Fans at Wembley find their own way to stay entertained – playing NFL Bingo
LONDON – At first glance, anyone arriving moments before kickoff at Wembley Stadium on Sunday could have been forgiven for thinking they had been teleported to Miami.
Not only did Dolphins flags occupy the hands of the vast majority of the sold out crowd but heck, the sun was even shining with a brightness that would have done South Florida proud.
But nope, this was indeed England, where October typically brings gray skies and drizzle.
The visual spectacle of all-encompassing turquoise was actually the by-product of some slick promotional thinking, working off the premise that, like sports fans anywhere, the Brits seem to love a freebie. Which is how a flag giveaway for every attendee created the illusion of an overwhelming home field advantage.
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The reality, of course, was somewhat different, and there were liklye as many fans of the New York Jets inside Wembley as those with a genuine love for the Dolphins.
Yet the NFL in London is about much more than tribal loyalties and those who part with their hard-earned pounds each year the International Series rolls by come because of a love of the game rather than the specific teams on display.
That is how, in the minutes before the start, as fans back in the United States were still wiping the sleep from their eyes, a popular activity in the Wembley stands was a hastily-created game – NFL Bingo.
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“We noticed so many different jerseys among the fans, we thought we would try to ‘complete the set,’ of NFL teams,” said Daniel Richmond, an 20-year-old psychology student from just outside the capital who joined four friends at the game. “We split up and walked around the concourse, ticking off as many teams as we could.”
In the space of a half hour, Richmond spotted jerseys from each of the league’s 32 clubs, thanks to some retro assistance – a Hines Ward Steelers shirt and a decade-old Michael Vick Falcons number.
Such is the reality of NFL in London, with a steady stream of fans willing to come to games not featuring the team of their particular affinity.
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“I’d love to see the Dolphins more often, but it’s not cheap to get to the States more than once every couple of years,” said Nick Bryce, an IT engineer who has supported Miami since the days of Dan Marino. “I will still come to the other games later in the season, although seeing my own team is obviously the highlight.”
But while it would be a natural assumption that most of those at Wembley on Sunday would dearly cherish a permanent London team, that’s not necessarily the case.
Even with the British government promising generous tax incentives for a potential NFL expansion team, some fans are more than happy with the current arrangement.
“We have been to five International Series games and we like it like this,” said 40-year-old mother of two Linda Gilchrist, form Woking, who brought her two daughters to the game.
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“We like coming to NFL more than English (soccer) games because it is more of a family atmosphere. It is friendly and inviting. If there was a team here full-time that dynamic might change, you might get the more intense and aggressive male-dominated crowd. That wouldn’t be so good for us. It would lose a lot of appeal.”