U.K. is OK for MattsonsSuperior residents Greg and Shaun Mattson had a chance Sunday to witness football’s popularity abroad. They were among the 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London who turned out for the NFL game between the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
In much of the United States, football is king.
In the U.K. the sport isn’t quite as well-known, but fans show up by the thousands to watch anyway.
Superior residents Greg and Shaun Mattson had a chance Sunday to witness football’s popularity abroad. They were among the 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London who turned out for the NFL game between the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Mattsons, who are Vikings fans, attended the game courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Greg’s brother, Neil, works for the company that manufactures the Terrible Towel). They sat in the lower level of the stadium near midfield.
Nearby were three inexperienced but enthusiastic European fans.
“We had three guys from Sweden sitting on the side of us, and for the start of the game they would cheer every play for both teams,” Greg Mattson said. “Then we started talking to them a little bit and explained the game.
“Pretty soon they were cheering for the Vikings.”
By the end of the game, Mattson said, the Swedish fans were jumping up and down to celebrate the Vikings’ last-second fumble recovery.
“It was just amazing,” Greg Mattson said.
Greg Mattson and his son, Shaun, went to London hoping for a Minnesota victory.
The Vikings pulled off their first win of the season, but they made fans sweat.
Shaun Mattson said it was hard to watch the Steelers’ final drive, with the Vikings leading by just one touchdown, 34-27. In weeks two and three, Minnesota lost to the Bears and the Browns in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
“I was scared,” Shaun Mattson said. “I thought it was going to happen again.”
“I figured we were going to overtime,” Greg Mattson said.
The Vikings held a comfortable lead in the third quarter, 34-17, but a touchdown and field goal put Pittsburgh within striking distance.
With less than two minutes to play, the Steelers took over at their own 22 and marched down the field to the Vikings 6-yard line. The Mattsons cringed as they waited for Minnesota to crumble, but the defense came through, stripping the ball from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and recovering the fumble with 19 seconds left.
“Great way to end it,” Shaun Mattson said. “Great way after it was done, because watching the game was hard.”
The Mattsons arrived in London on Sept. 27 and spent two days sightseeing before Sunday’s game.
On their first day, the Mattsons went to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard, strolled by Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and learned the rules of navigating London traffic.
“I almost got smoked by buses and taxis every time I tried to cross the street,” Shaun Mattson said. “Their traffic does not stop for you in a crosswalk. If you’re in a crosswalk and they have a green light, they’re coming as fast as they can.”
“And you’ve got to make sure you remember to look right and not left when you get to the street because the cars are on the wrong side of the road,” Greg Mattson said.
That night, Shaun Mattson borrowed his uncle’s laptop to keep tabs on the sports scene back in the U.S. He logged onto iFan to watch the Superior High School football game against Eau Claire North and, due to the time difference, was up until 1 a.m.
“That was a late night, but it was worth it,” said Shaun Mattson, who is an assistant coach for the Spartans. “I couldn’t miss that. We qualified for playoffs.”
On Saturday morning, the Mattsons switched back to U.K. sports, touring the All England Club and sitting at Wimbledon’s Centre Court.
They spent the afternoon at the NFL on Regent Street event, and on Sunday they showed up five hours early for the game.
When they arrived at Wembley Stadium, thousands had already gathered for a pre-game tailgate party, which topped out at 150,000 people. Game attendance was reported at 90,000.
Greg Mattson said it took about an hour to get through the crowd, and that was without stopping for a beer.
“The game would have been over by the time the line was finished,” he said.
Despite sitting in seats provided for them by the Steelers, the Mattsons didn’t feel out of place in their Vikings garb. The stadium crowd had a fairly even split between Vikings purple and Steelers black and gold.
“And then all the people from London, who didn’t really have a team that they identified with, just wore whatever jersey they picked up that day,” Shaun Mattson said. “There were jerseys from probably every single NFL team.”
The jerseys had been on sale during the NFL on Regent Street event Saturday. Shaun Mattson described the extravaganza as a “big old block party.”
Crowd estimates topped half a million.
“I’ve never seen so many people in one place at one time,” Shaun Mattson said. “It was ridiculous.”
The street, among London’s busiest, was closed to traffic and draped with NFL banners.
Tents and booths touted the sport of football and showcased American food and culture.
One display offered fans the opportunity to be photographed with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The Mattsons searched for the line but then thought better of it.
“It must have been a three and a half hour wait in this line to get up there to get your picture taken,” Greg Mattson said.
U.K. fans also scooped up football merchandise at a surprising rate. Greg Mattson said the Nike Town on Regent street was stripped bare of NFL apparel.
“They had just bought every jersey for the teams,” he said. “This one guy was telling me nobody really favors one American team, so they’ll come in and pick the jersey that’s their favorite color.”
“Or they’ll pick a jersey that’s similar colors to their favorite soccer team,” Shaun Mattson said.
Mattson was surprised by the huge turnout and the interest in football, but at Sunday’s game, a few locals explained it for him.
“I was talking to a couple people at the game and they said, ‘We don’t really identify with a team, we just like sports. We just want to come watch it.’”
Louder than the Dome?
In the NFL, the Metrodome has a reputation as one of the loudest venues in the league.
The Vikings gave up the echoing Dome on Sunday for Wembley Stadium, but the crowd noise wasn’t much diminished.
“It was crazy,” Shaun Mattson said. “Like 90,000 people. … It was incredibly loud. It matched any other professional game I’ve been to, if not louder.”
In terms of sheer volume, Shaun said he’d probably give the nod to the Metrodome — but only because Wembley, an open-air stadium, doesn’t trap noise as readily.
“They cheer for every single play, not just one of two big ones,” Mattson said. “They’re going crazy the entire time.”