The Growth of the NFL in the UK

October 28 2007. The date of the first NFL regular season game to be played on British soil between the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins. The game itself was a low scoring affair but the occasion is what will be more remembered.

The UK may have had pre season games played at Wembley in the 1980s and 1990s but the game at Wembley in 2007 was when the NFL in London truly took off.

People who grew up in the 80s will have got their interest in the Channel 4 broadcasting of the NFL but this wasn’t to last. Sky Sports starting showing live NFL on television in 1995 but it took 12 more years to get a game to be played in the UK.

Since the game between the Giants and Dolphins, we have seen games every year being played.

It started off as just one game a year until 2013, when there was a second game added. Fast forward to 2020 and there are now four games due to be played in London, provided Coronavirus doesnt play a part in stopping that.

The Falcons and Dolphins are the two home teams confirmed to play a home game in London, with the Tottenham Hotspur stadium being the likely ground. The Jaguars are the first team in NFL history to play two home games outside of America

Both are expected to be played at Wembley Stadium, where they have played a game every year since their first in 2013 against the San Francisco 49ers.

I have had the pleasure of seeing four games in London, and even one in America. What is very noticeable when you go to a game in London is the passionate nature of British NFL fans.

When you walk around the stadium to either experience the pre match entertainment or when you get food and drink at half time, you get to see people wearing the jerseys of the majority of teams in the NFL.

A sea of various NFL jerseys at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Whether this be current or retro jerseys, whether this be Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes or even Joe Montana, Dan Marino or Jim Kelly, you can see how popular the sport is becoming in the UK.

You see this when you see the amount of requests for tickets, with the games in 2019 selling out in such a quick fashion.

The Houston Texans celebrating during their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019.

In a country where there are no NFL teams that play in London, the reason as to why UK fans support their teams is one that intrigues many.

Whether it be the first team you saw play, where you went on holiday in America or whoever your Dad, Mum or partner support, there are many different reasons as to why UK fans support their teams.

For example, I support the Miami Dolphins because I went to Florida on a family holiday. I also started playing as the Dolphins on Madden because of going on holiday to Florida and also got a Dolphins key-ring when i was out in Florida.

My dad liked Joe Montana when he used to watch the NFL on Channel 4 so he took a liking to the 49ers. My brother supports the Las Vegas Raiders because he has always wanted to go to Las Vegas and also really likes Straight Outta Compton, which mentions the Raiders.

I also took a friend to his first NFL game which was between the Raiders and the Chicago Bears and my friend is now a Bears fan.

I have also asked some of the other Sports Despatch writers as to why they chose their teams.

Kieran Harm

“I started watching the NFL as a kid just because I started playing the demo of a Madden game because it was free and I was looking for something new to play – little did I know it would become an obsession.

I started watching for the first time properly in the 2012 at the end of the 2011 season. The only player I knew was Peyton Manning because he had been on the demo of the Madden game I’d played.

At the end of that season, he left Indy to join the Broncos and so I thought, ‘Ok, I’ll just watch him’ so I started watching Denver Broncos… and never looked back”.

“The original reason was Manning but I grew to love them and now I’m Denver through and through. I’ve seen 8 rollercoaster seasons now, including two visits to the Super Bowl – and a Lombardi Trophy at SB50. They’re my team now and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Leigh Astill

“I got cheap tickets for the Rams Bengals and then followed them since then.”

Katie Feehan

“I started supporting the Patriots in 2008 because Boston is my favourite city in the US. Also the Boston sports culture is, in my opinion, the closest that gets to the passion and fervour we have for our teams here in the UK. It also didn’t hurt that it had England in the name”.

“I went and saw the Packers game last season. Was incredible. If I was going to move across the pond it would be Boston”.

“That’s how I chose the Patriots. I got into the NFL after falling in love with Friday Night Lights the series and then learnt the basics by playing Madden.”

Luke Campbell

“I’ve been a fan of Da Bears since about 1986 when I played junior level American Football with the East Kilbride Pirates. My best friend Simon was a fan of the Bears and showed me video of Walter ‘Sweetness’ Payton. As we were both Running Backs, we were instantly hooked on the bears, and they’ve been my team ever since!”

Ray Burton

“I started watching the NFL in 1983 and
I had like 3 teams I was choosing between…Dolphins, Jets, and Lions. Lions kind of fell off, then the Dolphins lost 51-45 to the Jets and I was crying like a baby (I was like 11) so I figured I should just support them. So really it’s more like they chose me”.

Alex Green

“ I support the Jets because at the time I started watching the NFL about 2010 I was watching a sitcom called King of Queens. Doug Heffernan the main character is a Jets fan so I thought that was as good a reason as any”.

What is clear to see from the above reasons for getting into the NFL is that American Football is here to stay in the UK and shows no signs of slowing down.

Every year the sports appears to grow and grow in the UK as well as other countries such as Germany and Mexico.

The inevitable NFL franchise in London will only go and add to the support of the sport and who knows where we will go from there. Talk of a Londom Super Bowl is premature but isnt at all out of the realms of possibility.

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