Sports fans the world over often have the same story when it comes to explaining support for their chosen team. Some grew up a hop, skip and jump from the stadium. Some were given no choice by their parents, dressed in team apparel from the moment they could crawl and frogmarched to the ground to see a game at the earliest opportunity. Some developed their affinity due to early peer pressure – with everyone else in the playground wearing the same kit and cheering the same team. This is largely not the case for UK NFL fans. Located a few thousand miles from where the league is based, the reasons for where British and Irish fans place their loyalties are wide and varied, but can be split into four main groups.
The 80’s Original Fan
The NFL made its first real dent on the UK fans’ sporting psyche when it began to be televised on Channel 4 in the 1980s in the form of a weekly highlights show, along with screening the Super Bowl which attracted in 1986 a staggering viewing audience of 4 million. The glamour and glitter of the league seemed to be a primary draw and many fans who started following the game back then still do so today, aided by access to viewing games both on TV and the internet that they could have only dreamed of thirty years ago. It goes to follow that a lot of the teams dominant during that era still enjoy high levels of support in the UK today – with the likes of the 49ers, Bears and Redskins enjoying strong fan bases.
The Personal Link Fan
A great many UK NFL fans got embroiled in the sport through a personal brush or association with the team in question. Every year young Irish students take advantage of summer work placements in the US, which inevitably leads to affection toward and in many cases allegiance to the local sports teams. Those despatched to New York often come back with a blue or green jersey in their suitcase and a desire to get back to MetLife Stadium ASAP. Some Brits will go to visit American family members and before they know it find themselves embroiled in a crowd of screaming fans, bedecked in face paint and wondering why they hadn’t done this sooner. Some holiday makers simply decide to take in a game as part of their American holiday experience, without realising at the time they’re indoctrinating themselves into the life of NFL fandom.
The Millennial Fan
The newest and most booming generation of UK NFL fans are those who have started following the sport in the past few years, since the turn of the century when the sport began to again gain traction through Sky Sports and then through the International Series games at Wembley. This increased exposure saw many teams who enjoyed success since 2000 such as the Giants, Steelers and Patriots gain many fans this side of the pond, whose dominance in various facets of the game and individual styles resonated with viewers looking for a way to connect with this amazing sport. Likewise, many people’s first experience of live NFL was at a Wembley game and those who may have been relatively neutral going in picked a side and to this day have stuck with it – gaining the likes of the Saints, Dolphins and in particular the Jaguars a healthy extra chunk of UK fans.
The Random Fan
Finally, there’s the group of fans who don’t really fit into any of the other categories. They may be a Cowboys fan because they used to like watching Dallas. Or they may be Ravens fans because they had a thing for Stacy Keibler (who used to be a Baltimore cheerleader). Or perhaps they like the Broncos because Homer Simpson once made fun of them and they like an underdog. Regardless of how they got on board the rolling fanwagon, their support is just as dedicated and true and they provide further colour to the great tapestry of British and Irish fans.
UK NFL fans are indeed a varied bunch, but on the whole possess a depth of knowledge and level of devotion to rival any of their counterparts across the Atlantic, with their fandom set to be rewarded for the foreseeable future with a steady dose of London games and the chance to see their team in person just a plane ride away.
Who’s your team and why do you follow them? Let us know below!