Post-NFL London: The Wonder of Wembley

A Carlsberg FA Trophy final to watch my local side Stevenage lose to Barrow in 2010, hard-earned money spent to watch many pitiful England performances, so much so that I don’t bother any more, and in stark contrast – a manic two hours singing along to the entire Take That back catalogue (I only went for my mum…honest).

Until Sunday this is how I have summarised my previous experiences of Wembley.

  • Fan segregation, tense atmosphere.
  • Boring – what a waste of money.
  • Trophy at stake, it’s all or nothing.
  • Drunken louts.
  • Giddy girls.
  • Team Robbie or Gary?
  • Are they back for good?

Aside from being forced to get over familiar with total strangers whilst waiting for the tube; the similarities ended there.

From the moment we exited the stadium there was a party atmosphere. Fans posed against walls adorned with pictures of Colin Kaepernick and Maurice Jones Drew. A multi-coloured wave of supporters sporting jerseys ebbed into the tailgate party from as early as six hours before the game began. Fans mulled around Wembley car park which had been transformed into an NFL mecca. Whether you were there to see the game for the first time, or a regular – there was something for you.

BBQ meats washed down with a pint of Bud Light, photo opportunities for all- giant helmets, a chance to ‘lift’ a Jags or 49ers Chrysler and an American flag wearing man on stilts; it could only be described as a carnival for football fans.

As a Brit I genuinely abide by the unwritten rule of ‘keeping yourself to yourself’, but here I had no such constraints. Recognising a fellow Cowboys fan from a fan site, I pounced on them as they exited to loo.

“Steve, I’m Lauren!” – we spoke like old friends, united in our yo-yo playing team.

I cast an eye over every fan I saw – Pats fan, Pats fan, Pats fan, A JAGUAR! 49er, 49er, 49er – Tebow?! You name it we saw it- although it appeared Giants fans on the whole kept their jerseys covered!

The support for the 49ers was largely dominant. Considering the Jags are the team signed up to play at Wembley for the next few years, you have to wonder whether it’ll ever feel like a home game for them.

The Super Bowl finalists with a superstar quarterback are without doubt a more attractive proposition, however inside the stadium, and during the game, it largely felt like all 86,000 were neutrals.

We were lucky enough to be sat near four American Jags fans who’d come over for the game. They weren’t impressed with our English attempt at their team name (for the record it’s pronounced “Jag-waaaars”, aside from that grumble they loved every minute and certainly added to the razzmatazz for us.

A bungee jumping mascot, pyrotechnics, superstar national anthem singing celebrities and scantily clad beautiful women waving pom poms- all added to the pre-game atmosphere.

Kaepernick’s scrambles produced real excitement and all ten points of the Jaguars resulted in whoops of delight and much flag waving!

The game went exactly the way most predicted, a dominant showing by the 49ers, but unlike a soccer game where perhaps fans would boo such supremacy, the Jaguars were rewarded with an extra cheer each positive play they made.

The idea of a London franchise team still remains to be seen; but if we can party like that every year? Sign me up.

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