Football v Football

If I ever have to pick a moment to sum up the internationalisation of sport that is indicative of how much things have changed, it will be while I watched the highlights of England’s game against Slovenia during the international break.

I crossed the Atlantic to watch my hometown team, the New Orleans Saints, play the Miami Dolphins in the latest NFL regular season game staged at Wembley. Four days later, the Three Lions hosted the Slovenians in a vital World Cup qualifier.

First, the commentator explained that the lines on the pitch were leftover from the American football contest. Then he added that there was a bigger crowd for the kind of football they play on the other side of the Pond than had turned out for England’s final home match of the campaign.

Not long ago I bet some fans would have thought it sacrilege for gridiron to take place on the hallowed turf, but 100 hours after the Stateside version of the game finished, the 10-yard markings on the field were clearly visible.

More remarkable though is the difference in the amount of spectators. American football is undoubtedly an acquired taste, while the crunch qualifier saw England clinch a place at the biggest sporting event on earth. Yet the American game sold out with around 80,000 through the gate - in comparison the international attracted 62,000. Almost a third of Wembley empty.

Effectively the Saints were the away side as the fixture counted as one of the Dolphins’ eight home games. So the Florida outfit had their flags on every seat, their cheerleaders danced in all four corners of the field, their pre-game and in-game staff were on the mics and patrolling the touchlines, firing t-shirts from cannons and escorting their mascot around the stadium. If we reversed the scenario and Chelsea transported the Bridge to Miami, we USA-based fans wouldn’t complain.     

It may have been chilly London rather than the sultry South but there was no lack of razzamatazz: dancers, fireworks, music.

In the States, NFL is regarded as entertainment that competes with every other form of entertainment. In days past here in Britain it sometimes felt like supporting your team was a duty and a chore rather than an activity to be enjoyed.

I believe there is room for both forms of football. And I’m happy to watch either of my football teams at Wembley.