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THE spoils of victory may have gone to the 3-2 Oakland Raiders, but the true winners were the fans of NFL in Britain, for so long we have been given what seemed like the dregs of the season’s fixtures — blow-out results and low ranked teams.
The truth is when the fixtures are decided, no-one can know exactly how good or bad a team will be during the season, the Raiders and the Bears gave us a proper spectacle in a proper NFL stadium.
It is no fluke that the first NFL game in the new White Hart Lane featured the Chicago Bears. This is the 100th year of the NFL and the Chicago Bears were one of the original teams; set up by the AE Staley company in Decatur Illinois, they called themselves the Decatur Staleys.
Their first player coach was George Stanley Halas — whose initials the Bears still wear on their jersey sleeves. Halas was an eight-time NFL Champion who ended up an owner of the Chicago Bears until his death in 1983. His family still own the team.
The NFL know how to throw a party. The build-up to the game over an NFL weekend can be had at two team dedicated London pubs: The Admiralty in Trafalgar Square, and the Barrowboy & Banker at London Bridge.
The latter, as the “home team” Oakland Raiders bar, had a lot of entertainment, including Oakland’s own radio hosts interviewing Raiders legends Jim Plunkett, George Atkinson, Steve Wisniewski and Mark Van Eeghen. Look out for more events like this as the London games progress.
Tickets for the game had been hard to come by, some officials saying that the game could have been sold out 12 times over when you look at the number of applications.
I sat near Bill, a Chicago Bears fan, who as part of the US armed forces decided to take some time to watch his team in an overseas game.
Reselling agents frustrate fans and Bill had been a victim of one of them — buying a ticket for over £200 only to discover its sale value was originally £65, which was printed on the ticket.
Bill was very positive about the stadium. “It’s very high,” he said, “but you can still see everything. You don’t get that at [Chicago’s home ground] Soldier Field. Its much steeper, you feel like you may fall, and it has a limited view.”
On a visit to the stadium in the summer to meet some of this season’s stars, the place impressed us all. After some of the ground’s first touchdowns were tossed by members of the media, there was a tour of the dressing rooms, vast carpeted disco-lit spaces with dozens of showers, equipment and cubbies.
The Bears receiver Allen Robinson was more modest, having played in Britain for the Jacksonville Jaguars. “This is my fourth game in the UK,” he said. “It’s basically the same experience, same practice field, same hotel, last year we arrived on the Wednesday, this year the Friday, but it’s still exciting, especially at a new stadium.”
Some were dubious of the half-hour walk from Seven Sisters or Tottenham Hale Underground stations.
If you do need the Underground and are heading back into the centre of London, I can recommend taking the walk to Tottenham Hale and getting on the train before meeting the crowd at Seven Sisters.
After the win, quarterback Derek Carr was feeling particularly chipper about the location. “It’s first-class in every little detail in every single room, unbelievable,” Carr said.
“This is definitely one of the best, if not the best stadium I’ve been in. Playing at Wembley is really cool, with all the memories of the different games that have been played there. But to be able to play here and be able to see what can be done, it’s amazing that someone’s brain can do all this. I think that’s really impressive.”
In other week five news, having lost 33-7 to the New England Patriots, the winless Washington Redskins parted ways with Head Coach Jay Gruden, brother of Raiders coach John.
You wonder what the owners might have learned that they did not already know when losing to the defending Champions and perennial favourites, but this was obviously the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The Redskins have invested in a young quarterback in rookie Dwayne Haskins from Ohio State and look to have unearthed a wide receiver with some talent in Terry McLaurin, who has 308 yards and three touchdowns in just four games.
The young team will be interesting to keep an eye on as they look for the right coach to take them forwards into the NFL’s second century.
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