An almost-a-fan’s guide to the NFL International Series.

My fiancé is into a lot of sports – football, cricket, golf, DARTS – including a lot of American sports, including the NFL. A lot of these bore me, in the way that I imagine the Ballet Russes would bore him. But American Football (hereafter simply ‘football’, get over it) I can get on board with. I watched my first bona fide beginning-to-end football game when I was dragged to see the New England Patriots dominate St. Louis Rams at Wembley in 2012. Being a Pats fan, because the fiancé is and because my parents used to live in Boston, that was a fun one.

Since then I’ve watched a couple of Super Bowls a handful of Pats games and a fair few hours of the Red Zone. I own a New Era cap, New Era beanie and a souvenir sweatshirt from Super Bowl XX (thank you, eBay!) but I don’t quite follow the season as much as a real life fan might.

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Miami Dolphins 3rd & 1, way up in the third quarter.

On Sunday I went to my second live game, where I watched the Miami Dolphins smash the Oakland Raiders. Here’s short guide to other casual supporters who my happen upon a pretty decently-priced ticket to watch an NFL game at Wembley.

1. You will be surrounded by super-fans, just play along
The three games that are played in Wembley each year are the only ones in Europe, people come from far and wide for these games, regardless of whether or not their team is playing – if their team is playing this is a big day for them. You will see people wearing 30 year old jerseys of teams that don’t exist anymore; Houston Oilers, anyone? They’re all super nice and very happy to be there. If you’re wearing a hat/scarf of ‘your team’ (because you like the colours, or because of some vague connection – see above) at least find out who they played last week and who’s in their division, so that you can keep up with the friendly banter.

2. When it comes to tailgating, less is more
Despite what you’re hoping, the Wembley tailgate is not quite like the parking lot parties you see in films, or even on CNN. Sure, there’s some live music, plenty of food and truckloads of Budweiser, but if you arrive when gates open you’re going to have a numb-tarmac-bum by the time the pre-game show starts three hours later. A fun activity while tailgating is Jersey Bingo – can you spot the colours of all 32 teams?!

3. Wembley Stadium car park is not a shopping mall
If you’re looking for merch, don’t plan to buy it at the tailgate. I know we’re British, but if it’s not a rollercoaster or an amazing brunch location; an hour+ queue is just too long. Head to Niketown on Regent Street (also the location of the huge street party the day before the game) and New Era in Soho before the game and all of your NFL merchandise dreams will be realised. Online shopping after the event is possible, but your choice in the UK is limited if you’re looking for an obscure team.

4. The tailgate nachos are really good
I promise. They don’t look it, but they are, they really are.

5. The cheerleaders are so incredibly underwhelming
We’ve all seen Bring it On, so frankly I blame Kirsten Dunst for not preparing me for this. The cheerleaders are attractive, hair whipping dancers. Yes, they are good dancers and they don’t stop moving for 3+ hours; I can appreciate the athleticism that requires. But if you’re hoping for flyers or tumblers, think again. The York University Hornets were more exciting than the Raiderettes.

6. You’re on your own with the stand up/sit down ettiquette
I’m sorry, I just don’t know. If you’re up in the rafters it’s simple, you’ll just get swept up onto your feet in the event of a touchdown, but if you’re down in field-side seats it’s a bit more complicated. A couple of times a quarter, marshals will come by telling the stander-uppers that they’re spoiling the fun for the sitter-downers. I was torn, I didn’t wanna be a tool to the sitter-downer behind me, but if the person in front of you stands up for the whole drive, you have to as well, if you want to watch the game at all. Also, I didn’t want to disappoint the extremely passionate Raiders fan who seemed to really care about getting people standing up. Good Luck.

7. Leave your hooligan hat at home
The single Dolphins fan who sat a couple of rows behind hundreds of Raiders fans in our block did a good job bellowing ‘DOLPHINS’ during the ‘DE-FENSE’ chants and all it earned him in response was a few chuckles and rolling of the eyes. Everyone’s nice.

8. The tube trip back to central London isn’t that bad
I know, I know you don’t believe me, but honestly you’ll survive it. It’s kind of cool that London is full of NFL fans; enjoy the solidarity.

There are two games left in the NFL International Series 2014, stay up-to-date here: http://www.nfl.com/international
Keep an eye out for 2015 dates, which will be released in a couple of months time, there might just be four games!

As ever, comment below, or tweet @ElisabethShuker

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