NFL is coming to London properly this year giving us 3 games to watch on our own turf, and there's only one place in the UK that we can have ourselves a proper game of American Football. Wembley. Nowhere else is adequately equipped. It's inevitable that NFL will have a London-based team in the future. Travelling isn't that much of an issue given how far some visiting teams travel, (albeit not weekly) within the U.S. for games during season.
The question isn't really can teams get over here. It's more is there a British audience for it when they do?
I moved to the States when I was a small lass. It was the 80s and there wasn't a great deal of American culture close to hand back then. So ending up over there was like being on a different planet. I felt like a little alien navigating my way around. The language was the same, but the cultural gap was huge. Nothing made sense really.
Their football. Not ours. And yes they can definitely both be called football. And truly, British folk would like American Football a lot more if our sport could also be called football. We don't need soccer. Yes we invented the word and went on to deeply regret it. But it doesn't take that much effort to call their sport American Football or Gridiron Football (that's where it's played. On the gridiron) and ours just Football or the American term: Association Football (it's the Football Association. Backwards. See? No Bother.)
Now everyone gets to call their sport football. Nice one.
One of the mistakes we need to avoid making with NFL in London is getting Americans to explain to us. Because they can't. Not really. We need the folk who have grown up around both British and American sports and British and American cultures. Because the strands of both need to interwoven properly for us to enjoy it fully. And we can enjoy American Football from a British perspective within British culture. It's worth doing. It's a beautiful sport.
American Football games are long. Bloody long. There 4 quarters of 15 minutes each. But they stretch out to over 3 hours in reality. And within those four quarters of Play consisting of over 3 hours? 12 minutes of actual action occur.
Yes. 12 minutes. 12 of them.
This is extremely handy for the newly initiated spectator. The endless onscreen replays make for great tutorials.
It's definitely worth watching American Football on tele before you go see a live game. The camera decides where to look for you so most confusion is alleviated. And it isn't hard to understand. I started going to American football games with my die-hard, NUFC supporting, massively English parents, but quickly gave up asking them tactical questions when I realised their stock responses were generally,
"Who has the ball? Where are they going? They all look the same with helmets on."
So I deduced the rules of the game myself. My 5 year old brother and I would tune into the sports channels on cable and gradually, (using our background of Association Football spectators as a reference point) all the pieces fell into place.
If a 7 year old girl can do it then I have every faith in your abilities.
It can be challenging as an adult Association Football fan to adjust to watching Gridiron Football at first. Generally we are used to watching lower half of a player's body. This is a waste of time for most Gridiron Football as kicking is such a small part of Play. Learn to view it with different eyes. Watch the replays, (there are fecking loads of them), it will slow down for you after a while and you will adjust to their kit and be able to see them moving properly in it. And whilst individuals are harder to watch in American Football, the overall game itself is much easier to view than Association Football, because unlike our pitches there are markers all over the field to indicate distances.
British folk tend to compare Rugby to American Football and it's always confused me. Because they are played in front of totally different audiences. Completely. American Football is a working class sport. Undeniably. Much more like Association Football. To me as a small lass, American Football was always more like a combination of Association Football, Wrestling and with all the Formations. Attacks and Defences? Like being in the Army.
We get put off by the amount of equipment worn in Gridiron Football. We shouldn't. It's a dangerous sport. The first year it was played over 20 people died during games and the sport was nearly banned. The rules were modified but playing is still a risk. Head injuries such as severe concussion happen on a weekly basis. The average NFL career is just 3 years before a player is taken down permanently by injury.
It's violent. Players get hurt. Badly. It's part of the game. Attack. Aggression. Putting fear into the heart of grown men. The players I used to watch in the 80s had no teeth a lot of the time.
And they call our dental work bad eh.
It's also fair. Unlike the Premier League which has incredibly disparate amounts to spend on players. All NFL teams have exactly the same amount to spend annually on players because of something called Salary Capping. Which is an absolute bonus for the fans. It's like being a Queens Park Ranger's supporter right now and knowing that this season they stand an equal chance of winning the Premier League because their wallet size is akin to Manchester City.
It's fair because even those teams with more outdated stadiums receive pay-outs from the luxury stadiums profits. Which to me is like the Emirates having to give Fratton Park a percentage of their Executive Box takings. Everyone wins and it keeps us all interested. Though this wasn't the case when I was a nipper. That's why the San Francisco 49ers dominated 80s NFL. Now no one does. The Seattle Seahawks, last year's Super Bowl winners had only ever played in the Super Bowl once before in 2005.
Go QPR. GO!
It's not a perfect analogy I know. But in NFL there are no different leagues, which makes it even easier to follow than Asoociation Football. Just 32 teams, split into 2 Conferences (NFC and AFC) of 16 teams each. Which is a hell of a lot easier than Americans having to get their heads around our system.
It's a beautiful sport, just witnessing that many different varieties of athlete on one field. You ever seen a 6'7" 26 stone bloke playing midfield on Match of the Day highlights next to a 5'5" 10 stone lad? Whilst both wear leggings?
It's worth a peek, trust me.
Similarly the cultural aspects are also worth investigating. In the UK if someone drives into a field on a weekend and pops open the boot of their car? It's a car boot sale and they are most likely going to try and flog you their old toaster. But America it's called tailgating. People drive to the game, park up outside the grounds, pop open their boots which are filled with food and drink. It's a chance for football fans to get together and celebrate before the game starts. A game this long is an event. An all-afternoon or evening job. Getting as many people involved makes it more like a party. And there is something quite lovely about that.
It's well worth giving the NFL a go this year. Whether it's going to one of the live games at Wembley, or figuring it out yourself from home.
Because NFL is coming to London, and my money is on it staying.