A review of the Fan Rally, Wembley Stadium and the Lions vs Falcons game as the National Football League came to London.
Fan Rally = 7/10
Having never been to the fan rally before it was great to see so many NFL jerseys, and I managed to spot every team during the afternoon, even the Titans and Bills. The event itself was largely good, with Neil Reynolds exceeding expectations as a host and there being a wide variety of guests, including the esteemed Marshall Faulk and Steve Wyche from NFL Network.
The highlight of the day was certainly seeing the stars of both teams on the stage, although a quibble here would be that the microphones were not working so only those at the very front could actually hear what they had to say; an issue not helped by the players love of holding the microphones closer to their waist than their mouth. There was a nice range of stalls set up round the side, although the queues were fairly sizeable, and efforts were made to incorporate the fans as much as possible.
Due to the event lasting four hours, unfortunately there was a need to fill time at certain points which left us being treated to the delights of MadFlow and JFB repeatedly, much to the annoyance of the crowd who had certainly had enough of MadFlow telling us for the zillionth time “It’s JFB.” Overall though this was a good experience and I would highly recommend it to NFL fans keen to see the players close up; however in future years NFL UK could think about a better way of filling the gaps when no one is being interviewed on stage.
Ease of Access = 6/10
Having been to Wembley numerous times for big matches for both football and NFL, and got there via both tube and train, I think that Wembley does a satisfactory job for such a huge stadium in the middle of London and this time was no different. Personal experience would say that the easiest way is to get the train to Wembley from High Wycombe or the various other stations on this line, but the tube was the port of call this time having met a friend at Waterloo.
As ever, the tube was quite busy on the way over, but walking up Wembley Way for the first time was certainly a sight to behold and given that everyone arrives at different times there is normally no issue. Getting into the ground was extremely simple and I have never had any difficulty finding my seat. Coming out, given the location of our seats being the bottom tier next to Wembley Way we were able to skip the queues for the tube and almost make the start of the 1 o clock eastern time games.
However, leaving via tube is normally a disaster with Wembley Way virtually stationary as thousands of people head to the tube station and fill every tube that comes along. Wembley is not alone when it comes to leaving difficulties for big stadiums and given the sheer number of people coupled with the stadium’s location, it is hard to see how this can be improved other than ensuring that there are as many trains at the stations as is logistically feasible.
Food and Drink = 4/10
There was a fairly standard choice of food available and it certainly went down well with all the Falcons fans around us as there was a never ending stream of them getting a burger or hot dog.
However, the huge issue regarding this area is the ridiculous prices at Wembley which are about as extortionate as one could conceivably imagine, with burgers being the same price as those you would find at a high street restaurant. The same can be said for Krispy Kreme’s, which were over double their price elsewhere and given that Wembley do their utmost to stop you taking anything in, it can become a very expensive day if you buy food for all your family.
People may be more inclined to buy the Frozen Yoghurt’s though if those selling them had not looked so suicidal.
Pre-Game = 8/10
There was a lot going on pre-game to ensure everyone was satisfied with the warmups, performances from the Falcons cheerleaders and the pre-game concert by Little Mix, who, whilst maybe not the sort of music you expect the average NFL fan to listen to, are current and popular and can therefore only help with media coverage and may have attracted some new fans to the game. The bags placed on peoples seats to form the UK and USA flags was a spectacular sight as everyone co-operated and will have looked good on TV back in the USA.
During the Game = 6/10
The Party Patrol was a popular addition, as they shot goodies in to the crowd during breaks in the game. However, the same cannot be said for DJ Ray whose music failed to hype the crowd up, probably because he looked half asleep himself.
The crowd themselves were relatively noisy at times given the huge mix of teams supported, but it is unrealistic to expect the atmosphere here to match some of the raucous venues in the USA like Seattle and Kansas City and cheers seemed to be directed at great plays rather than solely for the Falcons.
There was an attempt to ramp up the pressure on Matt Prater before his game winning kick; however this came via artificial means as the Final Countdown was pounded out from the stadium PA in a move that certainly will not have helped Prater’s nerves.
The Game = 9/10
The game itself was the best one we have seen over here in the UK, with the Falcons and Lions treating us to a last second thriller. The Falcons played extremely well offensively in the first half, getting the ball out of Matt Ryan’s hands quickly and doing just enough on the ground with Steven Jackson to ensure a seemingly comfortable lead at half time.
Two huge plays in the second half swung the momentum the Lions way though, the first being Golden Tate’s touchdown on 3rd and 25 made more shocking given that he was in essence the only man the Falcons had to cover. The second was Matt Ryan’s interception that is surely in contention for the worst of all time as he threw back across his body, committing the cardinal quarterback sin.
Once Detroit failed with their 2 point conversion, the Falcons had the chance to kill clock and see out the game but a costly holding penalty followed by a Julio Jones drop on a simple bubble screen ensured that the Lions got the ball back with over a minute and a half remaining when they should have been left with under thirty seconds. The delay of game penalty and subsequent re-kick from Prater to secure the Lions win summed up what has been a dismal season for the Falcons and increased the pressure on Mike Smith to remain in his job for next season.