I’ve been repairing and painting the upstairs of my house for three months. In the UK we say the first floor, here in the States it’s the second floor. This is riveting stuff I know.
But I mention it because I’ve been listening to the BBC’s Radio 5 Live for hours every day. When you’ve been on the other side of the world for more than seven years it’s interesting to reimerse yourself in the British culture, attitudes and news of the day. Clinging onto your old life across the Pond is not something I want to do permanently, but I enjoy taking a dander down that way every once in a while.
Anyway, recently they featured the American football contest at Wembley between the the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Chicago Bears, and the news that the contract to play a regular season game there has been renewed for another five years.
Listening to the pundits, players, officials and fans being interviewed in the UK, what struck me was that after only five years, this annual fixture is now such a standard in the calender that the next question is this: Could there be a regular NFL team stationed in London? Wow.
That seems crazy to us, huh? Or is it just me? None of the people I heard expected it to happen anytime soon – if indeed at all – but the Americans maintained it was an achievable long-term goal and something they were actively considering. Just to repeat – they want a London gridiron team. Who will play games in America. Every week. While based on a different continent.
Older readers may remember the uproar around Wimbledon – back when they were Wimbledon and not AFC Wimbledon or the MK Dons or whatever – when a less ambitious idea was floated in the nineties. Despite being a top-level team they were drawing pitiful crowds of a few thousand, and it was suggested they could move to Dublin, a plan that never got past the odd TV feature and a couple of columns in newspapers.
The difference of course is that then you would have had to uproot a club from its traditional home (oh, hang on a minute…) and move it to a foreign country, as opposed to creating a “franchise” from scratch. But it’s still probably the closest comparison, although in Ulster, my old neck of the woods, Derry City, based in Londonderry in Northern Ireland, actually play in the Republic’s League of Ireland. But let’s not complicate things further by bringing Irish politics into this. Or the Welsh examples of Swansea, Cardiff, etc
As intercontinental jet travel becomes routine and globalisation increases it’s hardly surprising the NFL is looking to expand its brand, but even so, I can’t help but smile at the stereotypical American “can do” attitude. When the Premier League tentatively suggested the 39th Step, playing an extra game abroad, there were howls of derision and protest, and it was only expats like myself who dared defend such a thing. Imagine if the FA presented a report to the league chairmen tomorrow: “Right lads, we are going to let the LA Galaxy into the Premier League. Your teams are going to play away matches in California. The Galaxy will be flying over here for their games. Yes there will be issues but let’s just get the thing done and we’ll worry about the details, such as scheduling bye weeks for teams, later. Next.”
Coincidentally another football discussion show highlighted how Stoke City, after Thursday trips to Eastern Europe in the Europa League, had been given away games in the league. The fixture compilers can’t even give the clubs representing England a break in the Premier League, never mind sorting out intercontinental rest days.
American football in England, and English football in America. Some of us can dream…
Stephen Rea is the author of the book Finn McCool’s Football Club, a tale of supporting Chelsea from the United States, the formation of a pub football team in New Orleans and the devastating effect of Hurricane Katrina on that city. Visit his site here: www.stephen-rea.com or friend him at www.facebook.com/stevorea
Please note : the views in many of our blogs are written by fans of Chelsea FC and are not necessarily the views of the club