Exactly one month from the 2021 NFL Kick-off, Michael Lavery takes us inside the life of an NFL fan in Ireland.
It’s a strange old experience, isn’t it? This notion, of supporting a team from a distant country, in any sport, is typically unheard of – but for fans of the NFL, on this side of the Atlantic, it is nothing out of the ordinary. To devote hours of your life and an unspeakable amount of energy and emotion towards a sporting franchise located on the other side of the planet is an ideology shared by so many across this Island. We endure late nights followed by early mornings, midnight alarms to catch the primetime games and spend most of the year explaining to others “It is nothing like Rugby”. But truthfully? We wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you’re reading this at the time of it being published, chances are you also experienced the heat wave we enjoyed for nearly three weeks. The blistering heat and uncomfortable nights with the windows ajar brought the topic of the autumn and winter nights to the forefront of many conversations. While I personally don’t mind the sun and warm weather, I am, at heart, a cold weather person. The darker nights, the colourful dressings of our parks from natures annual clear out and the smell of turf burning from every second house are some of my favourite things about the later part of the calendar. My favourite, however, is football season – and the festivities that are associated with it.
What is it that I, and we, love so dearly about it? From September right through until February I must give advanced notice to friends, family, and everyone in between that I am block booked on Sundays. My schedule gets cleared and my full, undivided attention is directed towards the National Football League. I would argue to a certain extent that we get the best of both worlds where we are. We have all day Sunday to relax and unwind from Saturday’s ventures, before settling in to relax and enjoy an evening of the sport we love. The time difference uniquely benefits us in that regard. The six o’clock start is late enough in the day for the full afternoon to be enjoyed, while the nine o’clock start is early enough to tempt you into watching the full game. And for the real nuts, the Sunday Night Football experience gets underway at one in the morning (Although Monday’s alarm comes scarily quick!).
In the beginning, many of us likely thought we were outcasts of the sporting world – the only ones in our towns who enjoyed this foreign sport. But as time progressed and our social circles/twitter follows grew, we learned of an entire community existing on this Island. One good example would be that of myself. I live in the north of County Armagh and I’ve been watching the NFL religiously now for about nine years. When I first began, I was more than convinced that I was the sports biggest fan, not only in Ireland but this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Then, as time went on, I would begin to see people wearing team merchandise more regularly – everything from hats and scarves to hoodies and jerseys could be spotted on the streets of my town, donned by people from every background imaginable but all with a similar passion for the game. Follow that trend up until the present date and it is difficult to go a single day without bumping into a fellow fan on the streets – the community is huge and is continuing to grow year on year. Its full of passionate (And by passionate, I mean I literally know a fella with an Eagles tattoo!) knowledgeable fans who have a serious interest in the sport and a desire to see their teams do well – we aren’t casuals, or outsiders - we are deeply invested in this sport and the goings on within the League. We follow the journeys of second-string rookies, we have a constant eye on the playoff bracket and April’s draft order and perhaps most importantly, we tune in religiously every Sunday with the hope that come February we will watch our team hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Each of us have our own personal stories and reasons as to why we follow American Football. In fact, most of us can recall the “moment” we became fans and never looked back. Perhaps there are family relations living in the states and that’s where the connection comes from or maybe there was that one defining game or play that caught your attention and made you fall in love with the sport. For me, it was a wet Sunday evening in 2013, I’d spent all day playing football and came home to relax on the couch. Flicking through the channels I came across “SEATTLE @ CAROLINA”. A second-year quarterback by the name of Russell Wilson (Admittedly who I knew nothing about) danced his way across the screen, making accurate throws and mesmerizing escapes. It was from that Sunday onwards that I was a Seattle Seahawks and furthermore an NFL fan – and that’s all it takes, for one player or one team to grab your attention and you can be hooked for life.
When September comes around each year the League becomes a part of our lives. We listen to podcasts and read articles and consume football content until it’s coming out of our eyes – we eat, sleep and breath football for six months of the year and all in the while we’re thousands of miles away. I believe we love it so much because we feel so involved - It gives us a sense of belonging, a sense that we are part of something much greater than ourselves and that we are members of a team and a fanbase built from hundreds, if not thousands of other likeminded people. So be it old traditions or new, your first season watching or your fortieth, enjoy this season and let it remind you why we follow this sport from afar. For the highs and the lows, the wins, and the losses and most importantly – the craic!