ELF: Inside the Fall and Rebirth of the Prague Lions – Borrowed helmets, empty promises, and new beginnings

It’s been a whirlwind two weeks for the Prague Lions of the European League of Football as they go from no head coach, no quarterback, and a forfeited game to action hosting a potential playoff-bound Wroclaw Panthers in the Czech capital. The return to the field, for the Lions also came with a promise that they would indeed finish the season and not follow suit of the recently folded Leipzig Kings.

Although the Lions were annihilated 73-13 by the visiting Wroclaw Panthers, given the turmoil surrounding the team and the loss of players, it was not a totally unexpected result.

In order to best understand how the Lions ended up in this unique position, one has to understand how the club moved from being one of the best teams in the Czech League to the European League of Football. Many were surprised when Prague was announced as a new expansion franchise for the league in September 2022. American football remains a niche sport throughout Europe, but even more so in the Czech Republic when compared to Germany, the UK, or Austria. On the field, the Lions were a powerhouse on their own soil but had yet to take the stage internationally in the same way as the Milano Seamen or other new ELF teams had, leaving questions both on and off the field.

Financial Red Flags Emerge

The move to the league was pioneered by long-time head coach Zach Harrod, an American who had been with the club for 20 seasons winning several titles along the way. According to sources inside the Lions organization, Harrod sought investors state-side to fund the costly move to the ELF, as equipment, stadium fees, and the team’s overall expenses would no doubt balloon in the ELF. However, it seems it was those same investors allegedly became the primary cause of Lion’s various financial problems that arose and eventually led to Harrod’s resignation.

It didn’t take long for the cracks to show as the team lacked training equipment for the entirety of the pre-season camp, including perhaps the most essential part of any football team, their helmets. According to this source, throughout the pre-season, Harrod insisted for weeks that money was on the way from the US investors and that equipment was en-route.

Things got bad quickly as the Lions didn’t even have helmets for the first game of the season.

Prague, in fact borrowed helmets from the Hamburg Sea Devils with similar colors in order to have the team be able to take the field.

“The league ordered Hamburg returning from Wroclaw to have its people stop in Prague and leave their helmets here. Only the logo was pasted over.” – via Prima News

Players Strike, Lions Forfeit, & Coach Resigns

From there, things only snowballed as the Lions players and many of the coaches did not receive salaries for practically the entire season. Again, coach Harrod allegedly insisted that money was on the way, however, the US investor had not sent it and as “he had not gotten around to it yet“.

After weeks of no salaries, borrowed helmets and a multitude of other financial issues around the club, the players had enough. On July 15th, they subsequently refused to practice and demanded written confirmation from the club management that invoices had been sent and the various debts were being paid.

This resulted in Zach Harrod resigning from the club and the players eventually voting to not play the Fehervar Enthroners the night before the scheduled away game. Despite a call from league commissioner Patrick Esume urging them to play, the players made it clear they wouldn’t stand for this fiasco to continue. At this point, the team’s quarterback 6’9 Nate Cox, several Czech veterans, and European import players left the team.

Prague Lions President Michal Kozlíček & ex-head coach Zach Harrod speak out

Michal Kozlíček the president of the Prague Lions backs up these sources, telling CNN Prima NEWS that there were financial problems the foundation of the move to the ELF.

“There were financial problems from he beginning of the process. According to the original agreement with the US investor up to 50% of the teams shares to be taken for the agreed upon amount leaving Harrod as a minority shareholder. There may have been some delay in the payment of the rent, but everything has definitely been paid for at this moment.”

As for former head coach Zach Harrod, the longtime coach has been understandably quiet since he left the team, deleting all his social media profiles. He did, however, speak to Prima News through this short email.

“As far as I know, our players have already been paid and everything should be resolved with them. In addition, I have never taken care of finances within the organization, however, I have been working tirelessly for the last few months on investors for the team,” 

New investors and management save the season

Following the team’s forfeit, the Lions apparently secured new funding as they proudly announced they would return to the field and finish the season.

“We are pleased to announce that the European League of Football has been informed by the Prague Lions and ownership that the game operation is secured for the remainder of the season. Thus, the investors and management will rework their internal structure within the upcoming days to secure the quality of performance on and off the field.” -Via ELF

Now under new management Kozlíček is adamant that the situation has now improved significantly.

“All the players have already received their salaries, that is the primary prerequisite for the functioning of the club,” He added that commitments to purchase equipment, including the above-mentioned helmets, should have already been resolved.

Positively, the team did hold onto several of its American coaches and the core of the team’s domestic talent. The team released this statement yesterday as they returned to play, hosting the Wroclaw Panthers yesterday.

“The Prague Lions are back on track and fired up to hit the field this weekend, as we proudly host the Wroclaw Panthers. A big shoutout to the league, team management, coaching staff and our players for their unwavering commitment.”

A new look Prague Lions team hopes to end the season on a high note

While a losing score of 73-13 is not one to hang on the refrigerator, the Lions can celebrate that they were able to take the field yesterday. The Lions may have have been blown out, but the fact that they hosted a home game, and put together a halfway decent showing is a huge victory for the Czech football, the new Lions management, and of course a league that was on the brink on loosing two teams in less than a month.

The Lions are now lead by former ex-defensive coordinator Dan Disch, who steps into the head coach role. Disch was formerly a head coach with the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes in the GFL, as well a assistant as several NCAA programs.

Veteran quarterback Brad Jones steps into the Lions backfield to take over the quarterbacking duties. Jones was one the Lions former rivals playing against them several times the Czech league. He is joined by 2022 ELF defensive rookie of the year Attila Isik, who finally joins the league after visa issues delayed his 2023 debut. Ex USC and Vanderbilt (NCAA DI) running back Samuel OramJones, also a former F1 Academy driver, also made his debut yesterday as the Brit scored a touchdown and looks to be one of the teams bright spots moving forward.

Fans of the Prague Lions hope the team can finish the 2023 season with pride, as they hope to rebuild from this rollercoaster season and compete in the ELF again in 2024.

Alex is a former NCAA and semi-pro American football player who is now located in London, where he works in digital marketing. His goal in writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and