Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher is a dissenting
voice amongst the NFL players sitting waiting for the lock out to end, hoping
that the seasons start is delayed so he doesn’t have to travel to London to
play at Wembley against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in October.
He doesn’t understand why the NFL organise games outside the
USA and he is “not excited to go to
London.” I don’t understand what Brian’s problem is and you all probably
don’t understand the title of this week’s blog.
Despite our nation being a small one, the variances in
dialect and accents are vast from the broad Scottish of the Highlands to the
Rhyming Cockney slang of London (see Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins for the
definitive cockney!) Where I come from in Yorkshire, the greatest county in
England, if you were to hear someone say urlacher they would actually mean “A
lack of” (Ur lac er).
Why doesn’t Brian want to come? The snippets of the
interview I have seen, he doesn’t really clarify his reasons, but he does continue
to make some pretty contradictory statements.
In his interview to ESPN 1000 in Chicago Urlacher has a moan
about the playing surface at Soldier Field, his home stadium, and that the
surface in Tampa is one of the best in the NFL. This can be taken as a bit of a
swipe at the surface at Wembley Stadium, which has had its problems.
The first time fans in the US saw the field at the new
Wembley was the first International Series game between the Dolphins and the
Giants in 2007. The game was played in horrific weather and was a mud bath.
However the problems with that field were already known. The size of the new
stadium is absolutely immense, and with a lack of wind getting down to pitch
level, the grass was not drying properly.
Three days after that game, the England soccer team played a
crucial match against Croatia, again in driving rain. England lost the game 3-2
and failed to qualify for the European Championships in 2008. The NFL game was
heavily blamed for making the pitch terrible that night causing England to miss
a major tournament for the first time in 14 years and coting the coach, Steve
Mclaren, his job.
Wembley cost the English Football Association an absolute
fortune to build and the costs had to be recouped somehow. Staging NFL games,
as well as concerts, motor racing (the Race of Champions) and rugby matches
bring in much needed revenue, so the field was taking a constant hammering.
Since that week in November in 2007 there have been constant
attempts to sort the field out, with the turf constantly being re-laid,
generally to not much success.
That was until last year, when the pitch was re-laid with
artificial fibres intermingled with the grass to knit the field together. This
has been a roaring success, with Wembley recently hosting the most prestigious
club Soccer match in the world, the UEFA Champions League Final (the European
Soccer equivalent of the Super Bowl). UEFA were so impressed with the facilities
that the stadium, which had not held the game since its previous incarnation in
1992, has been awarded the game again in 2013, an unprecedented quick return.
So Brian can’t be complaining about the field. It must be
the weather then. In his interview, Urlacher states: “The weather I think is the biggest advantage we have against teams
that don’t play in our weather.”
From that statement I can only presume Brian hasn’t been to
London in the fall (are you impressed with my Americanisms?). If any team is
getting an advantage in playing that game in London, it’s not the Bucs. Having
been to Central Florida in October and being amazed at staff at Disney’s Animal
Kingdom being wrapped up in coats and gloves whilst I wore shorts, I dread to
think what Tampa Bay will make of the rain and fog of London at that time of
So why isn’t Brian excited about coming to London? Compared
to Soldier Field he will be playing on lush playing surface which surely must
be as good as that at Raymond James Stadium? Weather wise, he will still have
an advantage, the cold and wet weather will be far worse than anything Tampa
would have to offer at that time of year.
I can only presume that like many Americans, he feels that
nothing outside the good old US of A is worth bothering about and that the NFL
should stay as an insular sport, not concerned with building up a fan base
around the world.
Next week I will expand on this subject and talk about why
the NFL should not only continue to play games overseas, they should look to be
giving fans outside the USA better fare than has currently been offered.