I recently took to the road and headed across the pond to London to see the Giants play the Rams with my fiancé. Having no idea how popular (or unpopular) our version of football was there, I was very curious to find out.
The flight there was half-full but mainly had Giants fans on it. For the 2-3 days we were there walking around seeing the sites, there was plenty of Giants fans and some Rams fans out and about doing the same. Cab drivers thought it was cool we traveled all this way to watch a game. Any time a fellow Giants fan saw you in Giants gear you’d get a high-five or a “Go Giants,” nothing new to someone who’s made a few Giants road trips, but it’s definitely different to hear it from a person with a British accent. We even saw Roger Goodell walking around the city and got to speak with him.
Gameday was fun and quite different from how it is done in America. It was the first NFL game played at Twickenhan Stadium, a stadium known as the Cathedral of Rugby.
Unlike in the States, the British travel by train to this stadium, and that’s where the fun began. The first thing you notice is the incredibly random selection of jerseys that fans wear. Typically, you’ll see two types of jerseys at an NFL game in the U.S., the home team and the road team. Sometimes, there are a handful of people who wear some strange third jersey and get pointed out. Well in London, it’s not quite the same.
For a Giants-Rams game some of the jerseys seen were:
Jim Kelly (Buffalo Bills)
Terrelle Pryor (Oakland Raiders)
Ricky Williams (Miami Dolphins)
Kordell Stewart (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Russ Grimm (Washington Redskins)
The train ride there wasn’t bad. Unlike New York, personal space on their trains actually exist and you don’t feel like a sardine. Plus, despite being just four stops, you traveled a significant distance, unlike the New York subways where four stops sometimes feel like four blocks. From the station to the stadium is about a 10-15 minute walk through the town of Twickenham.
Without a real parking lot, tailgating is done differently. You walk down a stretch of a street with houses all along the road. The homeowners either sell home-cooked food on or rent out their front lawn space to vendors to do so themselves. The food is eclectic, including pulled pork sandwiches, Argentinian steaks, pies of all kinds. They also had cookies and cakes for desserts. There were also stores along the way that sold NFL apparel, including jerseys.
The game itself was what’s come to be expected for London games. Sloppy, not aesthetically pleasing, but to be honest the fans didn’t seem to mind. They were engaged and seemed genuinely interested. A crowd exceeding 77,000 was announced. The stadium also does a good job of posting rules of the game after penalties or calls are made for those still developing the knowledge of the game.
Getting back was more of a hassle. As almost everyone was taking the train you can imagine what more than 77,000 people trying to take a train at once was like. Much like in America, NFL games in London are a day-long event.
Having been there from Thursday to Monday I was there for Thursday Night Football and the Sunday games. It was exciting to find Packers and Bears kicking off at 1:30 a.m. in London on Friday. They played football all day Sunday as well, even including some a channel similar to Red Zone where they followed multiple games. They have their own NFL analysts, including former NFL player Shaun Gayle.
The same day of the game was a match between Manchester United and Chelsea, two of England’s football soccer powerhouses, and they were still able to sell out a stadium for an NFL game. The NFL will never overtake soccer in England, and I believe the NFL is at peace with that. However, I was impressed with the popularity of it overseas as well. I would imagine some of that was obvious with the NFL’s continued development of the game oversees but it’s different to see with your own eyes. There’s certainly a market for it.