For the next week, FC Cincinnati GM and President Jeff Berding will share his thoughts, activities and photos from his trip to Europe through a daily blog. Check back daily for new blog posts.
Sunday was a very cool day as Cincinnati's team, our Bengals, came to England's national football stadium.
While I am here on FCC business, the timing of the trip - the weekend after the USL Championship game and before our free agency begins in earnest - did provide an opportunity to see the Bengals-Redskins game at Wembley Stadium. And with two tickets generously provided via a Bengals friend, Lindsay and I enjoyed the show.
We traveled by train the morning of the game, an easy 45-minute trip. Once we came up from the station, you could immediately tell this was to be a very different sporting event. Enormous crowds of fans wearing jerseys of multiple NFL teams were enjoying tailgating parties and NFL programming. This game was not to be simply a standard two-team, Redskins versus Bengals affair. Rather, it seemed every NFL fan in London came to enjoy American football in person, given the rarity that it's offered.
Once at the gates then inside the stadium, you could also instantly tell Wembley is a soccer stadium. From statues of the greats to displays celebrating championship teams and coaches, we had much to see and enjoy. We had some pregame time down on the sideline and noted the soccer width of the field. Otherwise the game presentation was pretty similar to any other NFL game - although of course we had two national anthems and recognition of veterans who sacrificed their lives serving both countries.
Once we were at our seats and the game was underway, the pro-Bengals programming (the Bengals were the home team) was well done. Like our programming at Nippert Stadium, the NFL organizers had team tarps to block off seats in the lowest rows, given in American football fans cannot see over the players. They also had plastic cards on seats for patriotic displays and Bengals flags to wave - both of which were well-utilized by Lindsay and the majority of fans, other than Redskins die-hards who ignored the orange flags.
As for FCC, while wearing a Bengals orange polo, I did wear a Nike team rain jacket. And it was noted. Plenty of Cincinnati fans stopped me to give a shout of encouragement and thanks. Lots of goodwill was shared about now having the world's sport in Cincinnati. Some from friends I knew - including some Bengals coaches, former players (thanks Anthony Munoz, Ken Anderson and John Simmons) and staff who I hadn't seen in some time - but most from nice fans in the stadium. And it was very gratifying to even hear word of “FC Cincy” from English fans who had read and heard about us as good example of soccer's growth in the U.S. Clearly we are all citizens of the same world. And sports clearly unite us in many very fun ways. We certainly saw that on Sunday. So, it was fitting for a football match at Wembley Stadium to end in a tie. No one went home a loser.