Tuesday, 2 November 2010

NFL in the UK

Last year I started watching American Football on the net, and they talked about the "International Series" - two NFL teams come to London to play their competition match, so I bought a ticket! Fast forward several months, and the match was last Sunday.

From here in King’s Lynn it’s quite easy to get to Wembley - the train down to King’s Cross, and then the Tube over to Wembley Park - that is, unless there are engineering works on the line which mean that there is a bus replacement service for part of the route, adding about an hour to the journey time. Which there was on Sunday. So I decided to drive over to Peterborough, and get the train from there.

This part of the journey went well, and I even managed to do a bit of Twittering whilst I was on the train. This part of Cambridgeshire is very pretty, with big open fields and trees which were just turning colour. It’s also very flat mostly fen land, and I could see rain clouds in the distance, which we passed through and then on out.

Getting to King’s Cross I went down to the Tube station, and was amused to see lots of NFL team shirts - seems I wouldn’t be alone on the terraces! I was less amused, as the platform got more crowded, to hear the announcement that there had been a signal failure, and all trains were delayed. This held us up maybe 30 minutes, but eventually the happy throng of supporters arrived at Wembley Park station, and headed off to the stadium.

I’d not been to the new Wembley, and was truly impressed by the sight of the arch and the stadium itself as the crowds walked along to it. I wanted to get a sweat shirt I’d seen in the promotional leaflet, and stopped at one of the concession stands along the route, but they were out of them, so I carried on and found my entrance easily - I was very impressed with the signage here!

Going through the gate and after the security search, I got my first glimpse of the ground through one of the entrances, and I was probably grinning from ear to ear - there is just something about a big event in a big stadium that makes me smile! Before going into the seating, I waited at one of the souvenir stands for a sweat shirt - I saw they had one on display. When I get to be served, I find that the one on display is the only one they have left! It’s a medium, and I really wanted a large (I like to wear these things loose) but after a moment’s hesitation I bought it anyway - yes, it WAS expensive (£40!) but it was also what I wanted.

Then I went in and found my seat - But stood for a bit to take it all in - giant balloons of the San Francisco and Denver helmets were at each end of the pitch, and there were players warming up, and dancing pom-pom girls - it was still 45 minutes before match time, and that time was filled with music and entertainment. San Francisco was the “home” team, and so we all had SF 49er flags. The seats were filling up rapidly now- next to me were a man and his young son, who were Denver Bronco fans, and there were a lot of people wearing the shirts of various teams, but I got the impression that most of the crowd were neutral on the outcome of the game - we just wanted a good one!

I had wondered if they would do the normal thing of having the US national anthem, and indeed they did unfurl a big Stars and Stripes flag and had a singer perform the anthem. Then they unfurled a Union Jack, and someone played it, with some of us singing alone.

And then the game - well, I’m not a sports commentator, I can’t tell you who made which plays, and certainly won’t do any stats! But as a spectacle, it lived up to my expectations from watching on the net. The actual play was somewhat slow in the first 3 quarters, picking up more in the last quarter, but there was a lot to keep us entertained in the mean time. One thing I’d not realised was that the US NFL games were being played at the same time as ours, and the latest scores and video clips were being shown on the big video screens. One of the people behind me was a St Louis Rams follower, and got excited when the Rams were shown to be leading!!

I was getting cold on the stands, and as I’d not eaten, I went out during the 2nd quarter and got myself a hot drink and a hot dog - very American!! As I said, most of the action in the game came in the 4th quarter, and the 49’ers ended up winners 24 to 16. Those in the seats around me were mostly British, but I did detect a few American accents in the crowd - I’m sure if I was an American living over here it’d be a “must do” thing to go to the match!

Overall it was a great day out - I had intended to get there earlier to go to the tail gate party, but the time I spent in Wembley - from around 4 pm till the game finished just after 8 - was well worth it. A fun time, and the crowd was so well behaved - and I forgot to mention the Mexican Wave that went round the stadium 4 to 5 times!