For a few years now the NFL have been heavily promoting the NFL in the UK by playing a regular season game (one that actually counts) at Wembley stadium. This seems to be gaining some momentum as this year they did it twice, and the second game in the series saw my favourite team, the San Francisco 49ers come to play against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 49ers have a big following in the UK, probably because of the golden years in the eighties when players like Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jerry Rice were dominating and the games were shown on channel 4. They played under a coach called Bill Walsh, who developed a new way of passing called the west coast offence that revolutionised the game. The west coast offence is all about timing between the quarterback and the receiver and throwing the ball into the space that the receiver is going to be. It was extremely successful and now pretty much every team runs some variation of it in their passing game. The majority of the crowd were supporting the 49ers despite the game being set up as a “home” game for the Jaguars, with free Jaguars flags for the crowd.
This was the view from our seats an hour before the game. In the past I’ve paid a premium for sideline seats, but this year I thought I would give the nosebleeds a try. The seats were much cheaper, but I found the view was also much better. When I’ve been closer to the action I’ve found that I couldn’t see what was going on very well because I was too close. With this great view, I could really see the plays as they developed, which was fascinating for me. If I go again I’ll be booking the cheap seats again!
The Jaguars certainly put on a good show for their first international game. After the flags and national anthems Neyo performed the pregame show, and they had their mascot diving on a wire from the top of the stadium. They also had a drummer group performing to keep the crowd engaged during all the breaks for TV that seem to plague the NFL, and there was even a very familiar looking streaker that managed to get on to the field.
The game itself was great, although not the most exciting of affairs. Unfortunately the Jaguars haven’t won a game all season, whilst the 49ers still remain pretty strong contenders to make a push into the playoffs (and hopefully the Superbowl). The 49ers won 42-10 and it was clear that the crowd were uninspired by the play of the hapless Jaguars.
After the game we went to a little bar that was staying open late to show the other NFL games going on that weekend where we had paid to have a table booked. There was a great atmosphere, and it was clearly the place to be as the presenter of an TV program NFL catch up Vernon Kaye showed up along with a couple of players and some off duty cheerleaders. We had a few beers, a burger and some chicken wings before braving the storm and heading back to the hotel.
I think the NFL making an effort to build their market in the UK and Europe is great, and they seem fully committed to it as next year three games will be played in Wembley! For the rest of this season though, the 49ers seem in reasonable shape, although their biggest rival at the moment, the Seattle Seahawks, are winning well, despite having a couple of shaky games against sub-par teams. I’m really looking forward to the 49ers playing Seattle at home in a few weeks time. Go Niners!