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Postcard from London: Cheerio-and-four

Written by Dan Gigler on .

steel jackRule, Yinztannia! or, the Union Jag?

ON A TRAIN BETWEEN LONDON AND EDINBURGH - To borrow a phrase from the host country this past weekend, it can be said that the sun never sets on the Steelers Nation, even if the sun has set on their team’s season.

Throngs of Steelers fans from across the United States and Europe made the trek to London to see the Steelers fall at Wembley Stadium yesterday in an uneven and occasionally sloppy effort that has come to be the status quo for the likely lost season of 2013.

The game itself, well, that’s being dissected by the PG punditry, but to attend the game purely as a fan of football was a terrific experience.

Some observations ...

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kennywood coupleThe conventional wisdom has long held that the large number of Steelers fans in attendance the team’s road games is for two reasons: 1. they travel well, and 2. they’re already there.

These Pittsburgh pigskin postulates held true in London as well.

I posted on Friday about seeing packs of Steelers fans arriving at Heathrow Airport; but there were plenty of homegrown fans from the United Kingdom and around the continent there too.

Gordon Dedman has run the Steeler Nation UK fan club since the mid-1980’s and as you might imagine, this was a culmination of a dream for him and his friends.

Initially, I sent out a bi-weekly newsletter containing information from the Steelers’ media department,” Dedman said in an email last week. 

steel jack tat"This was before the days of the internet and instant information. The media information took a week to get to me by airmail."

Old Internet bulletin boards helped speed up the process and now its run as a Facebook group with the help of friend Andy Duncan.

Dedman’s been to Pittsburgh numerous times and had a funny story about his first visit.

“In 1993, I organised Steeler Nation UK’s first visit to Pittsburgh. Ten of us travelled to Pittsburgh in October to see the 3-2 Steelers play the New Orleans Saints who had won five straight.

"When we went to the stadium on the Saturday to pick our tickets up, we found one of the gates of Three Rivers Stadium open. So being curious, we walked into the stadium to take photos of each other under the goal post and to work out where our seats for the next day’s game were situated.

“While we were taking in the ambiance of the stadium that had seen four Super Bowl winning seasons, the Steelers started to take to the field for practice.

steel party"This obviously sparked our already electric enthusiasm and we sat there not believing our good fortune.

"Our excitement increased when coach Cowher emerged, but was shortly brought to an abrupt end when Cowher briefed security to ask us to leave.

“The security guy did it in good humour so no harm was done and we were just over the moon to be presented with such an opportunity and we can claim we were thrown out of Three Rivers by Bill Cowher.

"A year later we were invited to watch the Saturday morning practice from the sideline next to John Madden and Pat Summerall.”

“I have seen them played at both Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field. I have also seen them in three Super Bowls, in Phoenix, Detroit and Tampa and I have seen them play exhibition games in Barcelona and Dublin,” he said.

steel onlyDedman has seen the Steelers play all over the world – but this was his first time being a host, and he did not disappoint.

He put together a big party on Saturday night at a pub called Harry’s near Piccadilly Circus, thick with Steelers fans – over 200 estimated – then another on game day at the Watkins Folly pub a few short blocks from the stadium.

Again, a few hundred black and gold revelers passed through in the hours before kickoff.

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Though there were plenty of Pittsburgh and Minnesota fans who made the trip from America to the game, NFL fans from across the UK and Europe with no real rooting interest comprised the overwhelming majority of the crowd.  

steel girlThe Vikings were the home team and therefore had their p.a. announcer, their scoreboard graphics, their cheerleaders, mascot and, music played to their advantage and celebration. And in a shrewd move, garnered fan support from the vastly neutral crowd – by having a purple flag with their logo under each fan’s seat.

But I saw folks wearing jerseys from nearly every single team in the league – some of which were incredibly random. Think of your typical game at Heinz Field -- 90% of the jerseys are Steelers, the rest are of the visiting team and then there’s always one or two random dorks wearing a jersey for a team not playing. 

This, however, was like a combination of a football game and comic book convention where attendees came for the common love of subject but were dressed as their favorite character.

Among those represented: Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona); Michael Vick (Atlanta); Ray Lewis (Baltimore), Fred Jackson (Buffalo); Tim Couch (!!!) and Derek Anderson (Cleveland); Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith (Carolina); Jay Cutler, Devin Hester and Walter Payton (Chicago); AJ Green and Andy Dalton (Cincinnati); Demarcus Ware and Troy Aikman (Dallas); Brian Dawkins and Von Miller (Denver); Calvin Johnson (Detroit); Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews (Green Bay); Andrew Luck (Indy); Byron Leftwich (Jacksonville); Jamaal Charles (KC),  Chad Pennington and Ronnie Brown (Miami); Tom Brady (tons of these) and Gronk (New England); Drew Brees (New Orleans); Eli Manning and Justin Tuck (Giants); Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow (Jets); Darren McFadden (Raiders) Corey Simon, TO and Michael Vick (Philadelphia); Marc Bulger (St. Louis); LaDanian Tomlinson (San Diego); Colin Kapernick (San Francisco); Steve Young (throwback) and Josh Freeman (Tampa); Jake Locker and Jevon Kearse (Tennessee); Russell Wilson and Sean Alexander (Seattle); RG3 (Redskins).

bears cutlerSame pouty face as Cutler too ...

Plus, nearly every Steeler that the NFL has ever licensed a jersey from the 70’s through the Blitzburgh 90’s to the past decade (including a Kordell and Tommy Gun) and present day, and obviously a ton for the Vikings.

The only team jersey I don’t remember seeing was that of the Houston Texans.

Not to mention World League and NFL Europe jerseys – Barcelona Dragons, Amsterdam Admirals, Frankfurt Galaxy, Rhein Fire (but oddly no London Monarchs) – were also amply represented.

So many team jerseys at one game made me think of that Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) line from ‘Ghostbusters’ – “Dog and cats, living together – mass hysteria!”

But while waiting in line for food (fish & chips at the game, no less) I chatted briefly with an Englishmen in his mid-twenties wearing a LaDanien Tomlinson Chargers jersey who had been following the NFL since childhood  for years and was so excited just to finally see an NFL game in person, he was nearly in tears.

That put it into a bit of perspective.  

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Wembley Stadium was mostly impressive, but also a total cluster. Although it’s possible I missed it, I didn’t see anything that resembled a parking lot and very few drove to the game. Essentially all 85,000 fans made their way there via the London Underground to a stop a few hundred yards from the stadium, convenient for arrival, cumbersome when leaving.

steel zubazUpon arrival, you’re funneled into the stadium along Wembley way, with rows of food and souvenir stands along the way. 

The opened roof but covered crowd had the aesthetic of old Texas Stadium, with the size of the Cowboys new monstrosity. Major potential to get LOUD and it must be something when supporters sing during soccer matches (the natives singing along to God Save the Queen was quite rousing).

The concession offerings were average and moved about the same as anywhere else, which is to say never fast enough. Stadium beer is overpriced everywhere. Restrooms were plentiful so there weren’t long lines. The concourses were nice and wide.

It also had some unique security quirks. I’d hoped to meet up with some high school friends who’d come from Philadelphia and Singapore (which has got to get the award for furthest traveled) for the game, sitting on other levels of the stadium. However, I was told that if you left your level during the game, it was only to leave the stadium entirely. You couldn’t go to another level at all. Likewise, they couldn’t come up to my level.

guy scarfWhich brings us to leaving. If you’ve ever complained about waiting for the T after any Pittsburgh sporting event, you ain’t seen nothing. Again, nearly every fan arrived on the Tube, and therefore had to leave on it.

So, imagine a sold out Steelers game, plus a sold out Penguins game, all going to the Gateway Center stop at the same time. It took about an hour to get on the train, although given the volume, and moved quicker than one might expect.

Security held groups back and released them in waves so as not to overwhelm the transit stop. It was orderly, but this was a docile crowd, and I imagine it might be less so after one of those notorious Premier League blood feuds.

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More pics from the day and the weekend ... 

big ben big ben

steel tube

steel UK

mack fam

flygirl

steel blokes

game intro

bees

kilts

steel bucs

wembly sign guy

bobby

outside wembley

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