Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tales from Wembley Stadium

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What is it about English people? They live about 50 miles from Ireland and yet they still can’t understand a word we say. As my brother and I approached Wembley Stadium on Sunday lunch time we paused at the foot of the steps to ask where the ticket collection booth was. The woman I asked, who was wearing a neon bright jacket with ‘Information!’ on the back, holding a card saying ‘Information!’ looked at me as if I was speaking a hybrid version of Farsi. I repeated, slower, ‘Do you know where we can collect tickets with credit card bookings?’ and she was shaking her head before I finished, she interrupted, ‘I have not one clue what you are saying darling, but if you are looking for ticket collection, up to the right, middle section!’. Unbelievable.

Perhaps a clue to the inability of the English to understand the Irish came in a conversation we witnessed in the queue to get into the Stadium proper. Apparently, the Irish just don’t complicate their sentences enough.

The gates opened at three, and before that large queues formed outside each entrance. From the offset it was clear the crowd was going to be massive. Right in front of us were a group of five English NFL fans, all wearing a mix of NFL gear, and gear from their teams in the UK also. Four of the guys were young (late teens early twenties) one was in his thirties. He was hard to miss. About six three or so, and roughly twenty two stone or so, about 300lbs. Most impressive however was his voice. Loud as it was, he was an absolute dead ringer for David Brent, of ‘The Office’. Not only did he sound like him, he even structured his sentences like him. The conversational highlight came as he asked, boastfully, ‘Right then, how many National Championships have you won then?’ One of his younger companions cheekily raised three fingers, to which David Brent replied incredulously, ‘What? No you’ve not! You’ve not won any, have you?’

See, if the Irish simply took the time to construct their sentences like that, well, there wouldn’t be an issue.

The first thing that struck you about the crowd for the Patriots v Buccaneers was the sheer size of it. Walking from Wembley Tube station to the stadium itself there were literally thousands of people swarming towards the event. The variety of NFL jerseys, mixed in with a proud few wearing their own UK and Germany team jerseys was impressive. The most popular teams on show were Green Bay, Oakland, and Indianapolis but there were plenty of other teams on show. We saw literally dozens of Green Bay fans, very colourfully represented many with the full Cheese Head regalia on display. One thing that struck me, plenty of Favre/GreenBay/4 jerseys, apparently the vitriol hasn’t crossed the Atlantic as yet!

The single most represented team was far and away the Patriots, it would be a rough estimate, but at least half of the 85,000 had to be sporting some sort of New England paraphernalia.

The atmosphere in the stadium was nothing short of giddy. There was a festive feel to the event, thousands of Patriots fans absolutely delirious at the prospect of seeing their heroes up close, thousands of other NFL fans just happy to see a real live NFL game and a handful of slightly intimidated looking Tampa fans, who were probably just happy to be there.

The organisers can definitely take a bow on a fantastic opening, the whole initial ceremony before the game was classy, enjoyable and very, very noisy! It didn’t feel much like a regular season game, it almost had a little bit of playoff intensity to it. Wembley and the NFL UK also did a commendable job of making the game look and feel like a Tampa home game. They put everything in place, and the neutrals and handful of Tampa fans lapped it up.

The game looks fantastic up close and personal, you simply can’t beat live sporting events, and the NFL looks beautiful when you get a chance to see the whole field, see the whole play coming. If you watch the Patriots enough you definitely get a feel for the type of plays they like to run, so watching the defensive backs bite on play actions, then chase the wrong hot-route receiver was really enjoyable live.

Brady got quite a bit of heat for his two interceptions. People probably need to just calm down and stop expecting so much. Brady has kind of set the bar ridiculously high with his ’07 campaign, however instead of whinging about a couple of lazy picks, it’s far more enjoyable to watch the man work his way back from a horrific injury to approach something close to the amazing standard he set in ’07. Why do people always focus on the negative?

Brady's inch-perfect pass to Watson for a long touchdown was a thing of beauty

One thing that really stood out was the impressive play of the Patriots young defence. Merriweather, Mayo and McGowan were always in and around the ball, hitting hard or picking off passes. Wes Welker was also a stand-out, both receiving and returning the ball. The Patriots offensive line had a few false start penalties but apart from that played a really good game of football. Watching the linemen attack linebackers on screens and short pass plays, you get the feeling this is really the unit that makes the Patriots tick.

The handicap was never really in danger, even at -15. Brady perhaps should have run the first one he ended up throwing for a pick in, although he proved later in a gutsy belly flop/lunge for a first down that he isn’t afraid to run outside the pocket, even if he is deceptively slow (yes, he is even slower than he looks!).

Overall, job done by the Patriots, and job magnificently done by the Wembley organisers and NFL UK. The atmosphere was fantastic throughout, and the was a really good feel-good vibe around the place from kick off right until it was time to go home.

Bring another game over? What’s the rush? Bring one more good quality game over next season, if it goes well, maybe then think about adding another. For those of you in Ireland, England or Europe that were on the fence this season and ended up not going, definitely go out of your way to attend in ’10, no matter who is playing.

You don’t want David Brent asking you have you been to a NFL game in Wembley, for him to cut you off as you reply saying, ‘No you haven’t, you’ve not been to any!’

Do it just to avoid that.


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Irish National baseball team

Irish National baseball team
Team Ireland at the European Championships, Croatia, 2000.

A nice little mention for this blog on Fox Sports

A nice little mention for this blog on Fox Sports


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