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Football of a different kind in London

A day at Wembley for the NFL International Series (London game 6) between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots

storm 7 °C

In the business of Sports, getting more people to watch (and buy extension, spend) is one of the keys. The National Football League, the highest level professional league of American Football, is one of the highest attended professional sports in America, with some of the highest television and radio rankings in American broadcasting.

So what is an American league to do when they have conquered America? Look abroad, of course, and grab international fans.

The NFL has been trying various permutations and combinations of this for years, including pre-season games around the globe, teams playing games in Canada and a league based in Europe in the early 2000s.

Recently, they have been playing the "International Series," which while initial envisioned to be a roving set of regular seasons game around the globe, have for the last 6 years seen games played solely in London, England at Wembley Stadium.


On October 28, 2012, the latest games was played in London, with the St. Louis Rams "hosting" the New England Patriots.


Before the game, the NFL held a "tailgate" party in the parking lot of Wembley. Tailgating in the USA is a fan driven, organic party - each group of people BBQing and drinking and watching TV merging into one monster party. Here in England, the NFL puts on the party, so while it has many of the elements of a usual tailgate - BBQ and beer - it is a more structured and lifeless affair.


They do have cheerleaders and NFL stars of the past, so it does have a few advantages.


The game itself was impressive within Wembley. After a pre-game which included our (choose one: loved / hated) London Mayor Boris Johnson and the band Train, Welsh mezzo-soprano opera singer (and beauty) Katherine Jenkins came out to sing the national anthems of America and the UK. The fans, given placards of red, white or blue, held them up to form two visions of country flags - one half showing the Union flag of the United Kingdom and the other half white stars and red and blue stripes of the American flag.


St. Louis was the "home" team, as one team is designated each year. St. Louis was initially announced as the home team from 2012 to 2014 in the summer, however pulled out of the future dates due to financial difficulties, making them a one season home team in London. The Jacksonville Jaguars will fill the role in the future games (at least until 2016).

St. Louis took the field, and many fans waved St. Louis flags. Though the flags were given out for free, so if the appeal of St. Louis could probably be overstated.


The game started, and the fans did take their role of home town fans for St. Louis seriously, cheering St. Louis and booing New England. It helped for the first little bit, with St. Louis going up by a touch-down. However, then the potent offence of New England took over, and the rest of the game was a bit of a romp.


The game ended 45-7 for New England, the "home team" of St. Louis returning to the Mid-west after their one home-game-away-from-home not being a success. New England, however, spent extra time in England, thanks to Hurricane Sandy cancelling their flights and stranding them in the city. A little more time to celebrate.


It was a dull game, but a good experience, and I had a grand time during the game. Next year, London hosts two games, including a smash-mouth Vikings and Steelers match up in September, and our new home team, Jacksonville playing the 49ers of San Francisco. I had a good time, so will look to attending one of the games.

After all, could I pass up a chance to see a different type of football here in the home of that other, older type of football.


Posted by GregW 11:55 Archived in England Tagged sports Comments (0)

Paralympics 2012

A day a the Olympic Park in east London

sunny 19 °C

I went to a few Olympic events, but didn't make it to the Olympic Park. Luckily, a friend of mine had a spare ticket to a few events in the Paralympics within the Park, so I got to head there for the day.


Got to see a couple of events.

First up, in the Velodrome to see a number of track cycling events.

Velodrome Exterior

Velodrome Exterior


Highlights on the day included Team GB Sarah Storey winning a Gold Medal in the Women's Individual C4-5 500m Time Trial

Sarah Storey after her race, cycling past the crowds

Sarah Storey after her race, cycling past the crowds

2012 09 01 Sarah Storey Podium Ceremony

2012 09 01 Sarah Storey Podium Ceremony

There was only one Canadian on the day, Marie-Claude Molnar, who took place in the Women's C4-5 500m time trial as well. She came in 10th in the event.

Next up, we were off to the Aquatics Centre to see an evening of swimming. We were quite high up, but still had a decent view of the water.

The Aquatic Centre

The Aquatic Centre


The crowd was pretty excited about Ellie Simmonds, who won two golds in Beijing at the age of 13, and has won two golds here in London as well. I saw Simmonds smashing the world record in the 400m (classification S6) by more than five seconds.

Simmonds getting her Gold

Simmonds getting her Gold

World records fell like dominoes throughout the day in both the pool and at the velodrome.

There was a medal success for Canada in the pool on the day I was there. Valerie Grand-Maison win silver in the 50m S13 freestyle.

Valerie Grand-Maison, Silver Medallist

Valerie Grand-Maison, Silver Medallist

The swimming let out after 9:00 PM. As we were high up, we got some nice views of the stadium lit up coming down from the upper deck of the Aquatics Centre.


An impressive day of sport, and I was quite happy to have gotten to see the Olympic park.

Posted by GregW 13:13 Archived in England Tagged olympics sports events Comments (0)

The Olympic Experience

London 2012 from a Londoner

sunny 20 °C
View Hungarian Grand Prix 2012 on GregW's travel map.

I was not looking forward to the Olympics coming to London.

I wasn’t in London when they won the right to host the 2012 Olympic games. I lived through two bids by Toronto, both that failed, to host the games (in 1996 and 2008). I was happy when Toronto lost. I frankly thought that the city would be overwhelmed by the visitors, and the benefits would be minimal.

As the games approached here in London, I expected the same. I assumed that a crowded, smoggy city whose transport system was bursting at the seems would become even more crowded, smoggy and we would see a transportation system fall apart.

Then something happened, about two weeks before the games started. I started to get excited. I was still pretty sceptical we could pull it off, but I decided if I was going to be inconvenienced by the whole thing, I should might as well get some benefit. So I booked a few events, figuring I would have nothing but problems getting there, but at least I should try.

Then the games started, and it all changed. I became a fan. I became an advocate. I started talking up the games to my friends and coworkers who weeks before had been of the same sceptical and cynical mindset of me, but it was for nought, because they had already come around to be fans themselves.

Soon it became apparent that the entire city, and the entire country had become fans. All the cynicism in the press disappeared, and all everyone talked about was the joy of hosting the game.


It wasn’t without its issues. Sometimes the seats were empty, corporate sponsors deciding not to come to the early events. The transportation system failed at times, but we in London are use to that, and got around it as we do. Athletes were caught cheating with drugs, and sent home. Athletes decided to not try in some events, and were reprimanded.

Overall, the negatives were far, far outweighed by the positives. Crowds gathered to cheer on Team GB. Usain Bolt wowed the crowds 3 times. Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time.

I was about to write that London embraced the world, but frankly that is the best thing about London - it is a city that welcomes all - Olympics or not. The Olympics is just London writ large. The world’s games, in the world’s city.


Opening Ceremony

Prior to being swept into the Olympic fold, I had booked a trip to Hungary to see the Grand Prix. On the Friday night, though, now swept up into the Olympic fever, I went out to an Irish pub in Hungary and watched the opening ceremony. It was crazy and strange but awesome, and pulled me into the games.



The first event I saw was the boxing at the ExCeL centre in east London. I saw bantam weight, heavy weight and super heavy weight boxing. 12 bouts in all, and probably one of the most impressive the games. We saw a Japanese boxer knock down his opponent five times and still lose (he won on appeal). We saw Iranian heavyweight Ali Mazaheri disqualified. We saw a fight were the opponent didn’t show up (did you know they call that a “walk over?”). We saw two GB fighters win, and also a Canadian super heavyweight. Canadian Simon Kean won on countback against Yoka of France.


Women’s games

The last time London held the games, in 1948, the longest running event for women was the 200 metres. It was felt that they shouldn’t be made to run longer. In 2012, Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia set an Olympic record in the marathon of 2:33:07.

An important point about this games is about equality. This is the first games where every country represented had both male and female athletes, and the first games where every sport had representatives of both genders. Most visibly, boxing for women.

Beach Volleyball

Next up, the Beach Volleyball. Hosted in the Horse Guards Parade, which has been the tournament and parade grounds dating back to the time of Henry VIII. Unlike the jousting tournaments of old, this year it saw scantily clad women and men play volleyball on tons of imported sand.


It was undeniably entertaining. As long as I didn’t think about what I had paid for the tickets (well too much for sitting 22 rows back), nor that I was seeing an Olympic sport. I know that the people playing were undeniably athletic, and no doubt the best in the world at what they do.

However, I couldn’t help but thinking that what they were doing was playing a holiday game. “Hey, we are at the beach, I brought the volley ball and the frisbee. What do you want to play?” I couldn’t help but asking myself, “is that really deserving of a medal?”

Random Olympic Shots

BT London Live was a pair of viewing sites within the Victoria and Hyde Parks in London. Good place to get together with others to watch the games.


Of course, pubs were also high on the list of places to watch the games, with most pubs showing the games non-stop during the two weeks.


There were various places around the city where countries were hosting hospitality sites. Brazil was hosting in Somerset House, just beside my office. It featured a Brazilian flag flying above Somerset House and Brazilian music in the courtyard.


When I wasn’t at the events live, I was still watching. Here’s a few of my selected Facebook posts during the Olympics...

Watching Olympic fencing. A bit like watching Tron. Two warriors in darkness, blue and red lights highlight the play space, electronic beeps announce points. 2016 - light cycles as an Olympic sport?

Similar levels of athleticism, dexerity and showmanship. The only difference between parkour, Cirque du Soliel and men's Olympic gymnastics is uniform. Parkour wears hoodies and low rise jeans. Cirque dresses like clowns. Olympians dress in tight, tight, tight shorts and chest hugging vests. Think for the purposes of expanding their fan base, the Olympians should select a new uniform that is a little less YMCA.

Have been watching the women's Judo on and off during the day on M1 ELO in Hungarian. Two things I have learnt. (1) Women in the 57kg weight class are generally quite foxy. (2) I know nothing about how Judo is scored, and the Hungarian commentary is not helping my understanding.

Diving is a strange sport. It is like the start of a swimming race, but without the swimming. It is solely about the start of an activity, the transition from not swimming and being on dry land to swimming and being in the water. I can't think of other sports like that. There is no sport for starting a running race, nor for bursting out of the gates in skiing. Who came up with this?

Arrived at Heathrow terminal 1. No line for immigration. In fact, there were agents waiting. Through in less than a minute.

Why do people keep reporting, blogging and tweeting about how quiet the tube is? Keep your mouthes shut and let those of us still commuting have a decent journey for the next few weeks!

Sharing a table at the bar before heading into the arena. My co-table inhabitant, while pouring pints of stout into empty water bottles (lines are long when you get in, he explained) asked me, "have you travelled far?" I replied, "Clapham." <pause> "it's two transfers."


If I ran the Olympics, a javelin throw would not count unless the javelin stuck in the ground. Glancing off the ground and sliding along would not count. It's meant to be a weapon, and if you can't stick it into something, then it isn't a very good weapon.
(I am told this is only allowable in the multi-event sports like heptathlon).

Shouldn't Sharapova be playing for "The Independent Tennis Training Facilities of Florida?"

SOOO upset with myself. I had the opportunity two weeks ago to buy athletics tickets for the Paralympics. But I held off. "it's not like the Paralympics is going to sell out, right?" I said to myself. And now, nothing available at all. London has embraced this Olympics (now that it has started), and there is very little available to see at all. Just hoping that something comes up available in the next few weeks.

The Brazilian flag flies over Somerset House. Some alternate reality where Brazil won WWII? Nope, just the Brazilians setting up camp for the Olympics

(On the Canadian women’s football win, where Canada won Bronze over France, reported as Late Strike Seals Canada a Bronze). Good headline writing. Canada "seals" a bronze. Get it? Seals! Ar ar ar.

Ethiopian runner in the women's 5000 metres named Burka. Ironic a woman named burka should be showing so much skin.

Team GB dropped the baton, but Canada qualified. Take a lesson from them. Coat the baton in the sticky internal goo of clubbed baby seals, makes the passes flawless.

Yanquis just set a world record in the 4x100 women's final. Erased a record held by East German "women." The last record in the books held by East Germany. This is truly the end of communism.

Women's 1500. Turkey 1-2. Cakir followed by Bulut. Number 2 with a bullet, then?

Modern Pentathlon. Awesome. Here's a sword. Now here's a gun, run with it. Now here's a horse. Swim! Random goodness.

Amazing relay! WR for Jamaica. Bronze for Canada. Yes! - Followed closely by - NOOOO! A DQ!?! devastated - followed by - Oh no. one of the Canadians stepped on the line, and thus was out of his lane. Such a shame.

Rhythmic Gymnastics, solo and team, has impressed me. Generally (admitting to a bit of perviness), I watch women's gymnastics and think about the general prettiness of the women. Rhythmic Gymnastics, I am (like a house cat or gold fish) enthralled by the movement of the ribbons, balls and hula-hoops. I don't even notice until the end that there are actual people involved in throwing around the ribbons.


Last day of the games, and the last free event - the men’s marathon. I went to Blackfriars Station, and watched the marathoners pass 6 times - as they ran 3 loops of the marathon route.


It was amazing how close you could get to the athletes. The first time they came around, I actually jumped back as they came around the corner and I realised they were just a foot from me. Amazing.


Closing Ceremony

It has been a great time. The volunteers were amazing. The Londoners were amazing. The visitors were great. I hope everyone had a great time in the city.


A final Facebook post repost form me - London 2012 has been an absolute joy. I was very sceptical before it started, but it has swept me up emotionally, been great to host the visitors and the volunteers here and has been no problem moving around. Well done, London. It has been an excellent games.


Posted by GregW 14:06 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged olympics sports events Comments (1)

Engines Running Hot: Hungarian Grand Prix 2012

July 29, 2012 - Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary

sunny 35 °C
View Hungarian Grand Prix 2012 on GregW's travel map.

Last weekend of July saw me in Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

The temperature was crazy. I landed on Friday, and the thermometer said it was 41C. It was hard not to start melting right away. I managed some site seeing on the Friday, and spent Saturday and Sunday at the track. There was the threat of rain all weekend, but we didn't see any until Sunday evening, long after the race had ended. So most of the weekend was spent in the heat and the sun.


I had tickets for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but because I only flew from London on the Friday, I missed the two practices and races on Friday.

Saturday was the first day at the track. I got up early, and headed up to the Árpád híd metro stop, where buses left every 10 minutes or so for the track. The bus was free, and took about 30 to 45 minutes to get there.

The Hungaroring is just outside the village of Mogyoród, Hungary. The bus dropped us in the village, and then there was a 10 to 15 minute walk to the track itself. You can bring food and drink into the track, so lots of people were lugging coolers and bags full of food, water and beer.

I was sitting in the Gold 2 section, along the main straight just by the finish line.

Saturday saw two sessions of Formula One, and races for Porsche, GP2 and GP3. First session for the F1 was free practice 3, and then later was the qualifying sessions.

Qualifying in F1 is split into 3 short sessions. After each session, a group of the slowest cars are eliminated. In the end, my favourite driver Lewis Hamilton took pole position, meaning he got to start at the front of the pack for the race the next day.


Good atmosphere at the track, and for those who didn't bring a picnic lunch (like me), there are lots of food options. While more expensive than similar food options in Budapest, it was certainly reasonably priced as compared to some of the other sporting venues I have been to, including other F1 tracks.


Sunday was race day. There were a few early races for the Porsche, GP2 and GP3 cars (including one of the cars coming sliding across the line scrapping the barriers after a last second crash), and then the F1 started.

After an initial restart due to one of the drivers lining up in the wrong position, the race was underway. Lewis Hamilton was first pressed by Romain Grosjean and then by Kimi Raikkonen, but in the end was able to take the checkered flag.


I've put together a video of my view of the race. About 8 minutes, if you are so interested.

Headed back into Budapest by catching the bus. It was the same walk to get to the track in reverse, and after a full day in the sun, the 15 minute walk was making me a little faint. One of the girls who holds the flags of the drivers at the start of the race had fainted already in the heat, and arriving at the bus stop and seeing thousands of people waiting and slowly crushing together, I was concerned I might faint as well.

Luckily, I kept on my feet, though I did see another fan faint. His friends decided that they would grab a taxi instead of a waiting for a bus, and wandered off.

Trying to catch the bus was a nightmare. The crowds were thronged out onto the streets, and the buses kept having to stop well from the front of the line, where people would pile on. I eventually squeezed by way onto a bus, and made it back to Budapest.

Sweaty, hot, rammed on public transit for 45 minutes after spending the day in the sun on hard plastic seats I was beat. "There has to be a better way to see these races," I said to myself.

That evening, as I headed out to dinner after a lie down and a shower back at my hotel, I saw Bernie Eccelstone and Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner coming out of the fancy lounge bar of my hotel, and getting into the back of a black, tinted windowed Mercedes. They pulled closed the door, and the car roared off into the rainy Budapest night with a low throaty growl.

That's got to be a better way to travel to and from the race. Maybe next year...


Posted by GregW 04:00 Archived in Hungary Tagged sports events formula_one Comments (0)

Pimm's and Strawberries at the All England Club

Seats in Court One

sunny 20 °C

I talked recently about how I was starting to feel more British, saying that "now I feel that getting a British passport is not just a gateway to further adventure somewhere else, but instead I see it as cementing my position here in the UK. It is about giving me the paperwork to match with my feelings - that London is now my home."

If there is anything that demonstrates this, it is the fact that a few weeks ago as the weather turned nice, with the sun coming out and the weather increasing, I thought to myself, "I could really go to a Pimm's."


Pimm's Number 1 Cup is a gin-based drink spiced with various spices and fruits. It is most often mixed with English lemonade (a clear, carbonated lemon-based drink, like Sprite or 7-up for my North American friends), along with various fruits, cucumber and mint.

When I first tried Pimm's four years ago when I first got to the UK, I was not impressed. I have my first taste watching the tennis at The Championship at Wimbledon, and said, "I'm not really sure what Pimm's is, but it was a brownish, cold liquid poured into a cup with ice, mint and a slide of lemon and lime. It tasted a little like cold tea. I don't mean iced tea. I mean hot tea that has gone cold. Like all strange, foreign foods I don't know, it was worth trying, and then it was worth switching over to beer."

I now, however, have turned around on Pimm's, and now often enjoy one when the sun comes out and London heats up. It is a decent summer drink for picnics, patios or any other outdoor lounging activities.

So when I was recently invited to again watch the tennis at the All England Lawn Tennis club (aka Wimbledon), I was looking forward to having a glass or two of Pimm's.

My friend and I packed a lunch instead of depending on the often pricey food and drink at Wimbledon, which included handy pre-mixed cans of Pimm's, along with hard-boiled eggs, cheese, onion and cheese pasties and fresh strawberries.

The weather reports for Saturday were up and down all week, but once we arrived at the day the sun was out, but the air had a touch of a nip and a good breeze which kept it cool.

We had passes to Court One, which despite the primary numbering is the second best court in the championship (behind Centre Court). The order of play for the day was one women's match and two men's matches.

Varvara Lepchenko (USA) v Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic)(4)
Kei Nishikori (Japan)(19) v Juan Martin Del Potro (Argentina)(9)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France)(5) v Lukas Lacko (Slovakia)

First up was Petra Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion on the women's side, who easily beat her opponent Lepchenko. We watched the first set and a half, and when it was obvious it was heading towards a rout, we exited and enjoyed our packed lunch.

Next up was Japanese Nishikori versus Argentinian Del Porto. The crowd was behind mostly Nishikori, who put on a spirited fight and took Del Potro to a tie break at one point. In the end though, Del Potro was too strong and big for Nishikori and Del Potro moved through.

Del Porto Serving on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Del Porto Serving on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Nishikori Stretches for it on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Nishikori Stretches for it on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Another break, and so we headed out for Ice Cream. Pricey to purchase on the site, but a good on a warm day.

Back to the action where Tsonga, currently the 6th ranked player in the World. He faced up against Slovakia's Lukas Lacko. Tsonga was strong, and easily defeated Lacko. At the end of the match, Tsonga leaped and twirled around the court at the win, moving on to next face Mardy Fish.

Lacko waiting for serve from Tsonga on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Lacko waiting for serve from Tsonga on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Tsonga on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Tsonga on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

The shadows were then getting long, and dinner was calling, so we moved on, leaving behind the tennis.

On Centre Court, two long matches earlier in the day meant that British hope Andy Murray was just getting started, a match that lasted until just after 11:00 PM, meaning that after having dinner and a stroll, made it home to see the final end of the match.

Balls Up on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Balls Up on Number 1 Court, The Championship, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon

Four years after my first trip to Wimbledon, and a different experience than last time. Seated tickets instead of general admission, full matches instead of wandering around and watching sets here and there, and an enjoyment of a few glasses of Pimm's.

Posted by GregW 01:10 Archived in England Tagged sports events Comments (0)

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