Lions in London

Four sports fans flew across the Atlantic for football and football. London hosted the NFL Lions at Wembley Stadium against the Falcons on Sunday Oct. 26. On Saturday, West Ham upset Manchester City in Premier League play, 2-1 at Upton Park for a version of “real football” on Saturday. The sporting events alone made the trip well worth the effort.  Pair two dramatic wins with a glimpse of the Queen’s motorcade in front of Buckingham Palace, a historic pub-crawl to the The Black Friar, to nearly being squashed in the tube, it was a solid London itinerary.

A bloody history oozes in London, showing off relics of the crown’s past greed, power and uncompromising nature. The Tower of Torture and Bloody Mary are evidence enough of that. Join a Beefeater on a tour to get the full gory story of who died when and how many heads were displayed on the bridge over the river Thames. The history lesson left my legs and toes beyond tired; we walked over 10 miles everyday utilizing the tube to cover the longer jaunts.

London is also the land of pubs, minding the gap, and the toilet trip was always down a basement staircase, where you’ll need to mind your head! Craft beer has found its way to London in the form of cask ales, which we quaffed in copious amounts. And, the norm in London is for pub-goers to spill out in to the alleys and drink beer in groves on the street. The pubs are small and typically full, but the street always had a spot (smoker or not). So, mind your head at the pub toilets and mind the gap between the tube and the platform. As a pedestrian, look to the right, instead of the left: Drivers and double-decker buses are speeding along in a different lane than America… the correct side of the road as any good Brit would say.

Through the miracle of flight and a five-hour time change, we walked through Hyde Park in the London morning sunshine, only to slip into bed at midnight, back in Michigan all in the same day. Tired legs or not, we pushed through on our final day to get glimpses of The Royal Albert Hall, Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, Kensington Palace and the Victoria & Albert Museum. With merely five days to spend, the exterior is all we saw of London’s impressive museum collection. The only line we braved was at Westminster Abbey, to see memorials and crypts of William the Conqueror, Henry VIII, to Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I.

Back to football, I enjoyed the West Ham match more than the American football version. It is the world’s game after all and London serves as a seasoned host to many teams. My fan foursome witnessed the Hammers upsetting Manchester City, from the Bobby Moore upper deck. We sat, wearing our scarves, eating meat pies and singing the “Bubbles” song right along with all the cockney boys.

I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,

They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky,

Then like my dreams,
They fade and die.

Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere,

I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.

West Ham hung on to a 2-1 win, after Man City strikers banged two off the post. How did we get tickets? By becoming members of the West Ham football club! We were happy to root for the local London team and the Queen’s team too.

As for the football Lions, their fate was buffeted by the lion statues and symbols prevalent across London. The lion is an oft-used symbol on England’s crest, representing strength and the ruling class. The Lion outclassed the Falcon, who was stripped of its wings to fly to a victory. But, it was luck not fate that sealed the win. Sunday morning, our football foursome set off toward Wembley on the tube, with the goal of teaching the Brits a thing about tailgating. The NFL in London experience was more about selling merch than eating, drinking and reveling. We waited 45 minutes to get a Budweiser but luckily ran into a “Kick-a-licious” tailgate group.  Harvard Rugland, the Norwegian kicker with a viral nickname had a short stint as a Lion. Hanging with his crew, we made an appearance on Norwegian television, singing the Lions’ fight song.

Inside the stadium, that holds 90,000+, there was a rainbow of jerseys, representing every team. From our upper deck perch, we had Bengals behind and Cheeseheads to our right, but our foursome, cheered and roared as a pack. Our pack lamented the nil to 21 start for the entire first half, focusing instead on piles of fish & chips. We were buoyed on by some scoring plays early in the 2nd half. The Lions trudged back up a mountain and narrowly missed tying the game on a two-point conversion, with less than two minutes. The defense was stout, like a good English beer, giving the offense the final chance it needed. With 40 seconds, Matthew Stafford led the Lions down the field for a chance to win, resting ironically on a kicker’s foot.

Our kicker missed.
Time expired to zero.
We have lost.
A yellow flag appeared on the turf.
A penalty.
Delay of game, on the Lions.
By rule, the game can’t end on a penalty.
We got to try again, five yards further back.
Really, the Falcons asked?
Yes, said the man wearing stripes!

A strange London twist gave the Lions a second attempt. The kicker made good on his redemption kick, losing turned to winning and we jumped up and down in giddy disbelief. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good!
Big Ben

Buckingham Palace

Tower Bridge

West Ham United

West Ham United

Wembley

Lion statue

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