2009 when the Ravens hosted Cleveland. The image of an over-served Niall Fagan being ‘spooned’ into a waiting taxi to take him back to his hotel will long haunt us. Gordon McGuinness was on his first trip. Ben and CJ hosted us with the able assistance on Tim ‘Toeman’ Tommen.
Internet based UKR’s
It was inevitable that most of our dealings were internet based. For a long time we used the Ravensnest’s chat room. Then we moved to Ravens 24×7 – hosted by Tony Lombardi. As luck would have it I had met Tony on my trip in 2004 when he was promoting his new site. The switch was therefore made easy. Tony even gave us our own UKR section on the site.
A huge positive influence on the UKR’s from 2005 onward is Ben Mortimer. He was a Brit living in Baltimore who had season tickets and went to the tailgates with a lot of the people we knew from the Ravens message boards – on which he posted regularly. We first met up when I hosted a UKR get together in 2005 (this time we had to ‘spoon’ him onto a London bound train the next morning).
During this time we developed the UKRavens web-site. We added the section ‘Why-a-fan?’ which proved very popular (and yes we did it first!). Some were re-published in the US via our chat room contacts.
We also included the UKRaven of the year award. Notable recipients over the years being; Gordon, Stockers, Ben Mort and Toeman. I also gave an honorary award to Doug Phillips’ dad Ken – known to all as TopperK. Now sadly deceased, he was a huge help to us in our early days.
Super Bowl XLVII (2013) until now.
The Ravens finally got to a long overdue Super Bowl against the 49ers – the final act for future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. A tense match only after the lights went out! Ben, CJ and a few others came over to Huddersfield for the game and we had chance to talk about where the UKR’s were going.
The early history of the fan club was influenced by all of us in various ways. We were always a small group. Some wanted it to be for ‘hard core’ fans – those interested in going to games in Baltimore and tailgating with some of the best fans there are. Baltimore is consistently voted as one of the best for US tailgating and fan experience.
Others want us to be a bigger fan club to make the most of the wider social media. There were by now many more Ravens fans out there. James Rowland had put up the Facebook page UK Ravens to cater for the newer fans. It was an obvious thing for me to give the name to the page as we already had an established ‘brand’. The page has well over 350 members and is very active.
Dave C – UKRavens ‘President’ 2003-2013. The name was given to me by Stockers in ’06 as he couldn’t think of any other way of describing my role to Americans.