Just in case anyone was uncertain, I was born in the United Kingdom, and for a lot of my sins, I still live here.
I remember it well. An early morning news programmed showed footage of the Fridge rumbling in for a touchdown against the Patriots in the 1985 Super bowl and I was hooked. At the tender age of five, I was exposed to my first taste of American football, and it has been in my heart ever since. I Just wanted to take this opportunity to look at some of the differences between football and soccer and why I love the game.
American football (hereby referred to as simply (and correctly) football), is hugely popular over here. I might be a touch presumptuous, but I am not sure that enough Americans, and especially journalists or broadcasters fully realize the popularity of the sport in the UK. I remember one pod cast host recently being shocked to receive an email from someone in Ireland, almost amazed that a non-American might be interested in the NFL. Does he not know that the league has played a regular season game at Wembley stadium for a few years now?
I think the fact that we are able to host a game here at the biggest stadium in the country is a testament to how well received the game is in the UK.
The NFL has an official British website, and does a great job of promoting the game. The league is streaks ahead of basketball, baseball and hockey in terms of that, although all those sports are still played and followed by a large number.
But it would be fair to say that football is the most popular of the American sports. We have our own British league, and while the standard is not that high, it is taken seriously, and the league has existed for many years.
We have been lucky enough to receive a lot of football on TV going back to the mid 1980's, and we can watch live games every week, there is radio commentary, and the Super bowl receives national TV coverage every year.
In summary, the game has a huge following and that looks set to keep rising.
So, with me being British, why do I not follow soccer, since that is the most popular sport in Britain?
I used to play soccer when I was younger, and my Dad would take me to see a lot of matches, and I loved the game. But when I got older, I began to realize that my team were never going to be champions, and neither were a lot of the other teams in the league. Over time, I simply lost interest.
Let me give you a bit of background. The top league is consisted of 20 teams, and each team plays each other twice (once at home, once away). You get three points for a win, and 1 point for a draw, and the team with the most points at the end of the season is declared the champion.
All sounds fair, right? You would think so, but in soccer, money rules the game. Soccer operates a transfer system where teams can buy other players from teams not only in the UK, but from around the world. Clubs pay millions to obtains the services of the world's best players, and it is not uncommon for players to be paid anywhere up to £70,000 a week in wages.
But only certain clubs have the kind of money to afford the best players. The team I used to support never had or will have that kind of funding, and was forced to sell a lot of their best young players. Teams over here are owned by wealthy American businessmen, Arab billionaires and Russians with more money than sense. Basically, the team with the most money will likely be most successful.
There is no college system in place here. No such thing as a draft. Players are simply bought and sold.
That, for me, is one of the beauties of the NFL. Wasn't it recently that the Detroit Lions sucked? And now look at them. Firmly in contention the NFC North (but not good enough to stop the Bears from winning it!!). Teams can turn their fortunes around through free agency and the draft. There is hope for fans of teams that have long been cellar dwellers. Given a few years, they might be competing for the Super bowl.
Let me give you an example. Over the last 20 years, only five teams have been crowned champions of the English soccer league. Compare this to 13 Super bowl winners, and I think you'll agree the difference is definitely worth mentioning. Bear in mind there are only four teams that have never reached a Super bowl. That again, gives most fans hope that their team will one day make it.
Yes, there are NFL teams that you can be certain of being in the mix come the playoffs, but this can change over the years. Dominance does not last long in this league. And that is a great thing. Of the five teams to have won the soccer league over here, Manchester United have been champions 12 times during the 20 year period I referred to.
I also think that most players in the NFL genuinely want to play football. Yes, they get paid millions, just like soccer stars, but there seems to be so much less drama than there is over here. Soccer related stories often make front page news, and there are loads of scandals and drama. You thought the NFL was like a soap opera? It can't touch soccer for mindless nonsense that has nothing to with the game.
I just love football. I always have, and I always will. When you're watching a great NFL game, there is nothing to compare it to. It has it all. I am sure soccer fans would say the same, and to an extent they would be right. But also wrong! Long live the NFL and the mighty Chicago Bears in the USA and the UK.
Now, could someone help me out with a couple of questions I have about the NFL and it's supporters.
Where is the geographical rivalry? The city of Manchester has 2 top soccer teams and the opposing fans hate each other. The same goes for London teams, or any city with 2 or more clubs. There is genuine hatred for the opposing team and its fans. Why do Cleveland not despise Cincinnati? What about the teams from California? Or the Giants and the Jets? There are deep seated rivalries in the NFL, but they don't seem to be geographical. Your thoughts on this?
Also, soccer has a long history of violence amongst opposing fans, both inside and outside stadiums. Groups of supporters will use the excuse of a soccer match to orchestrate large scale fights on the streets of the UK, and this has been the case for many years. Why does there not seem to be the same large scale violence associated with American sports? Do NFL teams have members of its fan base that will go to the games, but are ultimately looking for a fight? Because that is most definitely the case over here.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my thoughts on the game I love. I'd love to answer any questions you might have, so fire away.