Saturday 29 October 2011

NFL International Series

Wembley Stadium

NFL International Series - London Game 5.

23rd October 2011

Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Chicago Bears.

Pirate ship Pre-match entertainment Giant flag
The arch The home team
Vistors and hosts Tailgate Party
My seat Final practice


A set by nat_mach

Somehow despite the lock-outs and the uncertainty of there even being an NFL series in 2011/12 once the dispute between players and management was resolved a might organisation machine sprang into action and the annual road-show; the one regular season game played outside the continental United States was ready to take place as normal.

This year's event differed from normal in as much as the last Sunday in October hadn't yet happened so the game was taking place an hour later than normal. That didn't deter our normal routine so we ended up arriving before the turnstiles were even open!

This was a good thing as I was making the annual pilgrimage in my wheelchair and the Better-half had to push me up those endless ramps. Despite endless internet searches I had been unable to find whether there was step free access. There is. There is a lift by the Club Wembley entrances at car park level. Don't even think of trying to use it if you aren't disabled (or presumably Club Wembley) as it is steward operated!

We spent some happy time on the upper concourse playing 'team bingo' - you have to spot some sort of apparel from every franchise in the NFL. This year we got all but two (Kansas and Cleveland).

The gates finally opened and we went in (through the special wheelchair entrance, imagine trying to run a chair through those turnstiles!). I castigate TfL for their accessibility - North Greenwich is not step free from train to street level as there is and inch gap up to the train... might as well be a foot in a wheel chair; and as for Wembley Park what is the point of step free access from platform to street level... it was about six inches up to the platform! As they say on Twitter "hash fail". I digress. 

Wembley Stadium (apart from the secret lift) could not have been easier for a wheelchair user. Disabled toilets operated by RADAR key (so no random drunk people who couldn't be bothered to queue), smooth flat surfaces so easy to navigate (even self-propelled), counters that are reachable from a wheelchair; couldn't be better... and that was before we even got to our seats!

This year our tickets weren't behind the end-zone in our usual spot (that isn't where the wheel chair spots were) we were half way to the half way point on the side. Fabulous view. 

We took our seat just as the pre-match entertainment (The Goo Goo Dolls) finished, in time to see the teams take the field and for the anthems. The Buccaneers (who were the 'home' team) had a giant flag but there were no giant national flags this year, the flags formed instead by bits of glossy card. The crowd were asked to join in too by holding up coloured pieces of card left on their seats - the organisers didn't learn from previous years that these would later become paper aeroplanes!

The formalities over and the game began. It was a pretty good game, not a total whitewash although, as form suggested would be the case, Chicago won 24-18. The fact that the top passer and top receiver were both Tampa players tells you that it was a good game to watch.

There were all the usual fun moments that you don't get watching a game on TV; the mascots 'steward baiting'... the mexican wave... watching the teams benches. My favourite Sunday outing.