Professional American Football Returns to Britain
Professional American Football Returns to Britain

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American professional football returned to the heartland of soccer a few days ago, as the New England Patriots faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the hallowed turf of London's Wembley stadium. For the third year in a row, a sell-out crowd screamed and enjoyed a piece of true Americana in a regular season contest. For both teams, playing in London was a unique part of their season and both squads were well supported in Britain where television coverage over the years has boosted interest.

They came from all across Britain, from Ireland and the European continent too, fans of American professional football, a sport once alien but now avidly followed by many in Europe.

And they came wearing the jerseys of every team in the National Football League, the NFL.

For the third year in a row. the NFL hosted a regular season game at Wembley, and 84,000 fans crammed into Britain's national stadium to witness the spectacle.

The fans saw the New England Patriots defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7.

New England was in control from the very beginning.

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For stars like Patriot's wide receiver Wes Welker, who had never been to Europe before, coming to London was a great experience.

"I am a big soccer fan so you know I played soccer all growing up so really getting to feel that vibe and everything kind of you know, them doing the wave, you could not hear anything when they started doing the wave and things like that so, it was definitely a cool experience to kind of see their energy and what they bring to the game," said Wes Welker.

Fellow teammate, quarterback Tom Brady agreed, it was fun playing on British soil.

"All the flash bulbs were going out there before kick off and everyone seemed excited," said Tom Brady. "The wave went on for about ten minutes which you do not see that in the states too often. But it seemed very exciting you know for the fans here. Like I said, I think it is really a privilege for the players to come over here and get to enjoy this type of experience so, like I said, it probably will never happen again for us but so we will retire one-and-zero internationally."

Given the high interest level, the league is considering increasing the number of games played each season in Britain.

Two days before the game, the Patriots got in some practice at the Brit Oval cricket ground in London. There, NFL International spokesman Neil Reynolds explained where things stood.

"It is no secret that the commissioner, this commissioner Roger Goodell is very excited and keen to push that through," said Neil Reynolds. "He has spoken at the owners' meetings recently about how they want to explore expanding this market. He wants to look at two games. That is a natural step. We have had one that is successful, can you host two? Can you host four? If you do that maybe then after that, what we are looking at? Maybe a franchise. So I mean, it is baby steps. We are trying to move it forward."

But what would the fans think? I caught up with some at Wembley.

"Keep it to one," said a fan. "It is more special yeah. If you bring two games in then it is not as special as just the one, and it would saturate it too much. You want to have just the one game a year, yeah. Definitely, keep it as one."  

NFL expansion in Britain, a topic that will occupy the fans here as they watch the rest of the season on television.