Transatlantic Football

As a rule I’m not that into sports, so today’s post is a weird departure even for someone who revels in weird departures. But it occurred to me that I’ve had a lot of fairly heavy and sometimes quite negative posts lately, and something light-hearted and basically irrelevant might be in order. So here it is.

On Sunday the American National Football League played its third of three games this season at Wembley Stadium, with the Jacksonville Jaguars “hosting” the Dallas Cowboys. I enjoy watching American-type football, though I’m far less fanatical about it than most and I have little invested in particular team fandom. I do enjoy watching a good game, though.

Back when I was watching American football in the UK with my Dad in the ’80s, they would show one game a week on a Sunday afternoon. It’s difficult to pick a team to “support” when they’re all thousands of miles away and you get to see a different two teams playing each week in the single televised game, but back then I decided, more or less based on helmet design and team name, that I was going to like the Seahawks. Yeah, I liked the Seahawks when they were crap.

Even nine years of living in the heart of Cowboys country hasn’t quite erased that juvenile decision (though I do basically like the Cowboys as well), and it pleased me quite a lot to see Seattle win their first Superbowl last year.

I guess my subconscious was quite attached to the idea of American football being played in London, because in the middle of last week (ie before the actual game) I had a dream of a London-based NFL team trouncing the Dallas Cowboys.

You can take the Brit out of Britain, but you can’t take the Britain out of the Brit. Even if most of my countrymen would consider it the Wrong Sort of Football.

The idea of a London NFL team isn’t new. The idea gets floated every so often; they had the whole NFL Europe developmental league back in the ’90s and 2000s, but people proved not especially interested in coming to watch unimportant matches of a game they barely understood, and the league folded.

Is the world now ready for an NFL expansion into Europe? I mean the real NFL, not that third-tier development league nonsense.

I don’t know. Still, as a Brit that likes American-type football, it’s a lot of fun to speculate.

There are, of course, massive logistical problems involved with hosting a team out of a city that’s at least 10 hours from Dallas by air. Heaven help the Seahawks and the 49ers flying in.

Still, with a little will, most of these problems are solvable. Whether the will can be mustered is another thing entirely.

Home stadium issues are another problem. They’ve been hosting the three matches at Wembley Stadium, which is huge and has a prestige all of its own. But I hear the English Premiership isn’t all that pleased about the NFL’s gorillas tearing up the pitch at the national stadium, and you don’t want to imagine the outcry if we have to use the stadium for an international soccer football match right after an NFL game and an England player trips and injures themselves. Not good.

Still, I’m sure something could be worked out somehow, with enough will and money.

I’ve been out of the UK long enough now that I have no idea about potential fan base, but I hear the NFL has set itself the goal of becoming the fourth most popular sport in Britain. It’ll never displace people actually kicking a ball with their feet in the national consciousness, but good luck to them. Americans seem to be learning to love soccer football; it would be fair to reciprocate with their big game. And at any rate, it’s far more exciting than golf.

But one of the big challenges is the expansion itself. There are currently 32 teams split into 2 conferences (sub-leagues, effectively) with 4 geographically-based divisions in each. In order to ensure that divisions remain evenly numbered, you’d end up having to potentially add up to eight new NFL teams at once. It could be done; Los Angeles still doesn’t have a football team, and I’m sure there are other cities that would like a chance to showcase themselves on the stage of the NFL.

It would be difficult, but difficult is not the same as impossible. And if they could establish several European NFL teams at once, it might go some way to easing the logistical headaches of competing. US-based teams could go on a sort of “European tour”, playing several away games in a row against the various European teams. It would be unusual, but doable.

The fun part, of course, is speculating on team names.

The London Monarchs were the old NFL Europe team, and it would be the obvious name to bring back. But let’s see if we can avoid that disastrously ugly purple and gold uniform colour combination that I remember (but can’t now find pictures of) this time around, eh?

The London Royals has also been floated as a possibility. Presumably you’d have a crown-based team emblem and royal blue as a base colour for the uniform. They might end up looking like Chelsea Football Club in armour, rather like the Australian rugby squad look like Norwich City. Not the worst thing in the world, but I can hear the locals’ teasing now.

But I have some other ideas.

The London Knights would work. Positive chivalric and fierce resonance, olde worlde connotations and a sly underhanded reference to Shanghai Knights. And as a fan of the idea of knighthood, I’m predisposed to like this name.

If they wanted to go with an animal name, they’d have to be the London Bulldogs, seeing as how Detroit already has the Lions. And it would rather lend itself to Union Jack-inspired helmets with a pugnacious cartoon bulldog on them.

The London Werewolves would be an amusing twist on An American Werewolf in London (“this time it’s London Werewolves in America”), but one version of the Oakland Raiders’ skull-based halloween theme is quite enough in my world. So perhaps not.

But I think in some ways my favourite idea would be to name them the London Redcoats. Ok, it’s rather a slap-in-the-face sort of a name and might create a sort of pariah status in the rest of the league. But let’s face it, if they ever exist, whatever the London team is called, they are going to be the butt of Paul Revere jokes wherever they go. So why not embrace it? You could have a team emblem of a red-jacketed Victorian-era infantryman with a handlebar moustache charging forward with football and rifle. And best of all, you could make the team uniforms recall those of the Grenadier Guards: scarlet shirt with white numbers outlined in gold, black trousers with a red stripe down the outside, and black helmets painted to look furry like a Guards’ bearskin. Or am I the only one who thinks that would be awesome?

You’d also have a ready-made natural team rivalry with the New England Patriots: who wouldn’t like to watch the Patriots versus the Redcoats? I’d pay to go and see that one.

The NFL’s apparently talking more seriously than usual about the idea, and the incremental approach they’ve been taking (hosting an increasing but limited numbers of games over there each season) seems to have paid off so far. I may yet live to see a London-based NFL team trounce the Cowboys.

Still, it hasn’t happened yet. Cowboys fans can breathe easy. The British aren’t coming just yet.


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