Green Bay Packers fans in U.K. are ecstatic the team will play in London. 'It's going to be like a home game.'
European Packers fans were elated Monday upon learning Green Bay will play in London this year. To them, it's been a long time coming.
"Social media is absolutely exploding. Everyone is absolutely ecstatic," said Stephen O'Brien of Wicklow, Ireland, co-founder of the UK & Irish Packers Group, which has 1,200 members. "It’s a great day to be a Packers fan this side of the pond."
The NFL said Monday the Packers will be one of five teams "hosting" international games this season. The Packers will be the last NFL team to play a game abroad during the regular season and European fans are stoked.
"I’ll be there, no matter what. It doesn’t matter how much I’ll have to pay to get a ticket. Even if I don’t get one at face value, I’ll still buy one," said Bryan Weir of Edinburgh, Scotland, who lived in Wisconsin for 10 years in the 2010s.
Even though they have never played in the United Kingdom, the Packers have a lot of fans there and across Europe.
Fans wear jerseys and other gear supporting their teams at NFL games, even if their team is not playing, said Michael Johnson of Leicester, England. He estimates Packers fans were in the top three every time he's attended a game. And it will be bigger when the Packers actually play there.
"It’s going to like a home game. It will be 60% or more Packers fans I would imagine, when it comes to match day," Johnson said.
When Matthew Maclaurin of Loch Lomand, Scotland, was told the Packers were coming, he thought it was a hoax, so long had he waited for such news.
"This was maybe the one team I thought would never come to the UK. It’s all about giving up that home game at Lambeau Field," said Maclaurin, who has a Facebook page, Packers of Scotland, with more than 600 followers.
"I was super, super happy. Crazy excited. I’m already trying to talk to people about trying to get tickets and it’s only been a few hours."
The Packers always refused to give up a home game to play internationally, and teams that did play international games did not want to forgo playing the Packers at their home stadiums because of how well Green Bay fans travel. That is why they remain the only team that has not played a regular-season international game.
But when the NFL expanded the regular season to 17 games last year, it also decreed that every team would play abroad at least once over a nine-year span beginning in 2022. Four teams will be selected each year, not including those that volunteer to play in London — we're looking at you Jacksonville — and they would give up a regular-season home game during the every-other-year their conference has nine of them.
The Packers this year will have eight regular-season home games and one preseason game, leaving them one preseason game short of the normal 10 games at Lambeau Field.
That provoked the ire of some Packers fans on social media, but the UK fans say they want the opportunity to return the hospitality they receive when visiting Lambeau Field, as quite a few of them have done.
"We are a friendly bunch. There’s sort of a bad rep when you look at some of the soccer matches. When it comes to NFL crowds, when you don’t have that sort of parochial, old-school, really hard-ingrained rivalry, every one gets along like they do at Lambeau," O'Brien said.
"The tailgating, we haven’t quite got that down, so we need someone from Wisconsin to bring over cheese curds and brats and show us exactly how it’s done."
While they might be short on tailgating experience, UK fans know their football, O'Brien and Johnson said. They are loud when the defense is on the field and quiet when the offense is working, O'Brien said.
"It’s a very football savvy and intelligent crowd. There isn’t going to be random cheers at random points," Johnson said.
It is generally true that other Packers fans are life-long friends you haven't yet met. Weir has seen that in action.
"I’ve made friends for life, just from going to games. Walking around at tailgates, just talking to people having a beer. I bumped into these guys, now I speak to them on a regular occurrence," Weir said. "It will be good to have our hospitality in London. They’ve looked after us for so long, it will be good for those guys to come over and we can return the favor."
For Maclaurin, the opportunity to mix with other Packers fans at a decent hour is something to look forward to. Packers broadcasts are often in the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. range in the UK.
"Just to actually be with other fans and have a beer together in a bar before the game, then after the game," he said. "Right now, you have to go to a friend’s house or you’re drinking on your own in your house watching the game. It will be nice just to mix with fans from other countries as well.'
Europe is a deceivingly small place. There are a lot of Packers fans in other countries who will make their way to London.
"There will be a lot of Europeans, especially German and Scandinavian fans," Johnson said. "The Packers will be the first championship-caliber team (to play in London). London fans have sat for a lot of bad football."
Who the Packers will play was not announced, but it likely will be one of five teams: Cowboys, Patriots, Giants, Jets or Titans. That assumes it will not be a division opponent and that the NFL, or the networks, would not want one of the premier matchups, the Super Bowl winning Rams vs. the Packers, in a very non-primetime spot.
The Packers said Monday they plan a number of events throughout the week, as does the tourism bureau Discover Green Bay. NFL UK likely will host events as well.
"Every event that's on, I want to be going to; every single, little Packers meeting, everything. Tailgating on the day. I'm fully preparing for like a big weekend," said Yossi Fraser of London.
Contact Richard Ryman at (920) 431-8342 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @RichRymanPG, on Instagram at @rrymanPG or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RichardRymanPG/.