LONDON – Strolling through a sporting goods store near Walt Disney World in Orlando in 1995, 8-year old Paul Clarke decided he wanted to buy a hat.
The young Clarke didn’t have a preference on the team represented on the hat and eventually opted for the one that had the design he liked best. The cap was one of the newly minted St. Louis Rams, soon after the team had relocated from Los Angeles.
Upon returning home to Oxford, England, Clarke started paying more attention to the NFL within the next couple of years. When he decided he wanted to devote his loyalties to a NFL team, the choice was literally right on top of his head.
“I figured I had a Rams hat, might as well support them,” Clarke said. “I supported them and then they won the Super Bowl which was great and I got into it more and more, especially in the last eight years, I follow the draft, look at the players, research who they are, I know every player on the roster.”
On Saturday afternoon in historic Trafalgar Square, Clarke was joined by many of his international Rams fan brethren for the league’s NFL Fan Rally. The Rams, including coach Jeff Fisher and players such as quarterback
Clarke lined up at around 10 a.m., waiting in two separate hour-long lines to claim his spot in the first row in front of the stage. But he was far from the only devoted Rams fan in the crowd on Saturday morning and attending Sunday’s game against the Patriots at Wembley Stadium.
Daniel Whale, of Greenwich, which is in the southeast part of London, made the trip to get a look at the team he’s been following since the 2004 season, which is actually the last time the Rams went to the postseason.
Whale became a fan of the Rams in a quite unconventional way.
“I couldn’t find my television remote at the time but the television was on Seahawks and Rams so I found myself a bit interested in it,” Whale said. “I wasn’t much into the sport at the time but I liked the athleticism and the plays they would come up with. The Rams went on to win that game and then play Atlanta. After the win, I thought “I’m going to see where this goes.’ They didn’t pull through but it was fun so I’ve been a Rams fan ever since then.”
Pete Mackley, of Southampton in London, had a much simpler explanation for how he quite literally got hooked on the blue and gold.
“Years ago American football became big at our school in 88, 89, and we all chose our teams,” Mackley said. “I chose the Rams about 23 years ago. I loved the kit (uniform) and Eric Dickerson.”
Of course, international Rams fans here to see their team this weekend aren’t limited to just natives of Great Britain. With the Rams playing abroad for the first time since the start of the International Series, the opportunity is there for fans all over Europe to make a much shorter trip to see their team.
Quentin Jansen, of the Netherlands, hopped on a train and rode the four hours to town for the weekend and found himself thrilled at the chance to see favorites such as Bradford and Amendola.
Even in the Netherlands, Zuerlein-mania has taken hold.
“They had a certain appeal to me,” Jansen said. “I like Sam Bradford obviously, Danny Amendola as well and Greg the Leg, of course kicking 60-yard field goals. I have a good feeling (about the game). I’m sure that Greg will kick a game-winning and record-breaking field goal.”
For Reme Leemner, who traveled from Germany and arrived at the rally wearing a blue and white Kurt Warner jersey, his Rams fandom traces quite simply to the heyday of Warner and his band of play making brothers in the Greatest Show on Turf.
Leemner believes that having the Rams playing in nearby London provides a great opportunity for all international Rams fans to show what they’ve got.
“It’s very good,” Leemner said. “I think it’s a good opportunity to show that there are a lot of us fans outside of the USA and UK like for me in Germany to see the Rams live in a game.”
With Rams fans from all over the world showing up on Saturday morning, it was also important to note the presence of the devoted and loyal fans from back in St. Louis, fans such as long time season ticket holders Chris and Meg Brooks.
The Brooks’ arrived in London on Friday and went to visit some local sites, specifically some of the sites from the Olympic games. They make it a point to travel to an away game each season and though London was the obvious choice this year, Chris Brooks made it a point to emphasize that he and his wife don’t miss home games.
“We have season tickets and we’ve never missed a home game,” Brooks said. “And this is a home game so we had to come.”
As for their fellow Rams fans here and other countries abroad, following the Rams from afar is a labor of love that has gotten a bit easier over the years. Many of them cited the advancement of social media where they can follow the Rams, their players and the media covering them via Twitter and Facebook.
All of the foreign Rams fans also mentioned the advancement of the television packages available in Europe, which allows them to watch every game live after purchasing special sports packages.
And with a general lack of media coverage of American football in general, all of them use the Internet to keep up with the team as much as possible.
“I can now see all the games and obviously things like the articles and videos posted on stlouisrams.com and training updates and press conferences, it’s a lot easier,” Clarke said. “I don’t miss anything really even being so far away.” (Editor’s Note: Flattery will get you everywhere)
On Sunday, for the first time, die hard fans such as Clarke, Leemner, Mackley, Jansen and Whale will get their chance to see their favorite team play live and in person. It’s an experience many years in the making, one that maybe fans in the States could take for granted.
Judging by their enthusiasm on Saturday afternoon, Sunday will be a very special day not only for the players on the field but those cheering them on in the stands.
“I have waited 23 years to see them live,” Mackley said. “It’s going to be a big, big day for me and I am real excited. I have been to London a few times to watch the games and I was thinking ‘maybe one day,’ and when I heard the news last year, I thought that’s it. I’m a happy man.”