OXNARD, Calif. - Nine months have passed since the Dallas Cowboys ventured over to our fair isle. The game itself was rather predictable, as Dallas laid waste to a far inferior Jaguars team. It is actually rare to see a competitive matchup at Wembley Stadium, and that game did not deviate from expectation. The Cowboys were one step closer to the playoffs, while Jacksonville carried on their descent to picking in the top three of the NFL Draft for a third year in a row.
However, the ultimate legacy of this game was far greater than a result can show.
Being at training camp here in Oxnard, Calif., you can already see the impact that the game had. The Cowboys currently have two British players (Efe Obada and Jack Crawford), a British coach (Aden Durde), and a British writer (me).
As a member of the UK Cowboys fan club, I suppose that we thought our little group contained all the Cowboys fans from our side of the Atlantic. In actual fact, we were completely wrong. London week unearthed a plethora of unknown fans, from Europe as well as Britain. I even discovered that many people I knew supported my team, including my postman and another friend I've known for 10 years!
Walking through the streets of London that week, even far away from Wembley Stadium, there was a sort of 'Cup Final' atmosphere, as if two of our football (or 'soccer', if I must call it that) clubs were about to clash at Wembley for the biggest game of their season. It was the first Wembley game I've attended where the anticipation for the football game outweighed the anticipation for the event.
The fact is that this was a team from a foreign country, in a land which has often been lambasted as one that doesn't care about the sport. It was in the middle of the football season, in a city with six Premier League teams. The Cowboys weren't even the 'home' team! And yet, it was the Dallas Cowboys who took over the city that week, as I saw the star represented everywhere I went, from Wembley to Westminster, and Big Ben to Buckingham Palace.
The game itself provided the next surprise. Attendances at Wembley games tend to be made up of between 10 and 20% of each teams' fans, with the rest being neutrals. I estimated that possibly 50% of the crowd were Cowboys fans, and that isn't even counting the fans who weren't sporting Cowboys gear.
When the Cowboys players ran on the field, there was a mixture of cheers and boos throughout the crowd, which is unlike the usual indifferent hum that other teams get. Dallas have a reputation over here, even to those who are new to the game.
In terms of post-game legacy, I was guided by a more knowledgeable source on the matter than I, in Lauren Draper-Wood, co-founder of the UK Cowboys Fan group. From a purely statistical standpoint, the game, as well as what preceded it, led to a boom in popularity for the group in itself. Social media following has doubled, with their twitter followers approaching 5,000, and Facebook group just shy of 1,000 members. Their website has started to attract hundreds of unique visitors every week also.
Lauren also told me of the rise of 'casual fans' since the London game, which is something I can also attest to. Not every fan over here is an avid follower of the game, but there has been a sharp rise of late in popularity for the sport. Whether this is Super Bowl parties, or seeing people wearing NFL teams memorabilia, or just general understanding of the game by a higher proportion of the population. The fact that the Cowboys are pretty much the only household NFL name over here means that many of these are becoming fans of your team.
The impact of the London game on long term fans was probably the most notable though. I spoke to Europeans who had been fans of Dallas for over 30 years, but London was their first game. One even told me at the time that he used to have to wait for the Tuesday newspaper to see what the Cowboys result was! Many were fans when televised NFL coverage was first introduced over here. The fact that these were able to witness their team play in their country must have been one of the best experiences of their life.
The popularity of American Football in Britain is spreading rapidly, with a recent report that the UK has had a 50% increase in 'avid' fans over the past three years. Even on the playing side, participation is also increasing, and Dallas' own Efe Obada is a result of this. I realise that many Americans are unhappy about games being played here, but the International Series matchups are one of the main reasons behind this.
The Dallas Cowboys have a huge following in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the rest of Europe. I cannot put a number to it, because we truly don't know. I believed the number was in the hundreds up until the London game, but there were around 40,000 people sporting Cowboys gear in Wembley last November, with more lining the pubs, and bars, and living rooms of our country. Just know that the number is big, and it's rising daily. The Cowboys have a global audience.