As Sunday evening's "home" fixture at Wembley for the Miami Dolphins against the New York Giants edges ever closer we interview Brian Tennent, Londoner and chairman of DolFan UK, the only UK-based Miami Dolphins fan organisation officially recognised by the club itself.
What first attracted you to the NFL in general and supporting the Dolphins in particular?
When it was first regularly broadcast on Channel 4, it looked more exciting and glamorous than UK sports. The games, with their bright colours, sunshine (in Miami at least), cheerleaders, etc. brought a ray of sunshine into the middle of a dark British winter. The presenters explained the game well and taught us how to follow the game, what to watch, and how to appreciate the standout plays of the day. Soon I came to appreciate the athleticism of the players, the way that they are specialists at their own position, and therefore the very best there is at that task.
The first few seasons on British TV coincided with the rookie season of [legendary Dolphins quarterback] Dan Marino. In a way we were rookies together. That and the fact that he was shown most weeks accomplishing some impossible pass, led me to latch on to the Dolphins as my team. He also did pieces for the UK TV station and that helped cement the interest.
What was your first experience of seeing the Dolphins live?
I went on the first ever DolFan UK trip to Miami in 2000. It was an evening kickoff and we saw the Dolphins beat the Baltimore Ravens in the middle of a thunderstorm. A real battle in the rain and mud, but still about 80 degrees. We also saw the retirement of Marino's jersey at half time ... awesome! The local fans and the Dolphins organisation arranged a tour of the stadium and training facilities where we presented our first MVP (most Valuable Player) trophy to Zach Thomas. The great man was kind enough to stay and chat to us for ages after the presentation.
Do you have a ticket for Sunday? What are you expecting from the game and the evening as a whole?
Yes, I am in charge of organising 150 tickets for the Club members. Miami and the NFL arranged for us to get a block of seats directly behind the bench so we could cheer them on from close range. Given the awful start to the season [seven straight losses] and our ravaged defence (defense?) I must be realistic about our chances. However I am always hopeful. Our defence has gone from one of the best last year to one of the worst this year, so I always hold out hope that they can reclaim some of their form. I know what to expect from a Miami home game. The razzmatazz of a big American sporting event has to be seen to be believed, and the Wembley crowd should be well entertained.
Photo courtesy of DolFan UK, whose members are pictured above at Wembley in the summer handing over their Player of the Year trophy to Jason Taylor, the inspiration behind that enormous animatronic statue we've featured a couple of times this week. We're not convinced he's actually that much smaller in real life...
How often are you able to get to see them play?
I try to go out with my son during the October half term holidays to catch a game or two. This year it coincides with the Wembley game so no trip this year. (I could go at other times but I think my son would kill me if I went without him). Usually the Dolphins would be on the TV three or four times in a season, but this year Sky have shown all their games as a lead-up to Wembley.
How and when was DolFan UK set up?
In 1999 our club president Eddie Irwin went to Marino's last game at Jacksonville. He met the Miami Dol-Fan people there and thought it would be a good idea to set up a similar thing in the UK. Back in Britain in early 2000, he and Andrew Ready set up the club and got it officially endorsed by the Dolphins. Later that year we had our first official trip to Miami.
How can people join and what are the benefits?
They can join at www.dolfan-uk.co.uk. There are numerous great benefits. We have negotiated discounts in the club shop in Miami and Soccerscene over here. We have a club 'do' every year where we run draws and raffles giving you the opportunity to win signed memorabilia donated by the Dolphins. Obviously, we managed to get tickets for this game, but the club can help with tickets to games in Florida. We organise trips to Miami where we have been fortunate to meet players and staff, have trips round the stadium and even get on the field (pitch) during the warm-up. Of course the best bit is just meeting other fans who want to talk about our favourite team.
How does the Dolphins club view DolFan?
They seem to love us and have bent over backwards to help and support us. They have dedicated staff who deal with fan relations who have been exceptional in arranging access to players and staff. They send us lots of memorabilia and try to support everything we do.
Have you watched any of the various UK or European leagues that the NFL has sponsored over the years?
Yes. I followed the London Monarchs and saw them win the World Bowl at the old Wembley.
Do you follow any other sports?
BTCC [touring cars], Formula 1, soccer (Tottenham) and cricket.
What would you most like the NFL to do to bolster support for the game in this country?
Look into getting the game promoted to kids. It is well supported in the US at a young age, and I think it could translate well over here. Lots of younger people have got into the NFL due to the TV coverage and the console games (Madden NFL etc). It would be great to capture that interest and get them out and playing.
What advice would you give to the London mayor?