It’s not everyday that you get to watch some of the best NFL players on the planet, especially when you’re on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean. So when the fixture list for the ‘NFL International Series’ was released earlier this year, I was determined to make it to London to watch some good ol’ NFL. I ended up getting a ticket to watch the New York Jets take on the Miami Dolphins, the first game of the series. I cannot state how excited I was to watch my favourite sport with a load of other people who share the love for the sport, instead of in front of a TV screen.
For those that don’t know, the Jets and the Dolphins is considered to be a particularly fierce rivalry, so I thought I was being realistic in expecting some of the passion to spill over to the UK fans. This was not the case.
In football, ‘plastic fans’ is a term which is thrown around to describe sets of fans that attend the games but don’t really add much to the atmosphere, hence; ‘plastic’, they are there but they’re not completely ‘there’. This term is usually thrown at the biggest clubs, such as Manchester United or Real Madrid. They’re teams that attract a whole load of tourists from around the world who will go to the game, buy some merchandise, take a shed load of photos and look around bewildered. This usually only extends to a fairly small section of fans attending matches, so the atmosphere is not always adversely affected.
Now, magnify this concept to a 90,000 seater stadium and then the overall experience does take a hit. The image of some guy wearing a Dolphins jersey with ‘Tannehill 17’ (the most popular Dolphins player) emblazoned on the back, carrying an £8 hotdog in one hand and a £5 beer in the other, posing for a photo in the middle of the walkway is etched into my brain forever. I thought it would be funny to count the amount of times it happened throughout the game, but then I lost track of the number due to the sheer volume of times it occurred.
I get that this event is quite unique, and that you may want to get a photo of yourself enjoying the festivities to post on your several social media profiles, but when you’re not even paying attention to the game – that really gets under my skin. It felt that the majority of the people were there to put a post on Facebook that they’ve been to the game, rather than actually enjoying the event.
American Football is also quite a nuanced sport that doesn’t really translate so well to the British public. In football or rugby it’s quite easy to enjoy the game, even as a casual – when someone gets close to scoring or does score then you should cheer or sigh depending on what team you’re supporting. American Football has a few unspoken rules that the Americans are used to, but not so much the British. One of these is that when the quarterback is communicating to the rest of his team, his fans should be as quiet as possible so there are no possible mix-ups. Again, this is something that the crowd did not understand. Every time Ryan Tannehill was calling plays, the majority of Dolphins fans got louder in an ill-advised attempt to spur on their team. This actually became a detriment to the team, and you could see the Dolphins players get frustrated at how they were essentially being dragged down by their own support.
It wasn’t all on the British public, though. The USA’s truly awful habits came out in full force during the down sections of the game. There were painfully cringe-worthy attempts to initiate such old favourites such as the ‘kiss cam’ (which was only successful twice after many, many attempts), the ‘flex cam’, ‘party cam’ and other variations of finding people in the crowd to do stupid shit. Cheerleaders were sent out to ‘pump up’ the crowd by shooting t-shirts out of cannons and doing their regular routines as many times as the players took the field, and it all felt like a half-hearted attempt to Americanise a crowd which, well, wasn’t American.
It also didn’t help that the NFL were essentially acting like those of us who were properly invested in the game had no idea what was happening and that they needed to explain every detail like we were a child. The announcer’s favourite lines included such mind-numbing explanation like “That was a run play that went for 12 yards and that means that’s another first down” and so on. The NFL even went so far as to air a video in the stadium of a reporter asking fans such dull questions as “what is the name of the person who throws the ball?” It seemed to target those who had only ever watched the Superbowl once for that time Beyoncé was the half-time entertainment, instead of the vast amounts of actual NFL fans who were excited to watch their favourite sport in person.
If talks about there being a permanent NFL team in London are true, the plans need to be scrapped immediately. The NFL and anywhere else in the world does not mix, at least not yet. Maybe give it a few more years until the UK becomes more versed in the sport and then we can come back to the debate.