A Ravens Fan Gameday Experience from London
Not to sound like Captain Obvious here, but the Ravens first trip to London didn’t go as planned. Not for the team and especially not for the fans, who like myself, took the journey across the Atlantic to see them play in person at Wembley Stadium. The Ravens suffered the most lopsided loss in team history, 44-7. They trailed by 44 points at one time, sending fans for the exit much earlier than they expected.
Getting past the miserable final score, how was the whole experience? While it’s tough to separate the game from the experience, overall I came away with a positive opinion about the NFL in London. Here are my personal takeaways from my trip.
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London is crazy about the NFL
The NFL has been playing games in London since 2007, the year the current Wembley Stadium opened. It’s tough to argue that the last 10 years haven’t cultivated the NFL in London and the UK as a whole. And that’s without mentioning the WLAF and NFL Europe, where the London Monarchs played from 1991 to 1998. Add to that a large ex-pat population — not just from America but from countries like Germany as well, which haven’t hurt. On Sunday, there were NFL jerseys everywhere. Not just Ravens and Jaguars jerseys, either. All teams were represented. I even saw someone wearing a 49ers Kyle Juszczyk on the tube. This was a celebration of the NFL. The pub I visited after the game was broadcasting NFL games on TV’s beside TV’s broadcasting soccer matches. I know London will probably never get a fulltime NFL team, but based on what I saw while I was there, it would work, and work well.
Ravens fans travel well
This is old news, but it was reaffirmed by what I saw across the pond. For a team with a fanbase confined to a specific geographic area, unlike the Steelers or Cowboys, Ravens fans travel. I did see a bunch of Jaguars jerseys but they were completely outnumbered by Ravens jerseys. The official Ravens team bar, The Admiralty, in Trafalgar Square, was mobbed for most of the weekend and during the Ravens two-hour pep rally on Saturday night it was impossible to get inside, where former players like Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis gave speeches.
But the Ravens do have fans overseas, too
I sat in front of a Ravens fan from the UK and listened to his displeasure with how our team was playing. “I can’t believe I woke up at four for this,” he said as the Jaguars scored another touchdown to put the game out of reach, which I later learned required a four hour drive to catch a bus for another two our ride to London. His friend replied, “These people came from America!” I struck up a conversation with him shortly after, asking him how he came to root for the Ravens. “The Wire,” he responded. Knowing the show is a big hit in the UK, it’s no surprise that the Ravens have received a bump in their international fanbase from it. I also have a friend from Germany who was a Ravens fan while living there before moving to America and eventually marrying another Ravens fan. So while we may not be the Steelers or Cowboys when it comes to a national and worldwide fanbase, there are Ravens fans out there across the globe. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the game had the largest attendance of any London game played in London so far.
The tailgating could use some work
My wife and I didn’t plan to tailgate at the stadium – we met a friend living in London for food and drinks at a nearby pub – but we were going to head over early to check out the tailgate scene. We did have some friends who went to the official tailgate party, but they told us it was closed to the public shortly after they entered, which was still two hours before kickoff. We arrived at the Wembley tube stop around an hour before kickoff and proceeded to join dozens of others who bought beer at a convenience store along the walkway from the tube station and drank out front. I didn’t expect a tailgate experience like Baltimore, with purple RV’s and grills, but I did expect more than what I saw.
Make no mistake, this is a Jaguars home game
Perhaps it was lost in all the fanfare and the expectation that this would feel more like a Ravens home game based on the fans in the stands, this was treated as a bonafide Jaguars home game. I attended another Ravens debacle against the Jaguars, the 2011 Monday night game in Jacksonville, so I was familiar with their home game rituals, cheers and videos. The only thing that was missing was mascot Jaxson De Ville bungee-jumping from the roof of Wembley like he does for home games at EverBank Field. Maybe I was being naïve, but I was a little surprised when the Ravens came out as a team, and the Jaguars were introduced by player. I thought the game would be treated more as a neutral game, but that isn’t the case at all. On top of that, the people in the stands who aren’t fans of the Ravens or Jaguars defaulted to rooting for the home team. Maybe it’s a tradition by now since the Jaguars have been playing a home game in London since 2013 and have bred some familiarity amongst local fans.
Inside Wembley, the game is the game
Once the National Anthem (complete with a Baltimore “O”) and God Save the Queen (which was very cool to hear in person, with a majority of local fans singing along) were over and the game began it was the same product we get in the states. People cheer and bemoan their team. I even heard someone allude to Ray Lewis being a murder. Beer and food lines are long and people are loud inside the bathroom. You could play these things on Mars and it would still be the same old game.
So you heard it from someone who was fortunate, or unfortunate, to be there in person. Thankfully we proceeded to fly to Spain early the next day, so the game was forgotten much faster than usual. If the Ravens play there again, I won’t be there, but maybe you will be and I hope the outcome is better for you than it was for me.