Christina Wright was the first winner of Passion Passport’s Bucket List Initiative. Now, 6 months later, she has just returned from yet another trip to Europe, this time stopping in London for the NFL International Series.
Football. In the United Kingdom, it’s usually a word that refers to a sport in which a spherical ball is kicked around for 90 minutes. But when the NFL holds its annual international series in London, England, the word takes on new meaning, defined by crushing tackles, oval-shaped game balls and 50-yard passes from quarterbacks to running backs. I know from experience: this September, my fiancé, Marshall, and I hopped across the pond for the seventh annual NFL International Series. We are huge Pittsburgh Steelers fans, so when Marshall learned that our favorite team would be taking on the Minnesota Vikings in Wembley Stadium, there was no question that we would be in attendance.
I had no idea what to expect from an American football game in the land of soccer matches and I had some questions: Would there be many NFL fans? Would the pre-game parking lot be full of grilling bratwursts and ice-cold beer? Would Londoners be welcoming to a couple of Americans decked out in black-and-yellow Steelers gear? Turns out I was pleasantly surprised by the reception that both the NFL and Marshall and I received and I would highly recommend the experience. And so, for the die-hard NFL fans and the curious wanderlusters alike, here are a few tips on how to make the most of the NFL International Series in London.
1) Get your tickets early.
Marshall and I have traveled together before and we don’t typically concretize our plans prior to our trip. Like true wanderlusters, we like to, well, wander in each new place we visit. This time was different, though. We knew we had to nail down our tickets for the game months before the event – eight months, to be exact. After the competing teams were announced, we logged on to Ticketmaster.com to solidify the best deal. In the end we scored two tickets for about $180 dollars per person (including fees); by the time we arrived in London four days prior to the game, seats were going for $1000 each.
2) Travel to London a few days before the game.
If you’re planning on attending the NFL game on Sunday, you’ll likely want to have a few days in the city before and after the event. I took two lovely morning runs along the Thames, crossing the Tower Bridge and passing under the London Eye. We rented Boris Bikes—communal bicycles cheekily named after London’s mayor, Boris Johnson—and pedaled our way to Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament. We explored interesting neighborhoods like Southwark (with great views of The Shard), Vauxhall (home to the Vauxhall City Farm) and Shoreditch (with fabulous street-art). And on the Saturday prior to the football game, the NFL held a street party on Regent Street. NFL fans from throughout the United Kingdom and across the United States watched as players from both the Steelers and the Vikings introduced themselves on stage. Plenty of new friends were made and pints of cider consumed on that day; it set the stage and the energy for what was to come the following day.
3) Don’t expect to tailgate, but do get to Wembley Stadium early.
You cannot set up an American-style tailgate in the Wembley Stadium parking lot, but you should still arrive about two hours before the game because the NFL packs the area with excitement. On our Tube ride to the stadium from central London (about an hour ride) every train car was filled with NFL fans. When we arrived, we noticed that the walls of the tunnels leading out of the Underground were adorned with giant pictures of both Steelers and Vikings players, and the path from the station to the stadium was lined with American-themed food trucks (burgers and hot dogs galore!) and festive Budweiser beer corrals. We met a family of several generations who had flown over from Minnesota and we chatted with British guys who wore New England Patriots’ jerseys in an attempt to be ironic. A woman in the row behind us wore a black wig, yellow face paint and a Steelers jersey, and held a huge black-and-yellow sign in the hopes of making it on TV. (She was kind enough to paint the Steelers logo on my cheek, too!) The stadium was packed to the gills and the energy shot through the roof!
So, as it turns out, there are NFL fans in the United Kingdom! And they are quite a lot of fun! Almost every NFL team was represented on the jerseys of the 90,000 fans in attendance and everyone was so incredibly friendly. The International Series was unlike anything I had experienced before and I highly recommend putting it on your travel bucket list.
Words and photos: Christina Wright