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Excitement Awaits Cardinals In London

Posted Oct 16, 2017

Fans in the United Kingdom pumped to see team up close

A Cardinals helmet in front of Buckingham Palace.

It’s not easy being a Cardinals fan in England.

A primetime game in the United States equates to a middle-of-the-night kickoff overseas, which has led to a lot of wearisome Monday mornings for the ardent fans who watch live.

So when the NFL announced last December that the Cardinals were headed to London in 2017, the excitement was palpable. Not only would the game be on at a regular hour, but fans throughout the United Kingdom had a chance to watch the team in person.

“Nothing on Earth would have stopped me from getting there,” said Mark Sims, a Lincoln, England resident who has never been to a Cardinals game. “I got tickets as quickly as I could. I had about three different computers on the go all searching for them at the same time.”

The Cardinals will depart for London Monday evening and arrive Tuesday for their six-day stay, which will be capped by Sunday’s matchup with the Rams. While the Cardinals aren’t as big of a draw as teams like the Cowboys or Packers, they have a dedicated and vocal fanbase in England despite playing their games halfway across the world.

Without the geographical allegiance, the path to Cardinals’ fandom for many has been unique.

“I got into the NFL back in 2008 and didn’t have a team to follow,” said Tom Donlan, creator of Cardinals fan-site BritishBirdgang.co.uk. “Having also picked up that year’s edition of Madden, I ended up creating myself as a player on there and the Arizona Cardinals ended up being the team that drafted my superstar, and so that seemed like as good a reason as any to make them the team I have followed since.”

Sims was drawn in visually.

“My reasoning as to why I chose the Cardinals is basically because I’m a logo designer by trade, and the Cardinals’ logo stood out to me most,” Sims said.

While some of the paths were happenstance, the fandom is strong now.

In addition to the game, the locals are excited for several Cardinals-related events in downtown London during the week. The “Big Red Rage” radio show will be held at the Admiralty pub on Thursday night, and there will be an NFL UK Live event on Saturday afternoon at the Mermaid Theatre. The “Red Sea Rally” on Saturday evening at the Admiralty will get fans excited before Sunday’s contest.

London resident Gracie Hilbourne said she plans to attend “pretty much all of them.”

“I think when you have this opportunity of the Cardinals in London, you have to make the most of it,” Hilbourne said. “I’m going to attend the ‘Big Red Rage’ radio broadcast on Thursday night before the game and I’m really looking forward to that. Having been an avid fan of the show, it’s going to be amazing to get the opportunity to watch it broadcast live.”

Hilbourne took the morning off work when tickets were put on sale to guarantee her seat at Twickenham Stadium. She said her spot was secured one minute after the tickets were allowed to be purchased.

That type of giddiness has been felt by Cardinals fans throughout England. Harry O’Neill lives in Sheffield but is making the 170-mile trek to London for the week’s festivities. It’s a stone’s throw compared to his journey later in the year, when O’Neill will fly to Arizona for the December games against the Rams and Titans.

The British Birdgang group has become close-knit and will take in most of the festivities together.

“I remember sending my friends who attend the NFL UK games a huge text of jumbled letters with a lot of smiley faces and exclamation marks (after the game was announced),” O’Neill said.

The Cardinals’ players will try to stick closely to their routine throughout the week, focused on playing at optimum capacity on Sunday. But this will be a special experience for the English fans cheering them on.

“I was so excited when it was announced,” Hilbourne said. “The thought that I get to see Larry (Fitzgerald) and Carson (Palmer) play together in person for maybe their last season is a dream come true.”

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