This was, I’m sad to say, the third and final NFL International Series game to be played in the UK this year, 2016. It was the clash between the Washington Redskins and the ‘home team’ Cincinnati Bengals at Wembley Stadium.

Our journey started with dropping the kids off at my sister-in-law’s house for the day (YES!) then on to the St. Margerats bus station in Leicester city centre where we were scheduled to catch the 9:15am National Express coach to Wembley.

This was the first time we’d tried the coach and gone just for the game itself as we’d always previously made a weekend of it and either driven to the hotel or gone on the train.

The reason we thought we’d try the coach, other than never having done it before to an NFL IS game, was because we had a couple of free vouchers to use up with them. We managed to get these due to us, earlier in the year, using their services to get us up to Aintree for the horse racing event, the Grand National, only to be treated to pretty shocking service. We had a driver, who, I assume, was an agency driver and who couldn’t figure out how to start the coach; it was like a scene from a comedy with windows going up and down as well as doors opening and closing along with sun blinds extending and retracting as he just pressed every button on the console. Then I’m sure I heard him mutter something about not knowing where the brakes were….OMFG! I think I said a quick prayer at this point. He finally got us going and eventually got to the race course of Aintree late as the driver didn’t have a clue which car park to head for and ended up turning around a couple of times.

After a days horse racing we thought we could settle down for the journey home but Mr Driver was at it again. The junction onto the M1 motorway we needed was closed so a detour was needed. It was scheduled motorway work so surely a massive road travel operator like National Express would know about it, right? Wrong. A passenger ended up having to direct him off and then back onto the M1 further down. It’s a good job he was there or we’d probably still be on the flaming coach going round and round.

When we got to Nottingham the driver switched everything off as most people got off. He turned round, looked at us and rudely told us to get off the coach. We said no as we had paid to go to Leicester to which he said, “Not by me you haven’t pal!”. I was pretty shocked if I’m honest. We had to refuse to get off the coach in order for him to ring up his office and get another driver to do the last leg of the journey. This guy couldn’t figure out how to turn the headlights on! Wow! I thought, what an awful company.

Needles to say, we wrote an email to National Express outlining our grumblings to which they apologised and offered us a free travel to and from any UK destination, hmm ok I guess.

National Express coach in car park at Wembley Stadium

When we got on the coach for the Redskins v Bengals game on Sunday and this driver too had trouble starting it me and my wife looked at each other and said, “Oh crap, here we go again!”
Luckily the journey went ok both ways (apart from the pick-up location in Northampton being the wrong place on the driver’s notes) so we’re ok with National Express again now. I guess they just got lumbered with a really bad attitude and poorly trained agency driver for the Grand National trip.
Once we got to Wembley (30 minutes late again I must say) we were right by the stadium in one of it’s car parks along with the NFL team’s coaches so we couldn’t have got any closer. This is a massive plus in favour of using the coach to go to the game in my opinion. Another plus was the fact that the return trip wasn’t scheduled to set off until 6:45pm so we had plenty of time to get something to eat before boarding the coach. We went back a little early anyway, as did everyone else, so the driver just set off once everyone was on board, which was good.

Now, I love going to Wembley Stadium as everything around it works and there’s plenty of space so you don’t feel too cramped even with over 84,000 people in the immediate area, but the atmosphere inside Twickenham stadium the week before, at the New York Giants v Los Angeles Rams game, was electric compared to the one usually inside Wembley stadium. Not so for this game! I thought the Wembley crowd stepped up their game this time and we made a good amount of noise for most of the encounter. It did seem to go a bit flat during the second and third quarters for a while but in general it was great. It kinda seemed like the neutral supporters finally understood that it’s ok to let yourself go and have some fun cheering and whooping and whistling for one team over the other instead of just sitting there quietly stuffing your face with food and/or drink.

I got the feeling there were more supporters there for the Washington Redskins than the Cincinnati Bengals but the neutrals cheering for the ‘home team’ Bengals made up for that and balanced the noise levels out. There seemed to be longer periods of noise for the Bengals but when the Redskins fans had something to cheer or make noise for they seemed quite a bit louder if only for a shorter period of time. It’s still a bit weird hearing huge amounts of noise from the crowd when the ‘home’ team has the ball and is on 3rd down, though. Not sure how that goes down with the local home team fans back in the States.

One day we might have a franchise over here and people might actually get behind them 100% which would mean 84,000+ fans cheering for the real home team. Can you imagine the noise level? Wow, that would be amazing and something I’d like to witness before I pop off this planet!

The game itself was a good one which went into overtime for the first time in the international series, meaning we got an extra 15 minutes of play to watch for our money. Bonus! It ended in a 27-27 tie which was another first for the series. Yet another milestone was reached in the game as the 100th TD was scored in the International Series and was scored by Jamison Crowder, WR of the Washington Redskins. Remember that name as it’ll probably pop up on A Question of Sport one day. Whilst we’re talking about milestones and records, another record was set at this game. That was the attendance; a stonking 84,488!!! Who says the NFL is losing its viewing figures, not over here in the UK it isn’t.

I liked being able to watch A.J. Green and Josh Norman play against each other, I reckon A.J. won that showdown and made another highlight reel catch.

We also didn’t have some young drunken moron sitting next to us this time, as we did at Twickenham, so that was another bonus.

After the game I was wanting to get a mini Cleveland Browns football and maybe a t-shirt or two so we went to the AFC shop round the back of the stadium. We were in block ‘A’ anyway so it was pretty close. By the time we got there the scrum was already massive and it never seems to lessen at those places so we just left it. Instead we went and got ourselves a pulled pork burger each, Mmmmmmm yummy yummy, which were actually very nice. We then went and found our coach and, luckily, had an uneventful journey home. Happily the car was still ok parked on the street in central Leicester as well, so all-in-all a very successful day I’d say.

I love having the games so close together as it feels great having so much football to watch live in such a close period of time, but I also don’t like it as it seems to take ages to get here then is over way too quickly. At least we’re getting live football over here and the atmospheres in both stadiums are getting better, in my opinion, so it’s all good in the hood.

And that’s it, only a short(ish) report on my NFL International Series game experience this time as we only went for the day instead of the Friday-Sunday (or sometimes Friday-Monday now) just to see what that was like. It was good to do just the day and the game but I do like the West End pub crawl we do on a Saturday evening/night as well as going to the theatre on the Friday…I’m such a ‘Lovey’ ain’t I :p

Oh yeah, on the way home on the coach I checked my phone and the NFL had announced that the Miami Dolphins will be giving up yet another home game to come over here to play the New Orleans Saints in 2017 (this will be the 4th time the Dolphins have been over I think). That’s great news as my daughter is a Dolphins fan and I’ll get to see Drew Brees play, fingers crossed, before he retires. Nice one NFL!

So, what was your experience of the weekend/day like? Let us know in the comments below.