How Do British Fans Pick Their NFL Team?
How do Brits find such love for teams that are based thousands of miles away? It's a mixed bag of first games, holiday destinations, and dumb luck.
All photos by the author
This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.
One of the hallmarks of London's NFL International Series games is the sea of jerseys in the stands. In an act that often bewilders American fans at the matches, us Brits seem happy to wear the colours of whichever team we love – regardless of who is actually playing. It means that, on every Sunday that the NFL is in town, all 32 teams are represented somewhere around Wembley Way.
These are no fair weather fans, either. Most have followed their teams for years, even decades. Some have travelled to America to watch their favourites compete on home soil. A few even support the Cleveland Browns through choice.
How do Brits find such love for teams that are based thousands of miles away? Ahead of the International Series game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Indianapolis Colts, we travelled to Wembley to find out.
Matthew – Indianapolis Colts
It was 13 years ago; I was watching a game of Monday Night Football. They were playing the Super Bowl Champions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they were down 21 points with four minutes left. But, they tied the game and took it to overtime and kicked a winning field goal – off the upright and in. I'm a Colts fan.
This is the first time I've ever seen the Colts. It's not my first game, but the first time I've ever seen the Colts. 13 years a fan and I'm so excited!
(Left to right): Jason, Kif, Jordan, Jack, Chris, Dave, and Glenn –– a real mixture
Jordan: It's a once in a year thing, so we try and mix it up and come as a few different teams, like the two teams that are playing and a ref. None of us support the teams so it makes us cheer for them a bit more. It's an incentive.
Dave: It's a great day out. Everyone is wearing their own particular shirts and there's a great vibe and atmosphere here. Everyone's enjoying themselves, and that's what it's about at the end of the day. We'll go inside, have a few beers, meet some people, and we'll go home and come back the next Sunday, you know? It's a great day out.
Glenn: It's the one day of the year you can be American.
Dave: The first game I ever watched was the [San Francisco] 49ers against the [New York] Giants. It was Montana and Rice, and I just started from there. That was in the '80s. I was in the forces then, and I was watching with an American unit when I first started. I've cheered them on since.
Jason: I went on the NFL website and they had this little calculator, "Which team should you support?" Then I watched the Super Bowl when New England beat the Eagles, and from there they were going to be my team. We started really getting into it a few years ago, so I just stuck with the Patriots.
Kif: Eminem. I like Eminem and obviously he's from Detroit, and they were the first team I watched. I've only been watching it a year, something like that. I was at a friend's watching it and they were like, "You've got to pick a team," and the Lions had a player called Megatron (ex-Lions WR Calvin Johnson). I was like, got to pick them. And it stuck.
Chris: The Dolphins.
Dave: Dolphins, so Ace Ventura?
Chris: No, everyone says that but it's not. The actual story is, when I was 16 I was doing my exams at school, my GCSEs. My whole family went on holiday to Florida and I couldn't go because I had to stay home and do my exams. They brought me back an American football with a Dolphins Super Bowl winners logo and all of that, so I adopted the team. Still crying about it now.
Glenn: I support [the 49ers] because of my Dad; he passed it on. But that's my brother [Jack], and he's a Cowboys fan.
Jordan: We've tried to have it so that we all support a different team, so we can watch every game and enjoy it every Sunday.
Dave: On days like this, it doesn't matter who you support.
Paul (New England Patriots) and Stephen (Pittsburgh Steelers). Both London Monarchs, still
Stephen: I follow the Steelers because my uncle worked out in Pittsburgh in the '70s, and brought me back [Terry] Bradshaw stuff. Gold and black all the way, plus I'm a Watford fan so the gold and black went nicely together. I've always been a Steelers fan; been over to see them play a few times in the States.
Paul: I've supported [the Patriots] probably since they got absolutely annihilated in the Super Bowl and I felt sorry for them*. Trouble is it sticks in your head. You watch [the game] on the telly and you go "Oh bless them..."
*Paul is referring to Super Bowl XX in 1986, where the Chicago Bears beat the New England Patriots 46-10. It, sadly, was indeed an annihilation.
Laura and Scarlet –– Jaguars (for the day)
Laura: Today we're Jags fans, most definitely! We're slightly American football fans, but mostly we like dressing up and we like American sport. We came for the day out, for the cheerleading, for the game. It should be good. It's our first time, we're very excited.
Scarlet: I guess it's a chance to see American sports culture, and everything that surrounds it, in London. It's a bit more exciting than a regular game!
Paddy –– Cleveland Browns
I used to live with a housemate and we downloaded the NFL game, started playing it, and realised there was a feature which let you play on the same team. But, which team could we pick that wouldn't interfere with the teams that we both currently kind of liked – who were Green Bay and the Seahawks. We just thought, "Well, the Cleveland Browns are never going to affect us, that's fine!" So, off we went with that, started playing the game, going online, having a good laugh, having a few beers.
Then I saw Kevin Costner in that film he did – Draft Day – and thought, "Ah, that's quite fun." It's not true, it's all fabricated and that, but I started to have a bit of affection for them. Then, getting more into the NFL, I started watching more and more of the games and feeling bad for the underdogs. But seeing how passionate the supporters are and how much they're loved by the people who do support them I thought, do you know what? I don't have any loyalty to any American city so why not support these guys? They look like they need all the help they can get. And I like the fact that everyone gives a Cleveland Browns fan a nod. Nobody is going to give you any trouble, they're going to just have a good laugh and good times. And they've got a lot of hope, there's a lot of hope in the team. I like that. They've got a lot of history, a lot to give, and a lot of love. I like that, too.
Scott (bottom row, centre): It was one of the first games I saw, and even though [the Redskins] didn't end up winning I just loved the of play. It was eye catching, so I just followed them since then. Onwards and upwards.
Liam (back row, 2nd left): My friend was a Manchester United fan, I was a Leeds fan, so we obviously had a bit of animosity about that. He was a big Patriots fan, and they were playing the Packers in the Super Bowl so I was like, do you know what, I'm going to support the Packers. It's been that way ever since.
Steve (far right): I've got two teams: I've got the Jags and Tampa. We went to Florida a few years ago and we actually wanted to see an NFL game for my brother's 40th birthday, so the first game we ever saw live was Tampa Bay vs. New Orleans Saints. Then the International Series came up, Jags were the home team, so we went for the Jags and here we are.
Dave (back row, 2nd from right): Because of [video game] Madden. Played it career mode, three games in a row I was drafted for the Jets so it was inevitable, really.
Joe (back row, centre): My brother got me into NFL. I started to support the Broncos because my favourite colour is orange, and I've followed them ever since, really.
Roy –– Jacksonville Jaguars
We support whoever's around. We can't support everybody – there's a limited number [of games] on television and we don't have Sky... we just follow whoever's there and enjoy it. This is our fourth year in London. We've got a friend in Denver who first told us about it, because her team was playing here in those days, and she told us to watch it on television. We did and we've been hooked ever since. This was before Channel Four [screened NFL]. This must've been in the '70s, when Denver were playing the 49ers here in a special game. We've been hooked ever since. We had to learn a bit about the game!
Bears and their Cubs
Dave (far right): I started following the Bears during the 1985 season when they won the Super Bowl. It was when we first got TV coverage here, highlights once a week, and I just picked a team. They won the Super Bowl that year, and from then on I've followed them passionately.
Jack (far left): I became a Broncos fan by mistake. My nan's from Cleveland and all I remember as a kid playing an NFL game was that their team were orange. I tuned into Sky Sports a few years ago and the Broncos were playing when Tebow was quarterback, and I just presumed it was them. So I became a Broncos fan, when I should have been a Browns fan, so I dodged a bullet there!
Dan (second from right): I've been following them for about two years; I got into them when they went 12-4 that season. Jumped on the bandwagon a little bit, and now we're rubbish!
Lia (third from left): I really like New York, so it was either Giants or Jets – definitely Giants!
Lars, the Norwegian Referee
I've been here seven or eight years in a row, and it's just fun to get dressed up. This is the third time I'm a referee down here, and I think I'm the only one in 84,000 people – I'm the only referee! [Note: sadly, he is not].
It's fun. A lot of people take pictures of me, or interview me like you and so on.
I can't afford [to travel to other games], it's rather expensive. This is the best way that we can watch NFL games from Norway. It must be hundreds of us who come over. People come from all over Europe for this game.
The referee is neutral. Today, I hope for overtime!
Daryl (Washington Redskins) and Vanessa (Dallas Cowboys)
Daryl: The 'why you support your team' questionis probably the number one any American will ask a British person. I think what it comes down to is who were the top teams when you became a fan. And I know I'm showing my age a bit now, but in the early '80s it was the Redskins and 49ers, the Giants and Bears – so that's why I'm a Redskins fan. What you'll notice is that a lot of the younger kids `like Seattle, New England, or whatever. At the end of the day, you've got no geographical allegiance to a team; it's who was on top.
Vanessa: I'm a Cowboys fan
Daryl: Because you don't know nothing about football...
Vanessa: Whatever! I dated a guy who was into American football. One of the first five games I saw was with Emmitt Smith. I saw him play and I thought, that is pure magic! Been a Cowboys fan ever since.
Craig, Oli, and Sam –– Jacksonville Jaguars
Oli: For me it's the commitment to London and just playing so many games in London. We knew we were going to come to the games, so for me it was to show them some love back.
Craig: They were one of the first teams I saw in London. You've got to support the team who is coming back to London all of the time.
Sam: There's a possibility that in the future they could be coming over to London and becoming an English team, that would be amazing.
Oli: If you'd relocate the team and come here I'd over the moon!
VICE Sports: I have a feeling this is going to be chaotic... so none of you are Jags fans?
VICE Sports: Then why!?
Group: As long as they're not playing our team, we'll support them! Enjoy the day!