Yesterday saw me travel up to Wembley Stadium - despite local roadworks and TfL's efforts to stop us - to attend the NFL.
Not exactly the biggest sports fan, I decided to buy my boyfriend tickets for his birthday, as it's something he's always wanted to go to. I was warned how long it can be dragged out, but decided to go, to enjoy this new experience and spend the day with my other half.
I was not expecting what I got. I almost felt like I was in America, bar the cold weather! We arrived about 90 minutes before the gate even opened as I needed to pick up our tickets at the box office (Ticketmaster and Wembley really need to work better helping customers in these instances, was not impressed). Also after surprising my boyfriend with the news of his early present we read online about the 'Tailgate' and thought we should check it out.
On arrival to Wembley I was shocked at how busy it was already. However the atmosphere was great - couples, families, young friends, die-hard fans, Americans, people in fancy dress and those in full on American football kits. It was great.
We decided to purchase a program and foam hand to get into the sprit of things, neither were too extortionate. Then on collecting our tickets we went to get into the 'Tailgate'. In America I understand this is where people get together before a game, open up the back of their vans, have BBQs and crack open the beers. Clearly this was not quite what Wembley laid on, but what they did was still good.
You could get free foam hats (yes we embarrassingly wore those) and NFL wristbands. There were areas for each team, memorabilia tents to view, an inflatable bear (for the Chicago Bears) and a pirate ship with dancing pirates (for the Tampa Bay Bucaneers). On top of that was a mini football field which had music acts, sports experts and cheerleaders all performing on it. People there for the day like us were throwing mini footballs to one another, there was endless Bud, a DJ booth and tons of food stalls. I sampled my first cheesedog (in good old British style the chilli dogs had run out - don't worry we got one later!)
After spending I guess about an hour or more in there we headed off to the stadium itself and to find our seats. Purchasing some more refreshments - of course - we walked down to our seats. I was very pleasantly surprised, let's get this straight, I booked them about 10 days or so before the event. I'd been worrying as I knew they were corner seats. No need for me to have worried. We were in the first tier, had a great view of the Bucaneers touchdown area and of the playing field overall.
Add to that, on our seats were a flag each and a big card to hold up during the National Anthems (to help create flags in the crowd throughout the singing). I was impressed, we all know I love my freebies!
Pre match entertainment were the cheerleaders, a couple of tracks performed by the GooGoo Dolls - complete with fireworks - and the National Anthems (Katherine Jenkins, as per, did ours). Then each team came on, the Bucs were the 'home' team so they came out one by one - out of a skull and crossbones and to a cannon firing for each player! Oh and of course we can't forget the pirate and bear mascots. (The pirate kept me entertained for ages trying to wind up Wembley security).
My poor boyfriend attempted to educate me on the rules. I kind of got some of them... So the game begins, the first half (yes 30 minutes) took around 90 minutes to complete. For those of you who wonder why and also wonder why I haven't offered much commentary on actual play. Well it's because the game stops and starts constantly, they have to decide next moves and god help you when the home team do something positive (it doesn't even need to be a touchdown and let's be fair the Bucs didn't have many good points throughout). Positive moves by the Bucs resulted in cheerleader routines on field and people running the field with giant Bucaneers flags. It is so funny and entertaining though.
Big highlights for me though were the fact that for quite some time in the first quarter a squirrel was running riot on the pitch. Seriously. On occasion he tried his luck just behind players but soon ran, he managed a 'touchdown' or two of his own too! Also the guy in the crowd who made it onto the pitch and gave quite a few security men the runaround and high-fived some of the players before getting caught.
In the end we worked out the game started at 6pm and ended at around 920pm. For a one hour game that is something I find very funny. However to someone like me who isn't a sports fanatic, it kept me entertained! I was more interested in the constant breaks and funny behaviour than watching the game itself.
My view of NFL? It is sooo American throughout and felt a bit more a fun day out for all, almost circus-like at times, than an actual sports game. It's all about the event overall, rather than just attending a sports match I suppose. For me that was a winning mix though and provided a fun day out and a new experience. Whether my body appreciated all that junk food, Bud and hanging around in the cold for so long, is another matter...