How NFL UK brought a taste of the USA home
On the 14th October, I went down to London to watch the American football team Seattle Seahawks play against the Oakland Raiders. This was a surprisingly fun and entertaining experience, even for those who do not engage much with the sport. There were so many elements which played into the atmosphere which made the game feel like an international triumph and gave a huge taste of America right on our doorstep.
Despite the game taking place in Wembley stadium, it was clear that it was the whole of London had transformed into a sea of bright green and blue for Seahawks and black for Raiders, with the exception of certain underground stations, where there were one or two passionate American football fans scattered around leading the tribe of other NFL fans across the rail service. As you would imagine, this colourful uniformity was scattered all around the grounds of Wembley. It was clear from the NFL London’s twitter that Seahawk and Raider fans alike chanted their respected individual callings in front of British tourist landscapes, making the grounds of London their own.
Although this would not be unheard of because of the large number of events and concerts that take place in the stadium each week, this was different. There was chant after chant heard from miles away. All in uniform and a clear and respectful admiration for each other. Mainly, I believe because unlike British sporting events, you were not supporting the team from which you come from, you support who you want to, with pride.
The fact that American football is a more obscure sport in the UK also created a form of unity between the supporters as there was a clear element of “you watch something that I watch that most people won’t have heard of” therefore, the chants were mainly an ode to the game itself, which I believe was the reason why there was no violence amongst fans and only playful torment between the different teams.
Another element which created an immaculate difference between NFL and regular British sporting events is the amount of characterisation the supporters put into their merchandise. As a theatre lover and a sports novice, I took great entertainment in the fact that the Oakland Raider fans had face paint on and wigs which mirrored something the band Kiss would wear, bringing great individuality amongst supporters.
Despite taking place in London, a large majority of fans had come all the way from America. Therefore, there was that added passion from travelling miles and a great mutual admiration and appreciation in a very neutral city. It was refreshing to meet people from Seattle, as well as Oakland (having many take pity on me, as I clearly barely understood the game.) They acted less as international ambassadors and more of invaders making the stadium their own. The internationalism didn’t end with Americans, but lots of European supporters all rushing in to see the game. This was making the event wildly entertaining and gave me a sense of adventure, as if it was I who had hopped on a plane and was now in America.
To add to the international atmosphere, NFL UK provided food carts from typical American companies that were scattered all around the stadium. Although it was nice to see Krispy Kreme and hot dog stands, they matched the typical inflated stadium prices. Nevertheless, I was enticed to buy a box of three doughnuts called ‘the American Football box’ which were £6 each. Although this was quite disappointing, as you cannot take your own food into the stadium, the ‘American themed’ food added to this one-off atmosphere.
As this game acted as the team Oakland Raider’s home game, the whole atmosphere in the stadium was themed as though we were at a game in Oakland, California. This was represented through advertisements and banners with ‘Raiders’ plastered all over them. However, there was a clear majority Seattle Seahawk fan presents (largely based on the fact that they won the Super Bowl more recently, in 2014) with many fans saying that it felt more of a Seattle home game. I couldn’t imagine this happening if this were an actual home game in America. Therefore, adding to the contrasting and unique experience in London.
Although cheerleading and other between game entertainment isn’t a massive talking point amongst avid American football enthusiasts, from an outsider’s perspective I found this to be very entertaining and enlightening to see something I had only seen on TV in real life. It was also unique as at the beginning where they would normally play the American national anthem, they also played the British one. This added to a sense of inclusivity and as though Britons (and European) had a role to play in the success of the game. Although not unique to the London match, an exciting atmosphere was created when players would come onto the field to practice before the game began. This added hype and anticipation to the match from the offset. When mid-game entertainers appeared, they added to the sense of excitement by the typical American sports game tropes such as t shirt canons, throwing a giant inflatable beach ball and the kiss cam, which was an all-round unique experience.
The actual game taking place in the stadium was electric and very riveting, with the Seattle Seahawks maintaining a consistent victory throughout. One obvious contrast I noticed between American football and European sports, is that there seems to be more of a disorganised element to the game, with lots of pauses and changes. Nevertheless, the huge fan presence made it clear whenever something exciting was happening with their unique chants and humorous taunting commentary throughout the game. Even after the game ended, the chanting didn’t stop. It was empowering to see the unity amongst fans even when leaving the stadium, with talk of America as well as the game bringing fans from all over the world together. It was a very enjoyable, one off experience and was truly a celebration of USA traditions.