I learnt about American football back when I was about 8 years old and a new kid from Miami came to our school. He taught me what American football was, and I taught him about the actual football in this country, with a much rounder ball and the fact that it is actually played with our feet, hence the on-the-nose name. He was forced to support my own team, Manchester United, and I in turn pledged my loyalty to the Miami Dolphins, a team and a game I knew nothing about and couldn't understand in the slightest.
On a sidenote, from now on I shall be referring to football as soccer and the American game as just football. It's blasphemous, but makes it easier to write.
It's been in the most recent few years that I really started getting into football, entranced in particular by the Superbowl a few years back with the Seattle Seahawks fighting against the New England Patriots (Why didn't you give the ball to Marshawn Lynch, you fools?). The NFL having games in the UK is an absolute delight for me, and this was the year I finally secured a ticket for myself and my much better half to go see the Los Angleles Chargers take on the Tennessee Titans.
So, what is it like to go to a football game whether you are already an American football fan or an interested rookie to the game, even if one of the only rules you know is that you can throw the ball forwards?
One word. Amazing.
The entire experience was outstanding from start to finish, and is exponentially better than watching a game on the television. I have seen my fair share of live sports, having visted Old Trafford half a dozen times, watching live basketball as part of the BBL, been to the old Anfield when I was a kid and even seen two live baseball matches in Miami and Atlanta. With hand on heart, I can honestly say that this is in the top five sporting experiences I've ever had, including watching the England rugby team win the World Cup back in 2003.
The pre-match entertainment is really great, and with a big screen, they were able to have a few interviews with Chargers and Titans legends. The match itself was enthralling, with drama and stunning performances from both defensive and offensive teams. As we sat down in our seats, we got our own little promotional gift, a Chargers flag to wave as the team came out. Something so small united the entire stadium in support of the team from LA.
The first team to score a touchdown were the Chargers with a long Rivers throw with the LA offense's first play. As you can see from the image below, we were on end of the pitch, and the touchdown was scored right beneath us. What a feeling. When I was at Old Trafford, you have 70,000 supporters leaping to their feet in celebration. That effect is amazing. At Wembley, there were over 84,000. The difference was more than significent.
The atmmosphere around the game was wonderful. From getting the train in the morning I started to spot people wearing jerseys of their own team, and making my way to the stadium, I saw shirts from arguably every single team (although I didn't exactly check them off a list). We were even sat next to a Jaguars and Eagles pair of fans who were debating for the whole game who would win their next fixture - they play in the UK next week. Tensions at sporting events are usually quite high, particularly at soccer games. However, everyone yesterday was there for one reason, love of the game, and that was just amazing. There were even a couple of Titans fans sitting in front of us, and although they ended up losing the game, they still had smiles on their faces - something you do not see when soccer fans pour out of their stadium after a loss.
My better half went into the game not really knowing any of the rules, but by the end of the match was participating in the chants, screaming with excitement when there was a great play and particularly at the final few seconds of the game. The Titans tried to go for a two point conversion in an attempt to win the game, rather than go for a one point conversion and settle for going into overtime (much like extra time after a soccer game - before they go to penalties). They failed, meaning the Chargers won a close 20-19. For any penalty calls they had in the game they actually displayed the rule for up on the big screen. Then they showed the replay so you can see excatly what happened. That doesn't happen often nowadays for live sports, so another bonus.
It's obvious I had a good time, so now it's not a question of whether I recommend going to see a football game, because obviously I'll say yes. The real question is how much do I recommend you go?
The fact is, whether you are a veteran of the game or have no idea what the game is, then you are going to have an amazing time, as the atmosphere, the showmanship of the sport, and the high intensity of the game made for a truly unforgettable and unbelievable day. I love the game all the more.
If you are thinking that these games are too long, I can safely say that being in the stadium did not make the match feel long at all, with the only passge of time being the sinking sun over the London sky.
If you are starting to be interested in the sport, watch the game next weekend on the TV (28th October, 2018. Philadephia Eagles vs. Jacksonville Jaguars). To help you get started with the rules, I have written a piece about the basic rules of the game and also rules about the NFL draft, and why it's just brilliant.
I will be trying to get tickets for next year, and I know that it will be just as amazing.
Go Chargers! Go Dolphins!
If you think that there is only a small interest in American football in this country, I would point out the three full stadia filled with fans, and knowing there are even more at home who weren't able to get tickets. Finding a promotional product that is fun and unique is what is going to make your brand remembered, and where better to start than here?