Sports fans all over Britain will be packing bars and living rooms this weekend to watch one of the biggest sporting events of the year. No, not Super Bowl XLVII, the Six Nations rugby tournament, which starts on Saturday.
While many on this side of the pond will be gathering around midday to celebrate the biggest American football game of the season, only die-hard fans will be watching the Super Bowl in Britain. That’s partly because there, American football doesn’t even come close to approaching the other kind of football (soccer) or rugby. (The Metro news site in England recently published a Super Bowl story describing the game to its London audience as “Kind of like an American Football version of the FA Cup Final, only with more pom poms, D-Fence signs and unbridled patriotism.”)
Then there's the fact that the Super Bowl starts at 11:30 p.m. local time.
Still, some sports lovers will gather in Britain to take in the spectacle. Recent NFL games at Wembley Stadium in London have piqued interest in American football. Even though the 49ers and Ravens might not have giant British fan bases, the game promises the kind of intrigue, including a brother-versus-brother coaching matchup, that any sports lover can understand.
"You always get story lines and there's always different angles, but I can't remember a Super Bowl with angles like this. Brothers on opposite sides of the field? From an English comparison, it's the Charltons in the 1966 World Cup Final," said BBC football commentator Darren Fletcher on a recent NFL UK "Inside the Huddle" podcast.
The question is where to watch.
The Super Bowl will be broadcast in the UK on Sky Sports and BBC TV and radio. Those networks have sent teams of announcers and analysts to New Orleans for the play-by-play, including former Philadelphia Eagles fullback Cecil Martin for Sky Sports, former New England Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest for BBC TV and former Indianapolis Colts linebacker Rocky Boiman for BBC radio.
Greg Howson, a web manager and NFL fan in London, is looking forward to a late night staying up to watch with "ale (not Budweiser) and — best of all — no ads on the BBC coverage!" (For some Americans, no ads would mean no reason to watch at all.)
Not surprisingly, many of the NFL’s biggest fans in Britain are American expats, most of whom live in London.
London’s biggest Super Bowl party could be the “Super Bash,” hosted by NFL UK, the official NFL arm in Britain. It’s at Koko, a club in the Camden neighborhood in London best known as a pop music venue. The event will come complete with cheerleaders and plenty of American beer (the first four beers are free, courtesy of Budweiser). Fans applied in advance for the limited supply of tickets to the event; those are long gone.
Bodeans, an American-style barbecue joint popular with meat-loving locals and expats, is also sold out. The Sports Café should have a similarly American feel with its plethora of televisions and American-sized space (divided into rooms with evocative names like “The Big Screen Restaurant” and “The HD Screen Restaurant”). Tickets — which only cover admission to the bar — are £20 (about $32).
Parties around Britain
Outside London, those living in good-sized cities can head to a local sports bar. A national chain, Rileys Sports Bar, will start the party at 8 p.m. in cities like Birmingham and Brighton.
University towns, especially those with sizable U.S. exchange student populations, will also see Super Bowl action. The Jolly Sailor pub in Canterbury is offering free entry to American students and free shots to those dressed as jocks or cheerleaders for the game. Its Super Bowl ads even promise that most American of party accessories: red plastic cups!
People in small towns will more likely stay home if they care to watch the game. Although you would think the local pub would be the perfect spot to watch the Super Bowl, most of them close around 11:30, especially in small towns and even more so on a Sunday night. Even in larger cities, they often close by 1 a.m. That said, if enough patrons want to watch the game, a pub might consider a lock-in — a time-honored tradition of locking the doors at the usual closing time but letting whoever’s already in remain.
Finally, those desperate to watch the game in truly traditional style — at home or in a neighborhood bar with a pile of food and a bunch of people who may or may not care about the game — you could always try contacting the local American football club.
Yes, Britain has its own American football league, under the auspices of the British American Football National League. Three adult divisions feature teams such as the powerhouse Birmingham Bulls and London Blitz. Seasons run April through July, and the BritBowl (the much less hyped British league version of the Super Bowl) is in August.
Look up the BAFANL team in a given city (most of them have Facebook pages) to see where you can gather with local folks. For example, the Birmingham Bulls will join the University of Birmingham Lions at Walkabout, an Australian pub (Australians are almost American, right?).
As in the U.S., even some Americans in the UK aren’t invested in the Super Bowl. “I did realize, as we were standing in Russell Square tube station tonight, that there was this big huge event going on that was going to fill my social media streams this weekend,” said Rachel Thibodeaux, a "Seattle techie" who's living in London for four months. Neither of her favorite teams (Saints or Seahawks) will be in the big game, so she likely won’t seek out a place to watch it. She admits she’ll miss the nachos, though.
by Christy Karras
Top: Frank Gore and the other San Francisco 49ers will play against the Ravens in the Super Bowl. British fans will watch the game at 11:30 p.m. their time. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Left: The NFL International Series, played at Wembley Stadium, has helped galvanize British NFL fans. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Lower: The 49ers played in London in 20010 as part of the NFL International Series at Wembley Stadium. (Photo by Thomas from London, UK, via Wikimedia Commons)