Photo of Wembley's hoarding via rooster47
"Awareness of our game and the level of interest has substantially increased. We have people asking, "When will there be more games?" You might still get people referring to the eighties, but only in terms of joining the dots."
So says NFL UK Managing Director Alistair Kirkwood on the eve of what has become a recognised fixture in the London sporting calendar, the US league's fourth annual regular season game at Wembley Stadium.
The organisers are once again trying to reach out to even more fans and this year will see an enlarged pre-game tailgate party at Wembley Arena on Sunday leading up to the 5pm kickoff as well as a brand new event, a free fan rally in Trafalgar Square on Saturday afternoon celebrating all things related to this year's official "home" team, the San Francisco 49ers. Live DJs will weave around appearances by 49ers greats like Jerry Rice and Roger Craig, current head coach Mike Singletary, the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the 49ers cheerleaders, the Gold Rush, not to mention celebrity fans including Marisa Miller, who amongst other things has been voted most attractive woman in the world more than once. It is not known whether fellow 49er fan, England rugby supremo Martin Johnson, might join her. And, if gridiron all looks a bit easy on the big screens, you can have a go yourself thanks to various interactive NFL games. If you enjoy yourself you could always join one of the dozens of clubs around the country which have seen numbers of active participants increase by 12% since the Wembley games began.
The 49ers came straight here from their game in Carolina last weekend and Kirkwood is delighted at the efforts they're making to join in a range of events such as childrens' coaching workshops with Tottenham Hotspur, cheerleading sessions with Fulham FC and Saturday's festivities:
Even before you get into the stadium the 49ers will have welcomed UK fans to the whole experience.
Both the 49ers and their "visitors" the Denver Broncos, who are only setting out for London today, will hope to put the struggles of the first half of their seasons behind them courtesy of some of the Wembley magic that's seen two of three previous International Series winners relaunched to the Super Bowl title itself. The experience of playing so far from home can have a surprisingly galvanising effect:
I think both teams are looking for a change of scenery and an opportunity to bond as a team. The New England Patriots last year remarked on how it encouraged them to get closer together, They had to dine with each other three times a day whereas back home they wouldn't have to do anything like that and that can create an opportunity for a team to gel.
Another innovation this year sees Commissioner Goodell face lucky 175 fans who entered a heavily oversubscribed ballot to attend a Saturday morning question and answer session at the Landmark Hotel. Questions will be spontaneous and not pre-screened, something Kirkwood believes will tell the Stateside NFL management a lot about how their transatlantic venture is working out. More frequent UK fixtures might even result, but for now, with another full house almost assured, the NFL's Wembley game looks set to grace the final Sunday in October for many years to come.
If you'd like to go to the game yourself there are still official tickets available. Although the major tranches of tickets for these games sell out months in advance, there are usually small blocks going on official sale at short notice during the days immediately before the event and this year is no exception. Because they're mostly returned from the clubs in the States who had first refusal on them they're available at a range of prices and often in good positions. Happy hunting!