Ravens 7 - 44 Jaguars | NFL International Series | 24/09/2017

On Sunday 24th September 2017, I had the most brilliantly surreal experience and I’d like to share the story with you…

It all started a couple of weeks ago when I was offered some tickets to watch one of the NFL international series matches at Wembley and the chance to attend a launch event in central London. Being the sort of chap I am, I was dubious as to what the catch was. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the launch event as we were on holiday, this left me fearing that I may miss out of the tickets. This fear was unfounded, because when we returned from France, there was a letter waiting for me containing 2 tickets for the Baltimore Ravens versus Jacksonville Jaguars (eek!). Better still they were at club level, this left me feeling very excited, but there was still a nagging concern that something was too good to be true.

Fast forward to Sunday and we set off down to Wembley, thinking if it things didn’t come to fruition we’d head into central London for the day, especially as we would have to go passed Wembley on the tube to get into London. One thing we hadn’t accounted for was ‘planned works’ between Hillingdon and Harrow-on-the-Hill, resulting on us jumping on the Bus Replacement Service (this let me spin plenty of Pokémon Go stops, so there was an upside to the slower journey).

As we approached Wembley, more NFL fans could be picked out and it wasn’t long before non-NFL fans were easily outnumbered by those adorned in team colours. I’ll say at this point I’ve never been to an NFL game before, I’ve only watched the Super Bowl games on TV but my only live experience was a few years ago watching some friends who joined the Shropshire Revolution (congratulations to them on going 13-0 this season and gaining promotion!).

What struck me on the journey in was the number of people wearing merchandise from all of the different franchises from the NFL. All the fans, no matter who they were supporting were mingling together. This felt like a very foreign concept to me, coming from a mainly football/soccer background were the authorities tend to segregate fans from opposing teams.

From Wembley Park underground station, I caught a glimpse of the magnitude of the event as I saw the ‘Tailgate Party’, a fan zone where fans could go and get involved in the party environment. I had anticipated that there would be a good turnout, but I was astounded by the number of American football fans that had come along to experience the atmosphere. I’m not the greatest at guessing crowd sizes, but if there were 15,000 people in there at that moment, it wouldn’t surprise me. We tried to head round to grab some merchandise to blend in, but by the time we got near the entrance we were advised that it was closing ahead of the match. From doing a bit of research after the game, the Tailgate Party had appearances by NFL Hall of Famers, performances by cheerleaders, music acts and interactive and historical NFL elements.

Fortunately, this pushed us towards going into the stadium. It was at this point we found that we’d be sat in the Club Wembley level. As we entered, I still thought we’d be turned away but after another a couple of security searches, we were in!

This is where events took their surreal twist. We made our way to our seats as I’d been advised that there might be a surprise if we were in our seats at a certain time. Someone approach us and asked us to follow them for pitch-side access during the warmup! We were escorted through a maze of corridors and steps, which presented us at the mouth of the players tunnel! We continued to walk along the pitch edge until we reached our spot and could take in the players warming up. It was a great chance to watch the players going through their drills and take photos of the teams - so a huge thank you goes out to Subway, who not only supplied the tickets (and fantastic seats) but also arranged the amazing & unique experience.

It felt like we were allowed to stay for an eternity, which allowed us to be really relaxed about the experience, but all good things come to an end and we were advised we needed to return to our seats. But it wasn’t the final bizarre episode, to return to our seats, we walked into the Jaguars jaw so to speak into a hub of excitement ahead of the players taking to the field.

On route back I stopped at a merchandise stall to pick up some bits, but so close to kick off, they only had the lanyards which were on my shopping list, all just in time to see the players take to the field.

The game played out with the Jaguars making light work against my Ravens, every mistake being exploited, racing to a 44-7 victory.

I had been aware of the infamous length of matches, but it surprised me how often there would be a break in play to introduce, amongst others, competition winners, a sevens side, “Party Patrols”, cheerleaders and some members of the Women’s English Cricket team. Oh and a drumming team who were amazing.

The game ended and we slowly retreated back out of the stadium to the Tailgate Party where we were finally got Nikki her Dallas Cowboys shirt and me a Ravens baseball cap.

There are three games remaining in the UK leg of the International Series, the Miami Dolphins take on New Orleans Saints in the final game at Wembley, then the Arizona Cardinals play the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings play the Cleveland Browns at Twickenham. If you get chance to watch a game, it's so worthwhile!

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