American football and rugby come to London

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I have know about wheelchair rugby since 2005. My ex-boyfriend & I went to the artsy cinema in my hometown to see the documentary called 'Murderball'. It told the tale of the USA wheelchair rugby team and their huge Canadian rivalry, as well as a few personal profiles of how the players ended up in wheelchairs.  The sport was shown as violent and combative, but also therapeutic for paraplegics who were struggling with their new disability.  With a balance of sport and personal struggle, it is a great film that men and women will enjoy.

The film was a stocking stuffer for my husband, which he enjoyed.  During London 2012, we tried to get tickets without any luck.  But a few weeks ago, my husband discovered that the BT World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge was happening near our home at the Copper Box Arena, with USA and Team GB playing on the first evening.  Front row tickets were very reasonable so we picked up two and planned our date.

You have to bounce or pass the ball every 10 seconds.
USA played Canada on the first match, shortly after Canada just knocked USA out of the bid for Rio 2016 last week (need to check).  James and I knew a little about the sport (each player is given a score based on their ability and there is a max number of 'points' allowed on the court between the 4 players).  There are penalties, a countdown play clock, 2 referees, and a pit crew to help with equipment as it gets damaged from the combative nature of the game.

USA was holding their own against Canada (in my naive opinion as a first time spectator) during the first 2 periods, but something changed in the third.  USA was running the clock down even though they were loosing.  Points seemed to be answered back on forth, but USA dropped back by 4 points instead of 2, which made me nervous.  (Even players on the Australian team weren't sure why USA had this strategy as I asked them).  The 4th period was exciting as USA tried to even up the score but Canada ended up winning 58-57.

It was fun to see a new sport that neither my husband and I knew too much about. We were able to ask each other questions about the rules (or what we thought they were). Over time, I have learned not to ask too many questions at sporting events as the people I am with usually care about watching the game (where I go for the food and experience).  But, I have learned that if you ask questions about the match in particular, questions are allowed.  That made me feel better when I went to the Rugby World Cup 2016 match South Africa vs USA in Queen Elizabeth Olympic park.

I bought my ticket off a friend and went with people she knew.  Over the years of being with my husband, I have watched enough rugby to have a general idea of what is going on.  I should have revised with a bluffer's guide on rugby before the game to remind myself of the basics as I was sitting with strangers. I sat with Dunbar, a South African living in London after traveling through the Arctic Circle on a sailboat.  He was pretty chill.  Most of our section was South African with a random American fan sprinkled in.  I had awesome seats I row 16 and saw a lot of action in my end of the field. But I didn't really want to pay £1/point.  I am starting to think I am bad luck as USA lost to South Africa 64-0. Perhaps this article on mental preparation would have helped USA get in the zone and score at least a few points.

Great seats meant lots of action, just for the wrong team
The only time it is acceptable to
wear an American onsie is at RWC.
Few other things I noticed were first, that food wasn't available, save crisps. At an American sporting event, of course you would have beer but you would also have lots of glorious 'ball park' food-hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, pretzels, ice cream, etc (this is my brain on Day 3 of #whole30 talking, sorry). Second, there was little atmosphere in terms of music, entertainment, and announcements. Watching rugby on TV you get lots of play-by-play commentary which helps me keep straight what is going on. You really have to pay attention when you watch rugby event live.  The only sound effect was a beating heart each time the TMO was consulted.  And that got annoying after a while.  Even the wheelchair rugby has some awesome tunes to play during time outs and equipment time-outs.

Ohio State Uni marching band as the Beatles on Abbey Rd.
A good comparison is the NFL efforts here in London.  I went to see my home team, the Buffalo Bills, play the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium.  And boy- do Americans know how to put on a show! I went with a British co-worker who is a huge NFL fan. He had been going to all the NFL games in London for the last few years so knew a lot about how things would be set up outside the stadium in the lead up to the game. We arrived early to see the different entertainment zones but there was no true tailgating by American standards.  As we waited in line for an 'NFL Legend' autograph (rumored to be Hall of Fame Quarterback and cancer survivor Jim Kelly), the Ohio State marching band went through the fan zone as a warm up for an amazing pre-game show. The Jaguars Roar (team cheerleading squad) had a set of ladies at each corner of the stadium for some cheering and dancing (although I must say they need more practice). Pepsi was shooting tshirts into the crowd & music played between nearly every play.  Every seat also had a Jaguars flag as they were the home team for the game and rumored to be settling permanently in London in 2018.

Unfortunately, the Bills didn't start off strong and couldn't pull it off in the end, loosing 34-31. I had a great time though eating and drinking my way through the game. The highlight for me though was meeting Jim Kelly for his autograph. He was the Bills quarterback when I was growing up (and brought the Bills to the Superbowl 4 years in a row) so he is kind of a big deal to me.

Me asking for a photo even though I
know they are not allowed. Denied.
Happy girl!
It really has been a fun couple of weeks treating myself to these unique sporting events in London, would you recommend any matches in 2016?

This post was sponsored by MaxiNutrition.

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