The roller coaster life of an NFL fan abroad

Chargers @ Patriots, 2008
My roller coaster ride with the NFL began on the 20th January 2008, when I was still in high school.

There was a bit of buzz about American Football, so me and a friend decided to watch a game. It was between the San Diego Chargers and the New England Patriots.

My friend, wanting the underdog to win, did not choose to back the unbeaten Patriots. To make it interesting, I did. The Pats got the win, to advance to the Super Bowl (something I knew about only because of American TV shows), to play the New York Giants. Seeing as it was on pretty late, I decided to watch the first half, and it was pretty awesome. I went to bed with the game at 7-3, assuming the Patriots would win it. As I found out the next morning, they didn’t. I didn’t see the big deal at the time. Trust me, the Eli ManningDavid Tyree play sickens me as much as it sickens you all.

I decided to keep on supporting them, but I only took a casual interest, as I followed Matt Cassel take the team to 11-5. By the end of the season, I was well and truly hooked, and was pretty pissed when the Pats failed to make the play-offs. Though Super Bowl XLIII made me properly fall in love with the game. (Pittsburgh Steelers vs Arizona Cardinals, if you don’t remember).

That summer was spent learning everything there was to know and getting my first Madden game. And though my pick of the Patriots was completely accidental, I could tell I made the right choice. I loved Tom Brady. His story of 6th round draft pick to Super Bowl champion appealed to me majorly. And though the next year wasn’t great (this was the year we got destroyed by the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs – a game I walked away from at around midway through the second quarter), by this time I was a passionate fan, not just of the Patriots, but with the whole NFL.

Of course, I might not have gotten into the sport if it wasn’t for the rapid growth of the NFL in the 21st century, regular season games coming to London since 2007 and the expansion of coverage on Sky Sports and on basic channels like the BBC over recent years. All of this is attracting a brand new group of fans to the NFL.

Bears vs Buccaneers @ Wembley, 2011

Sky Sports (satellite channels)

Thursday Night Football.
2 Sunday Games + Redzone.
NFL Total Access 2 times a week.
All play-off games.

Channel 4 (Basic Channel)

Sunday Night Football.

BBC (Basic Channel)

Commentary on BBC Radio of 2 Sunday games.
Monday Night Football.
Super Bowl (Alongside Sky Sports).

The Patriots have become the most supported team in the UK, due to their recent success. Teams like the Chicago Bears and the Miami Dolphins are also very popular due to the NFL’s success across the pond in the 1980’s. Just like last year’s game at Wembley between the Bears and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the atmosphere will be in favor of the Patriots, but many of the neutrals will be getting behind the St. Louis Rams. Even in the UK, the Patriots aren’t everyone’s favourite team.

With an additional regular season game coming to London next year, the final goal of the International Series appears to be a franchise moving to London permanently. I’m not sure this is a good idea. At this moment, I can’t see it working. The distances the London team will have to travel every two weeks doesn’t seem logical. And whether the support can hold out for eight home games a year is also a big question. A venue is also a concern. Wembley cannot be a London franchise’s home stadium.

Overall, the life of an NFL fan is not an easy one. “Prime Time” games finish at 5am. And when you support a successful team like the Patriots, they play a lot of prime time games, including a quarter of our regular season games this year. Super Bowl Sunday was a killer. When you wake up at 11am and have to wait until 1:30am for kick off, there’s a lot of time to get nervous and worked up. And drink, but that’s beside the point…

You have to be committed to the sport. With the lack of coverage, news etc, so visiting is an everyday thing, along with various NFL blogs. You spend so much time looking into your team, you can't help but feel affection towards them, then you care about what they do, you follow them throughout the year, and suddenly you've become a huge fan without even knowing it.

Being an exiled NFL fan is like being in a tight knit community, with others in the same situation as you. It doesn't matter where you're from, it doesn't matter who you support, because we are united in our love for our underground passion, which isn't so underground anymore. And the expansion of the game is something we relish.

From a personal point, Sunday will be a milestone for me, seeing the Patriots for the first ever time. It will be the pinnacle of my time as a Patriots fan (seeing as we lost the Super Bowl last season...), and I personally can't wait. My next stop after this: Gillette Stadium.

As always, give me a follow on twitter, Brendan_Annely