On the NFL in London, tailgating culture, locals understanding of the rules, and whether it’s viable long term

The Jaguars won, 30-27.

The Jaguars won, 30-27.

[Editor’s Note: VigilantSports.com’s Aaron Eamer lives in Bristol, England, and he happily shared his thoughts and photos from the NFL International Series in London over the weekend.]

LONDON — Before Sunday, I had not attended an American Football game before but I had watched a few and read enough that I thought I understood tailgating.

Before the game, there was what was referred to as a tailgate but for me, this wasn’t one. There were a few food stalls, there was a stage, and some of the same stalls that were around the day before. The crowds were much bigger as this was actually gameday and many people traveled up on the day rather than choosing, like I did and making a weekend of it.

A tailgate seems very much an American phenomenon between hugely passionate fans and it’s difficult for that to be replicated alongside Wembley stadium, it was more of a fan festival 2.0 and although I had fun and there were interviews with Dallas Clark and others, it wasn’t quite what it was billed.

[Part I: Colts fan in London on the NFL across the pond]

Once entering the stadium, I was greeted with a Jaguars flag on my seat which I quickly discarded and began to take in the atmosphere. There were jerseys from every team in the league, the neutrals adopted Jacksonville for the day with them being the “home” team and you could tell.

It was strange for me to see a game in person, kick-off happen, and then for the game immediately stop after the receiver was tackled. I’ve been to many soccer games in my life and I’m just not used to seeing a game start and stop again that quickly. I’ve seen plenty of games on TV but it was odd to experience it in person.

The build up and excitement of the kick-off suddenly dropped off as we awaited the next play. It takes some time in person to really get used to the stop-start nature of the game, more so than it does on TV and the atmosphere seemed the same. The atmosphere in the stadium would rise and fall and English fans who are used to watching soccer or rugby have that barrier to get past before it all really clicks.

The game itself obviously didn’t go nearly to plan and the first half was poor from the Colts — to say the least. Later on, I was able to see touchdowns from Frank Gore, TY Hilton and Phillip Dorsett but it wasn’t enough.

The crowd in the stadium was of mixed knowledge on the game, some knowing and understanding the penalty calls and what to expect, other comparing the game to similar rugby rules, and others asking me “Is it the offense or defense on the field for a kick return?” This knowledge is only built by watching the game more and really getting into the sport.

Unfortunately, I still really can’t see the sport taking over in the UK. For the few games that are here, they will sell out regularly; they’re still seen as special occasions almost like a cup final. Without full, easy league coverage over in the UK it’s strange to believe it will capture everyone’s imagination.

I had a great time and I’ll be seeing two more Colts games on my visit to Indianapolis later this year but to think a long-term idea of a team here is fool-proof would be ignorant. It’s a great game — no doubt — and the fans it does have do love the game but there is no competing with soccer. Soccer here is the way of life and it will continue to be the case. If there were a London NFL side, whichever stadium they were to play at they would always be seen as secondary tenants to the venue and an NFL team deserves more.

It might seem like there is a lot of negativity in this but I’m just trying to come at the idea from a purely realist route. Everyone who attended enjoyed the game and would go again, but to try and capture EVERYONE for a full NFL season and bring in new fans is a huge task. It would seem almost artificial to have a team here and try to sustain that against soccer.

The soccer season happens at the same time and there’s only so much money that people have to spend. With a permanent team here, would the party atmosphere be lost a bit as it was a much more regular event? As a fan of both sports I’d keep the current situation and really drop the idea of a London based team. This is America’s sport and I think that’s one thing that people enjoy about the experience. A London team just wouldn’t seem right and I’m sure most NFL purists really would rather all teams to be US based.

There are more questions than answers but I’ll still keep following the Colts whatever happens.

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