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Tottenham High Road is a new landmark, a new location to navigate, with a new stadium to explore. The home of the 25th game to be played in London (the first of two games played there this year), in the National Football League's 100th season. All great landmarks in the history of the game.
Sundays in London, in October, are now traditionally NFL Sundays. It's just the way it is, from the original one game in 2007 to the now multiple gamedays we have now. So, as we enter the 2019 version the buzzword was Tottenham. A stadium that has been long overdue to host not just its permanent soccer team, Tottenham Hotspur, but also a guaranteed two NFL games each year for the next decade. This is a purpose-built NFL stadium, something that back in 2007 and the previous two decades before, would've been laughed at. It is now a fully functioning reality. More than that, in fact, as it is the newest NFL stadium anywhere, and although it might not be big as some it has been crafted with the fans in mind. The reason is that this, at least for the moment isn't home to one team. It caters for all. Of course, Wembley is a neutral home for all that play there, with the one exception of the England national soccer team, but it wasn't designed for NFL games, it just hosts them.
This is a new era for gridiron football in the United Kingdom, with investments not just in the new stadium but projects to allow more young aspiring athletes a better pathway into the game. The NFL Academy was launched in the past summer - where else but at Tottenham? - giving a chance for talented players in the UK the chance to enhance their knowledge and skills of the game, as well as furthering their education with studies at nearby Barnet and Southgate College. This is no longer a one-way street as far as the NFL are concerned, they are now well on their way to be a fully committed, integrated part of the society, and long may that continue.
Back to the stadium and what they've managed to achieve that's different to Wembley. Well, for one it's a more intimate environment. You are a lot closer to the action, whether that be the sideline or the end zone, you immediately feel part of the game. The sound is incredibly loud, even with a balanced fan support, so you can only imagine what it would be like if there was a partisan crowd. This is helped by the roof design, with specialised panels reflecting the sound back down inside the heart of the playing area. Whether there will be a franchise in London is still very much up in the air, but it's safe to say that should it ever materialise Tottenham will be its home.
With any new project there are teething problems. The transports links are always the first thought of travelling fans. Even though it might not be suited to everyone, you learn to adapt, and when the feedback comes in the NFL offices in London and New York will do their best to overcome any problems. The main thing to remember is that any event that has tens of thousands of people congregating into a largely residential part of a major city will always have its issues. In any case there are several main network links into the area so transport is adequate now, and will improve over time.
Outside the stadium many thought the lack of open space would mean a deterioration of the pre match atmosphere (although over the last few years Wembley has suffered due to redevelopment of the area). The roads around the Tottenham stadium were closed a couple of hours before kick-off and there were the usual fare of activities and plenty to eat and drink. Again there were some minor issues that will be ironed out in due course.
Onto the games themselves and there can be no argument that night games bring a more vibrant occasion. As the sun goes down, the bright neon lights shimmer brightly, and by the end of the first game in this year's London games the four corner video scoreboards hanging high in the rafters showed an Oakland Raiders win by the narrow score of 24-21 over the Chicago Bears. The Raiders were the home team but were outnumbered in support. This didn't stop them scoring 17 unanswered points in the second quarter to seemingly have the game wrapped up. As always though, halftime adjustments were made, and the Bears rattled off 21 points without reply to lead going into the last period of play. The game was now much more even but a 97-yard drive ended when rookie running back Josh Jacobs forced the ball over the goal line with just under two minutes remaining to seal the win.
A week later it was the turn of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to play host, with the Carolina Panthers the visiting team. Once more both teams were well represented by the fans, but the Panthers had the edge in support, and they were rewarded with a fine defensive display as they hurried and sacked the Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston all afternoon. The final score of 37-26 flattered the Buccs, they were second best and most of that a distant second. Much of the talk going into the game was about Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, who has stepped up this season to be an early contender for MVP. He didn't gain many yards, but his two touchdowns led the way.
The real acid test of any new stadium is how the players and coaches react to it. It always helps to be on the winning team but Oakland QB Derek Carr went as far as to say: “This is definitely if not the, one of the best stadiums I've ever been in my life.” High praise indeed.
This was backed up by Panthers Head Coach, Ron Rivera: “It's terrific, it really is. Whatever they did they did it right. The way the locker room is set up, structure as far as the training room, the hydrotherapy room for the guys, it's top notch. I think if you come here, you should be able to appreciate the situation.”