By Andy Kostka
When the Baltimore Ravens face the Jacksonville Jaguars at London's Wembley Stadium Sept. 24, there will be a contingent of Ravens fans in the crowd, most of whom traveled across the Atlantic to watch their team. However, for members of the UK Ravens, their team will have finally come to them.
The Facebook group UK Ravens consists of approximately 400 British citizens who support the team as avidly as any Baltimorean. Each fan has their own story of how they began rooting for the Ravens.
When Dave Cressey, a rugby player from England, was visiting his friend in Westminster, Md., in July 1990, he met a former Baltimore Colts tight end with a Super Bowl ring on his left index finger. He was presumably Tom Mitchell, though Cressey could only recall his first name. The tight end, who died this past July, let Cressey try on his Super Bowl V championship ring. After hearing how the Colts left town, Cressey promised to follow a Baltimore football team when one returned.
When he was in his early 20s, Ben Mortimer lived in Baltimore as a travel agent from 2001-2011, and he quickly learned that watching football at bars, and later M&T Bank Stadium, was the thing to do on a Sunday. He eventually became a season-ticket holder, and despite returning to England, still owns the tickets, which his brother-in-law now uses.
For the UK Ravens members who've yet to see a Ravens game live, the matchup offers an opportunity to experience fandom directly as opposed to watching from an ocean away.
There's Jamie and Jen Muir, who have a dog named after quarterback Joe Flacco.
Daniel Raeburn plays defensive back in two American Football leagues in England and tries to emulate former Ravens safety Ed Reed, while Jake Hill is a linebacker who models his play on former Raven Ray Lewis.
Alex Harker swapped his support for his local football team (Derby County) with a Ravens fan he met in an online chatroom.
There is an excitement surrounding the late September football game, and the UK Ravens are taking advantage of the opportunity to see their favorite team by throwing a Saturday night party at the Ravens' official team pub (The Admiralty in Trafalgar Square) and attending the game with other Baltimoreans in purple and black at Wembley.
"To be honest, I've had my fingers crossed [the Ravens would come to London] for a while," Harker said. "Finally, when it was announced, I thought, ‘Right, how do I get these tickets?'"
Fans had to sign up through the NFL to be informed when tickets were available. As soon as the date and time of the game were confirmed, fans made purchases promptly when the window opened.
While Ravens fans in the UK are looking forward to seeing their first Ravens game, there is also an excitement to meet fellow UK Ravens members. The group mainly operates virtually, with members spanning the British Isles. The Saturday night party offers a chance to meet UK and American fans.
"[We were] looking for like-minded people," Jamie Muir said of why he and his wife, Jen, joined the fan group. "We're in a tiny little kind of village, really, where we are probably the only American football fans in the village."
After Ravens victories, the pair go out in Ravens attire and celebrate in Chester-le-Street, a town in northeast England.
"People are probably thinking, ‘What are they on about?'" Muir said.
The NFL will host a free tailgate party outside of Wembley before the game, and many of the UK-based Ravens fans are eager to try it out. In England, there are rules against open flames in parking lots, and stadiums often lack any space outside for tailgating.
"The pregame experience in the UK is still very pub-driven," Mortimer said. "The closest you get to it here is Rugby Union games, where people kind of do picnics out of the back of cars. But it's not quite as rough-and-ready as American tailgating."
In the past, the Wembley tailgate started early in the morning and lasted until right before kickoff. Last year, it featured NFL Hall of Famers, musical performances and plenty of gear for sale.
Jake Smith attended a Wembley matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions in 2014.
"Everybody, even though they had their own team, sort of picked a side for that day," Smith said. "We were cheering for everything, really."
For this group of fans, Sept. 24 is a Ravens home game. But they also know that seeing their team play at Wembley won't match the atmosphere of a game at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I'm excited to see a game at Wembley," Harker said, "but I don't think there'll be anything that even compares to even an away game in the U.S."
Issue 236: August 2017