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Cultures clash as Buffalo Bills hit London

Football Vs Football
Cultures clash as Buffalo Bills hit London

Fulham FC plays at the iconic and definitely old school Craven Cottage in the Putney Bridge neighborhood in southwest London. And they were hosting matches on the Wednesday and Saturday prior to the Buffalo Bills vs Jacksonville Jaguars matchup at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

So weren’t the fans at The Cottage surprised when, in the middle of the pregame warm ups, out came the Jaguars cheerleaders, along with their team mascot, Jaxson D Ville. Just like that, the music, sounding a lot like the intro to PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre, switched to Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up And Dance” while the girls went through their paces. Polite applause from the guys. But the entire spectacle seemed, oh so off.

Welcome to the NFL’s International Series, bringing the game to London, where acceptance of the sport is growing. Jacksonville’s owner Shahid Khan, also the owner of Fulham FC, has staked his territory in the U.K., committing at least one home game there each year.

But is NFL style football able to seamlessly integrate into the culture and presentation of the English Premier League?



■ If Taro wasn’t all about the hockey, he’d have loved the presence of Bills Mafia throughout the streets of Central London. Buffalo overwhelmed the Saturday NFL on Regent Street fan fest, and plenty of Bills swag was spotted in pubs and on the tube throughout the city.

■ “When in England, go see a hockey game. Said no one ever.” Except Taro. The British Elite League boasts 10 teams as far away as Belfast and Braehead. A BEL-ready arena sits right next door to Wembley, awaiting a hockey tenant. Plan your football-hockey doubleheader now.

The game day experience and everything surrounding the sports offer huge differences, from before the fan even sets foot into the stadium.


“Who’s got extras?” The scalper marketplace was robust on the plaza connecting the Wembley Park tube station and the stadium this past Sunday, with many tickets available and plenty of takers for the sold out event. Over at Craven Cottage? No tickets to be bought. Or sold. It is illegal to do so. Teams control the movement of tickets very closely, to prevent hooliganism in the stands, and to keep home and away supporters strictly segregated. Back at Wembley, Bills and Jaguars fans sat shoulder to shoulder.

That “Away” section

Each road team is given an allotment of tickets for their road tripping supporters. To sit in the road section, you must have membership status or season ticket subscription with your team. Arriving at the stadium, away supporters are herded through their own special gates, and are walled off from the rest of the concourses. Inside the seating bowl, a heavy cordon of green jacketed security keep the perimeter of home and away fans well apart.

In game entertainment

You know the shtick from here at home. It’s the same at Wembley. On third downs the scoreboard graphics exhorts the crowd to make some noi-i-i-i-ssse. There’s the kiss cam, the mascot, the jamming of music. Back at Craven Cottage, both teams walk on the pitch in unison, like gladiators to battle. From there, the fans take over the event, singing, chanting, banging drums, and the away fans are most often the more boisterous.

Place your bets

The lines at the betting totes are ten deep in the concourses, as fans can bet on almost any aspect of the game they’re seeing at Craven Cottage. The setup is very much like your local OTB parlor, and many of the big betting chains actually sponsor soccer. Back at Wembley, the betting stands are not only closed, but cordoned off, totally out of sight of the fans. Besides, nobody bets on NFL football. Ahem. Right.

Sing that anthem

They do up the Star Spangled Banner. Then the dramatic rendition of God Save The Queen. A great way to kickoff NFL football, U.K. style. But anthems at Craven Cottage? You’ll never find that at any pro soccer match in Europe. The players step on to the pitch, and the ball is put into play. Game on.

The concessions? Yuck

Food presentation at most soccer stadiums, including Craven Cottage, is beyond awful. Some of the stadiums have great food trucks and carts outside, but for most of the teams, food quality and variety is an afterthought, or no thought at all. Making matters worse, all alcohol has to be consumed in the concourses and can’t be taken into the seats. With the old and creaky corridors at Craven Cottage already packed to the brim, keeping the drinkers in the area after making their purchases makes movement virtually impossible.

The neighborhood

Imagine a Sabres game night against the Leafs, and downtown restaurants displaying signs in their windows saying “blue and white scarves prohibited,” or “private party, guests not welcome.” Near Putney Bridge, many restaurants and pubs either shut their doors or heavily screen visitors, all to avoid trouble. One tavern is the designated “road supporters” hangout, where only the away fans are allowed to congregate. Meanwhile at Wembley, the scene outside is a sight to behold. Beer gardens, food stands, interactive entertainment, live music, many new pubs within walking distance. Look hard enough and you’ll spot fans wearing the jerseys of all 32 NFL teams. Even rivals from the two teams, all congregating and celebrating together the game they love.

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