Ramblin’ Fan Goes To Wembley


Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

St Louis Rams fans will always have a soft spot for Steven Jackson. During the decade of futility that we are still to see the end of, Jackson was consistently the brightest light in teams of constant underachievement. Often playing through injury and with little hope of winning, he gave the best years of his career to the team that drafted him, earning three Pro Bowl honors and, despite the legacies of rushers like Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk, leading the franchise in rushing yards. He was a true workhorse, and few Rams fans could begrudge him the move to the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent following the 2012 season. Clearly in the decline of his career, the NFL’s active leading rusher left St Louis to find the team success that had eluded him for so long. Unfortunately, it is a search that is still continuing.

So, as a Rams fan with a history of suffering alongside number 39, I was proud to be witness to a seminal moment in the career of any running back. Under Wembley’s famous arch and with over 80,000 fans – with the jersey of every franchise represented in the crowd – Jackson took a hand-off on first-and-goal and carried the ball for a tough five yards to become the nineteenth player in NFL history to break the 11,000-yard barrier. Two plays later, he broke into the endzone for his 74th career touchdown.

In the country of pomp and circumstance, there was no celebration to mark Jackson’s achievement. In fact, the matter gained no recognition and it was only when his game stats came up on the screens at half-time that I realized the milestone had been reached. I was glad I had seen Jackson score – two years ago, when the Rams got trounced by the Patriots, Jackson was essentially a non-factor – and I was pleased that I was there to see him notch up his 11,000th yard. As it happens, it was the Falcons’ last score, with the Lions overturning a 21-0 deficit (sound familiar?) to win the game amid controversial circumstances. But the result was not really important. As will all International Series games, it was more about the sense of occasion and being present at a game that often feels so far away to us European fans.

This was my third International Series game at Wembley (I also watched the 49ers beat the Broncos in 2010 – I am 0-3 in terms of my gameday loyalties at Wembley). And it was the most different. Gone was the hugely fun tailgate party, replaced instead with a messy “Sunday brunch” where the main activity seemed to be having to queue up. The early start did not help matters, with many regulars seeming thrown off by the change. With lengthy queues to buy a beer and even a matchday program, my wife and I quickly left the outdoor event and entered Wembley itself much earlier than normal. Luckily, once you were inside and had escaped the huge crowds, one could sit down, have a drink and a bite to eat, and spend a small fortune on NFL merchandise. Then it was a case of watching the player warm ups, and waiting for the big game. And while the match itself was an exciting affair – especially for Lions fans – the event itself seemed a bit more…subdued. With three NFL games in Wembley this year, it is almost as if the game is not such a big event any more, and the level of celebration seems to have subsided. This is a shame, particularly for fans who, in some cases, have travelled across Europe to watch one of America’s most successful exports.

But, for me, it was a special occasion, particularly because I saw one of the players who I most admire both score and reach a significant career milestone. And I know that the International Series might not be very popular in the US, particularly for season ticket holders who lose a home game to the other side of the pond. But to those I will say this: come over and watch the game. Combine it with that holiday to the UK you have always dreamt of and watch your team play in an iconic stadium, while also visiting the fantastic city of London. And I guarantee you that you will quickly realize one thing: that while over here we might call it American football, the passion for the game clearly transcends well beyond the shores of America.