Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index

watch listen BBC Sport BBC Sport
Low graphics|Help
---------------
CHOOSE A SPORT
RELATED BBC SITES
Last Updated: Monday, 29 October 2007, 10:13 GMT
UK mission for NFL
By Martin Gough
BBC Sport at Wembley

A crowd of more than 81,000 braved wind and rain at Wembley to watch the first competitive NFL game to be played outside the Americas.

Afterwards it was impossible to find a player or official with a bad word to say about the experience, despite muddy conditions that limited the highlights.

Miami Dolphins cheerleaders at Wembley.
The NFL imported plenty of big-game razzamatazz to the UK
Miami defender Jason Taylor, whose 26ft replica appeared in Trafalgar Square at the start of the week, said: "We had a good time, albeit we lost the game.

"It was a good experience for both teams, and I think the league benefited from it."

But amid all the hoopla of the New York Giants' 13-10 victory over the Dolphins, many forgot about American football's mixed history in the UK.

This time, though, America's most popular sport is confident it has adopted the right tactics to win over more British fans.

Responding to huge interest in the mid-1980s, the NFL sent teams to the old Wembley to play pre-season games from 1986 to 1993.

They began in a similar wave of excitement which ultimately fizzled out.

The same happened with the London Monarchs, who debuted to a packed Wembley in what became NFL Europe in 1991 and quietly disappeared in 1998.

The Scottish Claymores built a fan base of around 15,000 at Hampden Park but it was not enough to convince the moneymen, and the plug was pulled on the entire league earlier this year.

Why should the latest initiative be any different?

NY Giants head coach Tom Coughlin.
You do have to adjust your schedule, there's no question about that

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin

NFL UK managing director Alistair Kirkwood was bullish before the game but sounded a note of realism.

"We've got aspirations ultimately to be a top-five major sport behind football, cricket, rugby and Formula One," he told BBC Sport.

"Most people close to the NFL would have had high confidence that this game - and the first couple of games - would be a success.

"But you have to ask what happens with the fourth or fifth game?"

Officially, the NFL said Wembley could have been sold out two or three times. London mayor Ken Livingstone claimed there had been a million ticket requests.

In reality there were a few empty seats in a venue reduced from its 90,000 football capacity to eliminate seats behind the team benches.

But how will the NFL judge whether it was a success? Kirkwood says there are three benchmarks.

"The first, in the short term, is whether logistically everything went OK because I know there has been some concerns," he explained.

"Secondly, you measure it on the day of the game with the level of fan interest, the noise as the teams come out, all of that kind of thing.

"And the third measure is over the next three to five years to look at this game and ask what did it lead to?"

Logistically it would have helped if the game were played in dry conditions on a firm field, allowing players to showcase their abilities without fear of injury.

NY Giants running Back Brandon Jacobs tries to break through the Miami defence at Wembley.
Muddy conditions stopped the game from being a real showcase
There was also the problem of fatigue as the teams only arrived in London 56 hours before kick-off, and had to cope with a five-hour time difference.

However, both have their sole scheduled week off in the season next Sunday.

Asked about those issues, New York coach Tom Coughlin said: "I know you would like me to answer that in the worst kind of way.

"I'll be glad to give (NFL commissioner Roger Goodell) my thoughts on some of the issues that came up.

"You know for one day your team is going to be exhausted, but we recovered well on Saturday and got ourselves energised.

"It worked for us because we have a bye week, but you do have to adjust your schedule, there's no question about that."

Fan excitement was not in doubt. Most stayed for the duration of a game that looked dead before a late Dolphins drive, shouting and cheering in the right places.

The question now is what next?

NFL owners have agreed to play two games annually outside the US, and there have been suggestions the season could be expanded to include one game per team at a neutral venue - 16 in all.

Reports the Super Bowl will come to London are premature as the schedule is set until 2011.

"I'm lobbying very hard in New York for us to build on the tremendous interest we've had," said Kirkwood.

"We can't lose the momentum. Now we've started something, the worst thing we could do is pull back."

The most exciting news in the long term seeped out on the morning of the game.

The NFL hopes to announce soon the launch of an international academy for around 80 players, based at the University of Bath.
606: DEBATE

Players will have their accommodation and tuition paid just as they would if they were on a US college scholarship.

After two decades of occasionally half-hearted youth clinics and barely more than a token nod to foreign stars in NFL Europe, the game is finally putting down roots.

The only British-raised player in the league at the moment is Dolphins receiver Marvin Allen, who has yet to play a down with his second team.

"If you have local heroes, you have sustainability that will take us to the next stage. It's the Lewis Hamilton effect," said Kirkwood, referring to the F1 star who tossed the coin at the start of the game.

Hardcore fans will await developments with keen expectation, but could be forgiven a note of cynicism - for now.

SEE ALSO
Sport editors' blog
29 Oct 07 |  UKFS Homepage
Giants beat Miami at wet Wembley
28 Oct 07 |  American Football
Giants v Dolphins NFL photos
28 Oct 07 |  American Football
NFL London build-up in photos
27 Oct 07 |  American Football
NFL takes UK seriously
26 Oct 07 |  American Football
BBC Sport to televise Super Bowl
13 Sep 07 |  American Football
NFL in a nutshell
19 Oct 05 |  American Football
NFL standings
26 Oct 07 |  American Football


RELATED BBC LINKS:

RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

BBC PRODUCTS AND SERVICES
Daily and weekly e-mails | Mobiles | Desktop Tools | News Feeds | Interactive Television | Downloads
Sport Homepage | Football | Cricket | Rugby Union | Rugby League | Tennis | Golf | Motorsport | Boxing | Athletics | Snooker | Horse Racing | Cycling | Disability sport | Olympics 2012 | Sport Relief | Other sport...

Help | Privacy & Cookies Policy | News sources | About the BBC | Contact us