Published on November 11, 2013 | by Tom Purcell

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NFL close to London franchise

The NFL has recently announced plans to stage three games at Wembley next year, as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars making a commitment to coming back for the next four years.

Great Britain and USA are displayed on the Wembley pitch ahead of kick off

A sold-out Wembley awaits kick off for an NFL match last month [Photo by: @Kharsikar]

In light of this, I decided to go along to all of the events on offer to fans, to see what they can expect for the foreseeable future from the International Series.

The weekend kicked off with the NFL Fan Rally, which took place at Trafalgar Square on the Saturday before the game.

The first noticeable thing about the Rally is the sea of jerseys from every team, showing the level of support the NFL has in this country. At the event there is authentic American foods and games to hone your American football skills.

However, the main event for fans takes place on the main stage, where a host of NFL stars past and present come to talk about the sport and promote the series. This year was a treat for enthusiasts as NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, and legendary quarterback, Joe Montana, dropped in for a chat with Sky Sports pundit Neil Reynolds.

Amongst the fans, it’s evident the Fan Rally is a highlight of the sport coming to London.

“To me it shows how invested the NFL is in the British market,” said Houston Texans fan, John Makin.

“To hire out all of this Square and bring out massive stars such as Joe Montana is a huge deal and shows they actually care about the fans. You never see this with football over here, they need to take a leaf out the NFL’s book,” he continued.

Overcrowded

One problem for some of the Wembley regulars was with the NFL on Regent Street event, which replaced the usual Fan Rally when the NFL last visited London in September.

Leanne Howarth, 33, who has been every year so far, was critical of the event, she said: “I just don’t think that they thought it through properly, the tiny stage meant that not many people got to see the Vikings or Steelers players at all, which is what a lot of people came to see.

“The NFL said more than 500,000 people went to it but they closed the path to stage so loads of people missed out. Maybe it was because this was the first time they’ve done two games, I hope they sort it out for next year.”

Party

The following event is the tailgate party in the Wembley parking lot, which is organised by NFL on the Sunday prior to the game.

Once again trying to replicate the authentic American fan experience, with the help of American food and drink. There is a convivial feel to proceedings with a collection of jerseys, American footballs being thrown and also the odd five-versus-five games breaking out.

Daryl Brown, 26 from Birmingham feels the tailgate is an integral part of the NFL’s International Series.

“They definitely could have done with this when the last game was on,” he said.

“It gets everyone in the mood for the game and people have fun here. I’ve been to two games now and when I found out they didn’t have the tailgate for the Steelers game I was a bit gutted. They should definitely have one for all three next year.”

NFL spares little expense with another stage erected for fans to watch the main stage.

Hosted by Reynolds again, this time with the help of the more charismatic Channel 4 presenter Nat Coombs, more stars come out to get interviewed along with musical guests and cheerleaders, which the male members of the crowd seem to enjoy.

Relaxed

As for the game itself, unlike the rowdy feel of a soccer match, it feels more like a celebration. Although the Jaguars are officially the home side, they are far outnumbered by fans of the San Francisco 49ers and people at the game are just happy to watch the game first hand, so there is no animosity between fans, something that English football can learn from.

The atmosphere is almost incomparable to football matches, according to Shivran who works at Wembley: “It’s not even close. I’ve worked here for the last two years and have worked FA Cup games and three NFL games now.

“There is just a different feel, there’s no need to try and separate fans for the different teams, and it’s just more relaxed. I’ve never had any trouble at the sections I’ve been working on.”

The usual American razzmatazz preceded the contest with a performance from R’n’B singer, Ne-Yo, while the Jaguars mascot, Jaxson de Ville, bungee jumped from the top of the stadium in an attempt to rally the fans.

The game itself was dominated by San Francisco. They blew away the Jaguars 42-10 thanks to emerging superstar, Colin Kaepernick, who ran for two touchdowns and threw for another score. However, the one-sided nature of the game and the typical British weather did little to dampen the fans’ spirits after the game.

“I’ll definitely be coming again next year,” said New England Patriots fan, Mark Dyer.

“It’s good that the Jags have decided to come back for the next few years, they will grow a fanbase here and people will get to know their players and see them get better over the years.

“Maybe after a game or two it will be more like an actual home game for them. Then a bit further down the line who knows? Maybe they could be the London franchise people have been talking about.”

The thought of the Jaguars becoming London’s franchise was a prevalent one among the fans at the stadium. Kieran Mathis, 21, thinks it is inevitable there will be a team in the capital in the next five years.

“The way it’s looking they [NFL] are investing a lot of money over here,” he said. “I don’t think they would do that if they didn’t plan on moving a team eventually. At the Fan Rally they brought the entire Jaguars team out as well, add that to the fact their owner (Shahid Khan) owns Fulham [football club] and it looks like there is a good chance it will be them. They never sell out their home games anyway.”

If the NFL confirms the decision to move a franchise over to Enlgand, it would seem that they have a fanbase that is hungry for more American football. Next year’s games will be a good acid test to see if fans are ready to consume the sport, enough to merit their own team. For now however, the NFL is thriving in Britain and the fans have a lot to look forward to when it returns three times next year.

 

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