Review: The NFL At Wembley In 2013

And so we come to the end of another International Series of games of American Football at Wembley which means we can write a quick review of the state of play of the sport in England pleasing both people who might one day search just to see what some guy in Portsmouth thought of the whole thing.

A photo from my seat before the game as the stadium starts to fill up. This sort of blatant theft of NFL image rights property will one day be outlawed.

A photo from my seat before the game as the stadium starts to fill up. This sort of blatant theft of NFL image rights property will one day be outlawed.

NFL: No Fun League

For reasons best known only to themselves the NFL have decided that going to a game of football should progressively become more and more like an automated chore rather than any kind of enjoyable experience. The plan to turn attendees into an army of Roger Goodell’s Patented Money-Parting Zombies continues at a fair pace. This year’s new ruling included a vast list of what could and could not be taken into the game which ultimately boiled down to:

  • yourself,
  • one small, clear carrier bag with,
  • a small “non-professional” (sigh) camera around your neck.

Let’s take these in order:

Yourself: I get this one. This one’s quite important. But to be fair, this one’s one that sports fans are going to want to follow so it’s a bit of a no-brainer.

One clear bag: I appreciate that you don’t want people turning up with a week’s worth of shopping as that can be a bit of a nightmare when walking up stairs but it’s a bit draconian and it’s based on an American understanding of who will want to attend the game. In America fans will go and watch their team because they happen to live near the place (near in American terms, at least). This isn’t the case for London. A lot of people go to watch the game as part of a day out because we don’t all live in London. There are people there from all over the UK and wide areas of Europe too. And it’s really quite an expensive day out. In previous years we’ve made the NFL games a great experience by taking the train up to London, seeing some of the sights, doing the whole tourist thing, bumping into other American Football fans doing the same thing, then making our way to the game. These new rules ruin most of that as we can now no longer risk buying a small souvenir at some historic place because the bag isn’t clear or some other stupid rule. This rule doesn’t work for a large section of fans at all. Why one clear bag, anyway? Oh, it’s to stop people bringing in bombs and knives and sniper rifles and by limiting the number of bags it prevents clutter disrupting people’s enjoyment in the stadium. Right. Because all those bombs getting confiscated during normal searches in previous years was getting a bit time-consuming. And all those bags causing all those people to trip and fall down the stairs in the stadium was getting silly, wasn’t it? Who can forget the ninety person pile-up in section 202 from last year? Strange how the number of bags problem doesn’t exist if you buy NFL merchandise from official outlets. It’s a weird physical property of the sports merchandise that renders it permeable to normal matter allowing for no clutter and disruption. And all at a low, low price!

Camera: firstly, “non-professional” in NFL parlance is something without an interchangeable lens. What a stupid fucking declaration. This means that someone with a compact powerzoom able to get up close to Ed Hochuli’s biceps from the top row is okay but another person with an entry level DSLR with a 50mm prime lens that leaves all the players as twenty pixel high colour blocks is verboten! A stupid rule by stupid people who don’t have a bloody clue about the technology they fear. Secondly, cameras must be worn around the neck and no camera bags are allowed. What? You’re expecting me to leave my house in Portsmouth, walk through the streets, board a train to London, wander around London all day, get on the tube, go to the game, get back on the tube, get back on the train, and walk through the streets of Portsmouth in the early hours of the morning with an expensive camera around my neck on full show and nowhere to put it in the event that it rains? Which it almost always does. But of course you’re not expecting! You’re expecting me to not take a camera at all. Memories of the game? Those are the sorts of things that should be bought, not captured, right? I surprised a “pinhole camera only” rule hasn’t been introduced yet. Oh crap. I’ve given you lot an idea, haven’t I? Damn.

Money, money, money. This year’s rules really put a dampener on the whole going to Wembley thing for me. Thanks a lot NFL.

The Games

The two games were as different as they could be.

First up we had the Pittsburgh Steelers taking on the Minnesota Vikings, who were giving up a home game to come over here. The game itself was a close one, going right down to the last minute. The fanbase was split with a large contingent of Steelers fans waving their Terrible Moist Towelettes but a larger number of people eager to support the “home” team and see star player Adrian Peterson. My wife – a Vikings fan – had a vested interest in the result and this game was very, very enjoyable. And the Vikings won! Yay!

The second game – last night, as it happens – was the San Francisco 49ers taking on the “home” team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. This game… was not so good. It was too one-sided, firstly, as everyone knew it would be. The Jags, simply, aren’t a good team. The fans wanted to get behind them but there wasn’t a lot to get behind; no good plays, no star players. That, coupled with an opposition with a reasonably large fanbase and a team that other team’s fans are fairly indifferent towards meant that there wasn’t much of a home team feel for the Jacksonville players. A real shame. Jags: get yourself a star with all those prime draft picks you’re invariably going to receive as part of your woeful season. Give the fans someone or something to cheer.

Highlights and Lowlights at Wembley

Jaguars. In the UK we pronounce it “jag-you-ers”. In the US they pronounce it “jag-gwahs”. This leads to many people mocking the stadium announcer.

The ROAR. No, it’s not a Doctor Who enemy but actually the cheerleaders of the Jacksonville Jaguars. For a team of athletes more used to performing their routines and cheering on their team in the abysmally warm climate of Florida they managed to refrain from putting on jumpers, leggings, and coats throughout the entirety of yesterday’s game and deserve a lot of respect. I was bloody freezing. I can’t imagine how cold they must have been. I just wanted to run down and rub their legs warm. The NFL wouldn’t have looked kindly on that benevolent action, though. And my wife would have killed me. So I restrained myself. And I’ll always regret that.

Gratuitous photo of the Jacksonville Jaguars ROAR in front of some massive erections. Snigger.

Gratuitous photo of the Jacksonville Jaguars ROAR in front of some massive erections. Snigger.

Blue-green Flames. They were great. Shooting out in their blue-greeniness whenever anything good happened for Jacksonville (a rare event but welcome). And the machine that set them off near us caught fire and had to be cordoned off. Fire! Awesome!

Jaxson de Ville. The Jaguars mascot was the most amusing thing at the game last night by far. I wasn’t aware that he bungee jumped into stadia as a matter of course but that was a great entrance to the game last night. Great, but not as funny as the moment when he streaked across the field during a pause in play. Excellent entertainment.

The National Anthem. They play the US and the UK national anthems before the game. Not at the same time because that would hurt the ears. Although… that probably would have improved the sound of the American anthem last night because Ne-Yo‘s rendition of it was awful. That’s not strictly all down to Ne-Yo. Whoever dragged up Les Dawson’s corpse to play the piano at 300dB above the singer’s level probably needs most of the shooting.

Phone Signal. Maybe it’s just Vodafone and maybe other networks don’t have this problem but would it hurt to provide some way of getting a decent signal in the stadium? Really? You can report abusive behaviour by texting the block and seat number during the game. Unless you’re on Vodafone in the stadium because good fucking luck in getting anything close to the signal strength you’ll need to do so. Keep in touch with family while at the game? Nope. Phone a friend if someone gets lost after wandering to the toilet? Nope. For the amount of money we’re all spending could you not stretch to some free wi-fi too? Cheapskates.

Drinks. Awful. Beer-wise, last night it was one shitty lager, one shitty bitter, one stout (from a can, so it was shitty). I’m not asking for much but this is supposed to be the national stadium so how about some drinks that reflect the country a little better? A real ale: London Pride isn’t great but it’s a thousand times better than the crap presently on sale and the name just fits right in. And a cider: Not. Strongbow. Aspalls or Thatchers are the answers here.

Coffee. This could also come under “drinks” but… I was so cold I had to resort to buying coffee in the second half yesterday. Well done Wembley for the coffee. Not as a drink, because we all know it doesn’t count as one, but whatever it is you’re doing in the research labs under the stadium: keep it up. You’re getting close to breaking through the upper threshold of the thermal barrier and I feel certain that with a little extra help from the boffins at CERN it’s only a matter of time before the UK’s Coffee Fusion system is powering the country and removing our reliance on fossil fuels.

The Future of the NFL at Wembley

Looking ahead, what does American Football look like in the coming years at Wembley?

From 2014 all photos from seats must comply with the new "cannot make out a damn thing unless you squint" rule.

From 2014 all photos from seats must comply with the new “cannot make out a damn thing unless you squint” rule.

More and more restrictions on the fans, naturally. In a couple of years fans will only be able to turn up in a clear, plastic onesies and will then be able to purchase team colours of their choice inside the Merchandise Protective Shell.

Fewer people attending, naturally. It’s already becoming harder for fans across Europe to justify attending the game and with the line-up for 2014 announced (Lions and Falcons, Cowboys and Jaguars, and Dolphins and Raiders) and looking pretty uninspiring it’s only going to appeal to an increasingly smaller, richer core of fans. Normal fans will get squeezed out.

No UK franchise, naturally. Every year we keep hearing about the possibility of a franchise in the UK. It won’t happen. The fans don’t want it and won’t support it. We already have our teams and they’re American ones. I support the Patriots. I won’t support the London Anythings (except Silly Nannies, maybe). I certainly will not spend the sums I’d need to spend to attend all the home games in a season (ticket plus travel plus rip-off prices for food and drinks equals no) especially when I’m already thinking that three games next year is already too costly to justify.

Finally

I do like American Football and going to Wembley to see it. But can you please stop fucking around with it and can you give some consideration to people who want to travel across the country to watch it as part of a big day out in London that doesn’t just focus on the game?

Author: Mark

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