It’s an early start for those travelling to London on Sunday. 5:30AM for me to be precise. Preparing myself for 6 hours of travelling to and across London to Wembley. It was evident as we arrived into London that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary International Series game. Seahawks jerseys were outnumbering Raiders considerably, and the atmosphere was electric as soon as I got off the tube at Wembley Park. Seahawks fans from all over the world were present, a surprisingly large German contingent, as well as others from all over Europe, joined the Brits, the copious amounts of Americans who made the trip from whichever state they call home, and many others from all corners of the globe. A quick bag drop, shower and change at our hotel, and it was time to head to the Green Man, our appropriately named designated Seahawks boozer for the day.
As I walk up the hill toward the rear of the pub, guided by a friendly face draped in his SeaJack flag, I can see that this is absolutely the place to be. Seahawks Jerseys were everywhere, all kinds and colours. Home, Away, Colour Rush, Throwbacks. Names on the backs from Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin to Walter Jones, Steve Largent and er….. Brian Bosworth. Whoever’s Jersey you were wearing, you knew we were all there for the same thing. Prices in the Green Man were far from upsetting, especially for London, with a pint of Guinness and a double rum and coke coming to an even £10. There was even a curry stall set up in the beer garden, whose smell was too nice to ignore.
While in the pub I got the chance to speak to both UK fans and those who have travelled from across the pond to see our team in London. It really was incredible to see how many fans from all over the world descended upon Wembley on Sunday. A personal highlight for me was meeting legendary Seahawks fan Paul Gates at the green man, who, in spite of the small curry stain on his jersey, seemed to be having a great time in London. This must have felt like a home away from home for those travelling from the Pacific Northwest. Temperature never moving anywhere above “mild”, a near-constant deluge of rain and the chants of SEA………HAWKS filling the air.
(Paul Gates (L) aka Berniehawk: A self-proclaimed "Bandwagon fan since 1976")
As time wore on, there seemed to be a sprinkling of other teams jerseys, including the Raiders, entering the green man. The overwhelming hue of the bars and beer garden, however, was still definitively blue and green. In spite of the overwhelmingly partisan look of the green man though, all were welcomed with open arms. Some, like UK fan Les Gearing, even attended arm in arm with the “enemy”.
(Photo courtesy of Les Gearing)
This was not my first trip to Wembley for the International Series, having previously attended as a neutral. It was again evident how much the UK fans of all teams just enjoy being in the environment of NFL football. The sport is still far from being mainstream on these shores, and many will question any potential to ever compete with the Premier League. From my experience this past few days, there is certainly one facet of the fan experience in which the NFL completely trounces UK association football. That is the interaction between sets of fans. I didn’t see an ounce of animosity, let alone violence, from anyone in or around the stadium. Everybody felt completely safe in the environment, and there was absolutely no need for any segregation. I think because the sport is still very much in its infancy in the UK, fans just enjoy being able to have a weekend talking rushing stats, bodyweight flags and who to target on your fantasy waiver wire this week.
Talking football, amongst other things, in the Green Man was certainly enjoyable, but as time wore on it became evident that I should check out the tailgate. This was one of the less enjoyable experiences of the weekend, as there seemed to be less going on in the tailgate than in years gone by. I’m not sure if I was late so had missed most of the events, or whether the weather had an effect on proceedings but it seemed emptier this year. At least in terms of stalls anyway. The place was still swarming with fans of all teams. Between the four of us who were hanging together before the game, we managed to spot jerseys of 31 of the 32 NFL franchises without even really trying. (Bills fans, where were you?!) Such is the appeal of the sport in the UK now, people can support any one of 32 teams for any one of a million different reasons, given that geographical proximity is pretty much removed from the equation.
5PM, time to head in to the stadium. Entering was a breeze, and it was entirely coincidental that my new friends Cassie and Evan, a lovely couple from Seattle, who’ve recently relocated to London, were sat in the block next to myself and my buddy Dale, a Steelers fan who was carrying himself as an honorary Seahawk for the day. Once again, the halls of Wembley, although decked out in silver and black to suit the de facto home team, were filled with Seahawks fans. As I enjoyed a final pre-game beer, my excitement levels were only rising, at the prospect of getting to finally be a part of the famous crowd noise that fills CenturyLink Field so regularly.
(Photo courtesy of Andy Simpson)
It was finally time to take our seats, the dulcet tones of what I’m pretty sure was Jess Glynne miming to a backing track, boomed around the stadium. And after she’d finished her set, it was time to welcome the teams on to the field. At this point it was more evident than ever that we were going to feel like the home team, in spite of what was scheduled by the NFL. The chorus of cheers when our boys marched out on to the field was thrilling, and the equally loud chorus of boos when our opponents did the same was deafening.
I won’t review the game here, keep an eye on hawk-talk.com later this week for that for my in-depth analysis of on-field events. The only thing I’ll say about the game was that the noise from the crowd was insane. We cheered every yard, every first down, every fumble (thank you Frank Clark) and we did not let the raiders play a down without having our voices heard. Every single one of you who were in that stadium with me on Sunday needs to give yourself a huge round of applause. Many of the players commented on the noise and feel of the stadium in their post-game interviews, and I don’t think we could have left a more lasting impression on the guys to remind them that although we’re over 5000 miles away, the love for the Seahawks is as strong on these shores as anywhere in the world.
And with that, the game was over, it was time to head back to the hotel, with an early bus to catch on Monday morning, heading back to the pub for the late games was out of the question unfortunately. Looking at the photos and videos on social media though, it seems that the party carried on well beyond the final kneeldown. As I drifted off to sleep back at the hotel, I couldn’t help but lie there wishing that this could happen every Sunday, such was the experience of the day. To sign off, I’d just like to extend a thank you to every single fan who made the trip for making it a genuinely great day.
(photo courtesy of Maximilian Länge)