From Nottingham to Jacksonville
An NFL pilgrimage to see the Jaguars at Wembley
Long time NFL fan Dave from Nottingham on his first time experiencing the atmosphere of a game for real…
When I was in primary school, I started following the NFL, religiously watching Channel 4’s weekly highlights show.
As an adult, I was drawn back to the sport after stumbling across Sky Sports’ coverage of several live games on a Sunday evening.
While I realised I still had the same interest and passion for the game as an armchair fan, I did wish I could experience a live match.
Then in 2007, the ‘NFL International Series’ was born — regular season games held outside of the United States.
Last year, me and a mate finally got the chance to live the dream and experience a match at Wembley.
A London NFL franchise?
Driving down from Nottingham to London, parking up and jumping on the tube to Wembley, we were aware of the NFL buzz instantly.
Aside from the huge number and variety of replica jerseys, there was one hot topic among many of our fellow passengers.
The possibility of a UK based NFL franchise has gathered momentum, with the popularity of the International Series showing there’s a demand.
Plus, high-quality player performances after flying in on Thursday to play on Sunday demonstrate that a London based team could be a viable option.
Global fame, global game
Stepping onto Wembley Way, it felt both familiar and unfamiliar simultaneously.
I’d been here several times before, for football matches and concerts — but this time had a very American feel to it.
As we got closer to the stadium the buzz among the crowd was starting to build — but it wasn’t tribal, like British football.
Although we were going to watch the Indianapolis Colts Vs Jacksonville Jaguars, I was struck by the number of ‘Beckham’ jerseys.
Not David — the blue and white with number 13 is worn by superstar Odell Beckham Junior (not even playing at Wembley that day).
A showman famed for spectacular one-handed catches, the New York Giants wide receiver was facing the LA Rams at Twickenham weeks later.
But Beckham being as big a name as his footballing namesake, it was clear that this event’s popularity was about more than the two teams.
We also saw countless Eli Manning jerseys — another NY player who would be seen at Twickenham rather than Wembley.
It was obvious that — like me — a lot of people had come to experience the ‘occasion’ of an NFL game as much as to support a particular team.
Yes, fans have their favourite cities, players and so on — but many of us were just excited to welcome the NFL as a spectacle.
The match itself was amazing, a nail-biter featuring four touchdowns in the final quarter, finishing in a narrow win for ‘home team’ Jacksonville.
Everything in the stadium — a vocal crowd, a close game, national anthems, cheerleaders, pyrotechnics — made for an unforgettable atmosphere.
But for me, the NFL coming over here is bigger than what happens for a few hours inside Wembley and Twickenham.
It’s about booking the tickets, anticipation, travelling on the day, buying the souvenirs and mingling with other excited types in the fanzones.
It’s a reward for all the years devotees like me spent watching such spectacular entertainment on the small screen.