October 28th 2007. For many American Football fans based in the UK that day will go down in history as the first time the NFL played a regular season game outside of America.
On that day the Miami Dolphins hosted the New York Giants, with the Giants taking the game 13-10. Now, nine years later, they’re back and are ready to go into battle again, this time at Twickenham.
For Giants fan Keith Burton this will be an occasion he’s been waiting, almost his whole life for, a chance to see his team play live, and less than 50 miles than where he lives. And it’s fair to say, he can’t wait for that day to come.
For Keith though his love of the sport goes back over thirty years to when American Football was first shown on TV but rekindled when the International Series came about. When he needed to settle on a team, there was no other for him than the New York Giants.
“While it had been a long time since I had watched NFL on TV I had very fond memories of watching the likes of LT, Carl Banks and Mark Bavaro play. The International Series really kicked off not just my passion again but drove real interest in the sport. At that time I knew it was time to pick a team and I plumped for the Giants.
While Keith has never played or officiated the game himself (although he does watch his local team Farnham Knights on occasions) his passion for the game is so strong he started the NYGiantsFans Facebook group in the UK. A group that has gone from strength to strength since he started it in 2010.
“When I first started the group it was really just to connect with a few likeminded fans and I really didn’t expect it to be particularly big. But we now have over 600 followers and it’s a busy and active group. We were blown away when Stephen Baker the Touchdown Maker joined the group – an exciting day for us indeed.”
From the Facebook group the interaction just grew and when Keith attended his first NFL game at Wembley in 2011 it made sense to start a twitter group. But little did he know the impact that would have.
“The Twitter group is even more popular than the Facebook group with over 1,600 followers now. We keep it updated daily so we can provide information to UK fans about the team but also when we attend the International Series games. But nothing quite has been as special as the time we got a tweet back from Carl Banks when we posted a picture of us wearing our 56 and 58 retro jerseys honouring him and LT. Carl and a number of former and current Giants players follow our Twitter account which is amazing for us.
From here the fan base and following has continued to grow, so much so that the group organise to meet in the Hippodrome Casino in London’s Leicester Square to watch games on the giant cinema screen and whatever the result there will be Giants fans there to keep the flag flying. A group always head along to the fan days during the International Series too but this year, with the Giants in town, Keith is planning an even bigger event.
“Alongside the @LARams_UK and NFL Events we’re busy creating a Twickenham Fan Zone Festival. It seems fitting that with this being the first NFL event to be held at the home of rugby that we really made it a big thing so we’d love to see as many people as possible come and attend the three day festival. Sky Sports will be covering it and Licence Plate guy will also be in attendance. (Tickets available from here)”
It certainly looks like the fans have got things planned off the field, but how about the performances on it? The Giants last won the Super Bowl in 2012 (not that long ago compared to some teams!) but do they have the goods to be holding the Vince Lombardi trophy aloft in 2017?
“Absolutely, our offence is already a Top Six offence while I can honestly say the defence looks as good as I’ve seen it in years. I can’t see who in the NFL East can stop us and if we get to the playoffs then who knows! Anything can happen in playoffs!”
With that prediction, Keith is also convinced that a win is very much on the cards at Twickenham too and predicts they’re going to make it MetLife East and it’ll be a sea of blue! But who are the people we should be looking out for this season?
“Well there is quite a selection of talent on the team but our rookie receiver Sterling Shepherd has surpassed all expectations and cemented his place as our second WR. Also keep your eye on Victor Cruz who genuinely does seem to have made a miraculous return from injury.
But why the Giants? What is the real appeal of them as a team?
“There are so many reasons that I have for following the Giants, not just because they appealed back in the 80s but also I love the city of New York.
But it’s a team that’s also steeped in so much history. The New York Football Giants are one of the three founding members of what we call the NFL. They reside in the biggest and most famous city on Earth. They have a track record of success few can match with 4 old-style Championship wins in the pre-Super Bowl era. Then there are the 4 additional Super Bowls one in each decade since the 1980’s. There is also a romance to them from the days of playing in the Yankee Stadium too.
The team is knows for fair play on and off the field. This commitment to morality comes from founder Tim Mara and his family still own the team 91 years later. But if that’s not enough then it’s the fact they are a team for everyone – from the Wall Street businessmen to the tin hatted worker. White collar, blue collar, everyone unites around Big Blue.”
Convinced on the Giants yet? Keith admits that he’s not been able to persuade his girlfriend who supports the Packers (as a South African the yellow and green remind her of the Springboks) but there are probably people from other teams that would agree with him that to have LT, Carl Banks and Mark Bavaro in your top three players of all time isn’t too bad a shout.
But if that doesn’t convince you then maybe it’s what Keith gets from being part of the NFL community in the UK, being part of a what feels like a warm extended family.
“The games are fantastic, and for anyone going to your first, you really will have a great time. But apart from the games, I’d have to say the best thing has been meeting all the good friends I’ve come to know through NFL. We really are a supportive group and it’s great sharing our support for this team. Watching more people get involved, support a team, feel that love for the game just gives such joy.
Giants by name, with a Giant heart for the game too.