Last week saw the historic, first ever World Series win by the Giants since their arrival to San Francisco in 1958, also an important moral victory for Bay Area/Northern California sports which have been lackluster at best recently. We watched the highlights, recaps, and even woke up in the middle of the night several times to follow the exciting events as they unfolded, and watched as our friends cheered live on Facebook and Twitter. Last week also saw the first ever San Francisco 49er game played at the legendary Wembley Stadium here in London on Halloween night. When my Dad planned his trip to London, he made up his mind that we would be attending for certain.
I grew up in a diehard 49er household, during a period that they dominated the NFL as one of only a handful of true dynasties in American Football history. In fact my friends still tease me that my sporting memory doesn’t seem to go beyond their fifth and final Super Bowl appearance and victory in 1994, and there is no doubt that this team hasn’t really been the same for a long time now. However, seeing this team that is often referred to as “the best, worst team in the NFL” play as the host city in London was an incredible experience.
The stadium, probably the nicest sporting arena I have ever seen, and fans were overwhelmingly pro-San Francisco while Denver fans were few and far between. Although there was a massive American presence that evening, attendance was close to 84,000 people in total, curiously most of whom were Brits cheering for San Francisco. There is no doubt that in the United Kingdom, football (“soccer”) is the king sport, followed closely by Rugby and Cricket. However, one thing I have learned about the Brits since living here is that they are dedicated sports enthusiasts and enjoy a good game, no matter who invented it and who plays it. While I don’t see American Football becoming hugely popular in the UK anytime in the near future, they appreciate sport enough to loosely follow it, especially if it is being played in their own backyard. The NBA has been slowly trying to make inroads into the UK by playing pre-season games at the O2 Arena here in London, most recently hosting the LA Lakers last month, also to a sold out crowd. My instinct is that basketball is probably slightly ahead in terms of global appeal, based largely on the pace of the game and increasing presence of global players and competitiveness.
Why they were so fiercely pro-San Francisco I’m not sure, aside from the fact that San Francisco is probably the most European of American cities. Although San Francisco is significantly smaller than London in terms of both geographic area and population, they seem to share a sort of kindred spirit although New York would seem to be a more comparable city to London in terms of size, scale, and diversity, but ironically Londoners are not too keen on New Yorkers, seeming to prefer San Franciscans instead.
Decked out in his San Francisco Giants windbreaker jacket and sporting his old retro 49er baseball cap, my Dad fit right in with the crowd at Wembley. Sporting my old school Super Bowl XXIII baseball cap and throwback 49er t-shirt I blended into a stadium that was covered in red jerseys and San Francisco banners, full of Bay Area love, and at times I forgot that I was sitting in London. It was the perfect way of showing pride in what I consider to be two of the greatest cities in the world, London and San Francisco, and even better that the 49ers were finally able to pull off a win for a mostly British crowd that was showering them with unconditional support.
Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants and best of luck to the 49ers for the remainder of their season! --K.V.