A few days ago I managed to get to see my very first live-action NFL game at Wembley Stadium, London. Normally Wembley is the home of Football but for a month or so eat autumn, it becomes the home of American Football!
I’ve watched American Football or NFL since around 1982 when it first appeared on UK screens on the then new Channel 4 station. NFL have been coming to London for quite a few years now but I’ve never been as the tickets are expensive, I’m usually busy and I’m not much for crowds, especially after big events with all the bottlenecks to get away.
Interestingly this comes just 5 months after I saw my first ever Major League Baseball game so it gave me something to compare it too.
Of course my natural sports are Football, Cricket and Rugby but my football team is 300 miles away and is probably the most underachieving in the country. My Rugby team moved away from where I live and cricket is in the summer when I’m particularly busy. Also since the 1990’s football has become particularly money orientated which I don’t care for and the people who run cricket are in the process of ruining it with shorter formats.
I’m sure both baseball and NFL are even more money obsessed but I live far enough away not to have to put up with it in the media as I do with British sports (see https://stephenliddell.co.uk/2014/05/21/how-football-sounds-to-people-that-just-dont-care/) only having watched them for 40 years or so, I haven’t had to witness the descent as with football and cricket (Falling out of love, with Football)
My first NFL game was a bit of a last minute booking to see the Jacksonville Jaguars play the Houston Texans. Most of the near 85,000 but not quite full Wembley Stadium seemed to be rooting for the Jaguars, they are the team that most frequently plays in London and it’s even been rumoured they might relocate one day. Despite them often training just a mile or so from where I live, being an ‘original’ British NFL fan, I couldn’t bring myself to support either team so I was there just to witness a good sporting event.
Since you ask, my team is the Miami Dolphins who were great in the 1980’s but you can’t switch your sporting allegiances if you’re a true fan… otherwise I would have long ago switched my support to a better Premier League team.
So what did I think? American sporting occasions are always big and brash and even more so than Baseball, I found there is almost more emphasis on the paraphanalia before and during the breaks in the game than the actual sporting event itself. Compared to British matches where it all about the game and there aren’t really any stoppages. I think it’s funny that the only two times I have heard the National Anthem have been at American sporting events!
Like Baseball I found it a totally different experience than watching it on the television. I had an idea beforehand but I was surprised just how small the playing field is for NFL compared to football or rugby. Whilst there is more of an atmosphere at the NFL than Baseball, I’d say Baseball is unquestionably better to see live. NFL is better live than on the television in lots of ways, especially being able to see all the tactics and the bigger picture. However as NFL is full of intricate moves, blocks and tactics, these can be better appreciated in close-ups and action replays in a way that can’t really be replicated live.
I really enjoyed the match although it was a very tight affair which might not be what you’re looking for at your first attendance in any sport. It was rather one sided and it became clear it was a one-horse race. That didn’t bother me in the sense that I didn’t care who won or lost but it was one of the least competitive games I can remember seeing which is a shame.
Being high up in the stadium meant being afforded a great overview of the game which I didn’t expect.
I would definitely like to go and see another game or two next year as I would with the Baseball. Though no reflection on either sport, I would say that Baseball gains more from watching it live whereas though watching NFL live is still an experience, the increased enjoyment compared to watching it on the television isn’t quite the same.