Wembley appearance highlights newfound popularity

By | Sport
The Dolphins ran out 38-14 winners over the Oakland Raiders at London's iconic Wembley stadium. credit@Miami Dolphins via Twitter

On Sunday Wembley hosted an enthralling match-up between the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders. A highly-anticipated affair with an audience whose numbers neared Wembley’s 90,000 capacity, the game was the first of three to take place on Britain’s shores. As American football continues to gain in popularity in Britain, fans are demonstrating their increased horizons, finding the appeal in a sport that was often maligned on this side of the Atlantic.

In front of the packed crowd Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill overcame his recent form to turn in a strong performance, proving himself a reliable fixture for the team in the face of coach Joe Philbin declining to endorse him for a starting role, throwing short to make steady gains as the Dolphins dominated the game. Twice completing touchdown passes, the first for thirteen yards to Mike Wallace and the second for eighteen to Dion Sims, Tannehill made great use of the Raiders depleted line, with linebackers Nick Roach and Sio Moore both on the inactive list and Kaluka Maiava pulling his hamstring in the first quarter. While his physical capability is without question, Tannehill also demonstrated a mental resolve to recover his form that might rekindle Philbin’s faith in his first choice quarterback.

Wallace’s catch gave the Dolphins the lead in a game that began far closer than it finished, after the Raiders took the early advantage with a first quarter touchdown. The Dolphins responded with a field goal before Wallace’s catch gave them the lead. Combining with Tannehill’s passing was a composed running game from running back Lamar Miller, who rushed for two touchdowns as the Dolphins emerged with a 38-14 victory.

As the NFL returned to Wembley for the first of three games this season, growing interest in American football in Britain has given rise to talk of a permanent fixture, with conversations regarding a London-based team emerging. Considered in the past, the success of the international series has reinvigorated discussions over a British team, with initial projections suggesting an intended launch by 2021. Such a decision, backed by (among others) Dallas Cowboys owners Jerry Jones, might provide increased opportunities for British hopefuls to play on the sports biggest stage. Currently just one player in the NFL hails from Britain, with Menelik Watson starting for the Raiders in Sunday’s game. Four Britons were available in last seasons draft, with Watson picked up in the second round, while British Olympian Lawrence Okoye, who reached the discus finals, was signed as a free agent for the San Francisco 49ers despite little experience in the sport.

Tom Hort, meanwhile, joined the Milano Rhinos at the start of this season, arriving in Italy from the Oklahoma Sooners. With Britain producing talented players despite the shortage of top-drawer coaching at both youth and professional levels, the formation of a London team would provide a platform for the development of players to become more fruitful, thus providing superior opportunities for British prospects.

The influx of American football also brings with it some pertinent social issues. Speaking in the run-up to Sunday’s game Raiders tackler Watson, a native of Greater Manchester, called attention to the productive stance on healthy living and body image the sport promotes. As greater attention is paid to the NFL in Britain, Watson said “It’s a great sport and there are a lot of opportunities for kids of all sizes. Look at me, I’m 300lbs.” With body image an increasing concern, affecting both genders, increased attention on the athleticism of those with larger builds is an invaluable asset.

What productive steps might the NFL’s increased presence in Britain yield?

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