For Philadelphia Eagles fans in the UK, Sunday’s NFL game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London is a chance to see the reigning Super Bowl champions on British soil for the first time.
But it’s also a chance for those fans to connect with other Eagles supporters in a country where a different kind of football is king and the NFL is, despite recent growth and increased investment, something of a niche sport.
“When we meet another NFL fan we chat for ages,” said 54-year-old David Pollard, a Burnley FC supporter who started rooting for the Eagles thanks to a friend he met online from Exton. “I knew nothing about American football until six years ago. (My friend from Exton) did a 101 for me… videos, photos, PowerPoints. He sent a book on the Eagles, along with an Eagles shirt with my name on it.”
Pollard, who also follows the Philadelphia Union, is missing the Burnley match against Chelsea on Sunday to attend the game at Wembley. He said the atmosphere at NFL games in England — he’s been to a few — is much different than at football matches, which he is something of an expert on having been to 83 different football stadiums supporting Burnley.
“It’s less tribal,” said Pollard, who is attending the game with two friends he’s known since he was four.
Laura Kitching started following the Eagles more than a decade ago because “I looked good in green” but has developed a deep passion for the team. She’s gotten her fair share of flak for following American football, but said she said there is a different feel to the fan culture around the NFL.
“I find that English football fans can be quite aggressive, and I wouldn’t feel confident going to a game alone,” she said. “I’ve never, ever had an issue with that as an NFL fan. I think we’re just all so united in our love for the game — even Cowboys fans.”
A Middlesbrough FC supporter, Kitching will be attending her first Eagles game on Sunday. So too will Nathan Mundy, who became an Eagles fan 14 years ago when a friend came back from visiting the states with some Eagles gear.
“I Googled the Eagles and started looking at the sport and then looking at McNabb, Dawkins and Westbrook,” he said. “Ever since then it’s been the Eagles for me.”
If the way Mundy, Kitching and Pollard all talk about their support of the Eagles sounds familiar, it might be because they’re describing a little of what we as Union fans experience here in the U.S. The Eagles are king in this town the way Premier League teams are in their respective cities and the sport of soccer is often dismissed or derided by traditional “Big Four” sports fans.
This week, @AdmiraltyLondon is our home base for #Eagles fans! If you're in London, stop by our remaining pub parties, tonight from 7:30PM-8:30PM, and Saturday from 6:00PM-8:00PM.@sageNAmerica | #EaglesEverywhere pic.twitter.com/Su9pw8ZmnO— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 26, 2018
Things are changing in England much as they are in the U.S. as more fans are tuning into the NFL over the pond the way fans here are watching soccer in record numbers.
“Being a fan when I first started was difficult because no one knew the game or who many of the teams were,” said Mundy, who also supports Cardiff City and the Boston Celtics. “But these days it’s becoming to have that similar culture as football in the fact that you can get your mates round on a Sunday, stock up on snacks and then sit back and watch your teams.”
Not everyone attending the game is British, of course.
An impressive contingent of fans — some 41 percent of sales on StubHub have reportedly been to people from Pennsylvania — have made the trek from the U.S. and from other parts of Europe. Not unlike fans that travel to the U.S. to watch big name clubs like Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool play summer friendlies in the states.
A fan from Wales named Marc Jones, however, is missing the Eagles game at Wembley to see Manchester United play Everton.
“I went to Lincoln Financial Field last month for the first time,” said Jones, who became an Eagles fan when Michael Vick joined the team because he was his favorite player in the Madden NFL video game. “So I don’t want the experience to be tarnished with the London game as it’s still fresh for me.”
Sunday’s game, for those of us not in London, kicks off at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time. The Union game at Yankee Stadium kicks off at 4:30 p.m.