I grew up in New York, the home of both true die hard, and fair weather fans. As a Mets, Giants and Islanders fan, it’s been mostly heartache, and half empty stadiums.
When a team is good, the bankers show up and shout after a few beers to complete a sell out crowd. When the going is bad, it’s just the actual season ticket holders wearing the jerseys doing the yelling in half empty stadiums, not all of it positive, of course. Throughout my childhood, I’d always heard that fans in the UK were crazy, armed with songs, banners, quite a few pints and a sea of their team colour and that attending a sporting event in the UK was unlike anywhere else.
I grew up, I went to some Premier League games and that’s pretty much true.
But this past weekend I went to the new Tottenham stadium for the latest instalment in the football meets football NFL London series, and I was genuinely amazed by what I found. If your team is playing in London this year or next, regardless of your currently location, you probably should too.
I’d seen spirited crowds for Premier League, but I had serious doubt about how a stadium full of people would react to a foreign sport, for which there are no fully professional teams within 3,400 miles, with rules which take a bit of getting used to. I was wrong to doubt.
The walk down White Hart Lane became animated long before I expected it to. A massive perimeter was setup around Tottenham Hotspur Stadium welcoming fans in all directions with an NFL Fan Zone. There were competitions, shops, street vendors and all the things you can imagine, but what struck me was that it was chock full of people in NFL jerseys.
Was I actually in London, or was my jet lag reaching new heights?
First of all, it should be noted how freaking brilliant the whole production is, and what a boom it’s all created for UK tourism. You take shoulder season travel dates – which all of these games fall in, when planes and hotels would usually be half empty, and you create a reason for at least 15,000 Americans to hop on a plane across the pond. And they did, en force. What a way to spend a weekend.
Virgin Atlantic does the hospitality for the games, bringing their iconic lounge concept to an NFL setting, the stadiums do military flyovers just like in the USA, the announcers are imported with over the top US flare for pronunciation, and you even find hot dogs on the menu. Both national anthems are sung, and there’s a real bond in the air, even for opposing sides.
This isn’t just Sunday at home, it’s NFL Sunday in London. It’s such a unique experience, before kick off even takes place.
But what about the fans? What about the loud environment that gets players and fans going? Well, it was there in droves. I heard a steady mix of Southern twang – the US kind – to mix in with the local twang of Tottenham and London et al. I read that Tottenham worked with U2’s sound engineers to make this stadium roar, and their work was on full display.
Much like a UK football match, it felt like there was a real home and away stand on either end of the stadium, and from the first kick it was loud as all hell. The announcer would say “first down Tampa…” and the crowd would shout “Bay”, and they kept doing so even after a comeback was futile. I just couldn’t believe I was watching the “other football” in North London, in an environment with far more going on than your average New York Giants, or Jets game – especially this season.
Even though the fans in front didn’t have a clue what was actually going on, or the strategy behind run plays – they much preferred airing it out – they were all in and shouting at the top of their lungs.
I couldn’t help but ask what drew them in, and the answer was one part to see the similarities and differences between American football and Rugby for themselves, and the other part, because they snagged tickets off a member of one of the teams extended coaching staff, who they got drunk in a pub the day before. No judgement here, it’s London after all…
Unable to be cool, I too left the stadium buying too much “NFL London Games” gear and have spent the subsequent days with it on. I had my doubts that there was real demand for these games, but I’d now say that any NFL fan who’s team is coming over, should do anything in their power – like using points – to join them.
Because these games take place in October, November and months when leisure travel is at a low, prices are fantastic on airfare and hotels, and though Brits won’t be happy it’s being mentioned, the pound to dollar ratio is closer to parity than it’s been in decades. When it comes to buying pre-game and post-game pints, that kinda thing helps…