The tube was occupied by short sleeved shirts with what seemed like every 1-2 numerical combination imaginable whilst the silence was broken by heavy yank accents and that meant only one thing. No it was not Justin Bieber’s entourage (if it was I think I would have jumped out the window of the tube to save myself) the NFL was back in town. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the NFL (National Football League), it is an American, hard hitting and fast paced game that requires you to have the body of Channing Tatum and the quick decision making of a gamer on Battlefield.
The festivities started on the Saturday (27th September) as more than 500,000 NFL fans took over Regent Street including NFL legends, mascots and let’s not forget the Oakland Raiderettes cheerleaders. Across the half-mile stretch, fans were given the opportunity to take part in a range of gridiron-themed events, in the company of fellow ‘football’ fans from around the world, whilst being entertained by live bands. Merchandise stands were in full force making sure you were kitted out for the occasion, although you had to dig a little deep in your wallet to do so.
Sunday had arrived and it was game day. Two iconic franchises were set to meet under the Wembley arch, the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders. It was billed as a Raiders home game and the Raider Nation represented their colours pretty darn well. From silver storm troopers to zombiefied skeletons of war. It was clear the passion that these Oakland fans had for their team, although their pregame optimism was rather short lived. More on this later.
We arrived at Wembley an hour and a half before kick off to check out the sights and pre-game entertainment. However we were soon disappointed to see that the areas had already been shut off for the start of the game. Closing it 90 minutes before the game started was a bizarre choice with fans having money to spend, but judging by the crowds that occupied the only merchandise stand left, I’m sure the NFL weren’t left wondering why they didn’t sell more.
The game felt more like a spectacle than a regular season game, but if there is anyone who knows how to entertain a crowd it is the Americans. Def Leppard opened festivities which was shortly followed by the anthems which got the Brits in the crowd roaring to their feet – the front man from The Fray did his rendition of the Star Spangled Banner…remember that band?
As I said before the Raider Nation’s excitement died down before the end of the first half, as the Miami Dolphins started to run away with the game. What resulted was a 38-14 thrashing by the Finns, but by no means did this take anything away from the experience. Sure the real Raider diehards felt a little disheartened, but the experience was one well worth undergoing. Wembley are to host another TWO games this year, whether you’re an American football fan or not, the experience is one well worth being part of.
Words by Matthew Rathbone