COVID paused international NFL games. Dolphins fans in England relish their team’s return

·4 min read

There probably won’t be much banter about Premier League soccer between United Kingdom native Ed Coleman and his friend this weekend.

Instead, the friendly back-and-forth will be focused on the Miami Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence and which team will come out on top when they face each at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday.

After the coronavirus pandemic forced the NFL to move games set to take place in London and Mexico last season back to the United States, the International Series has once again returned to the UK. As the NFL continues its tradition of playing games overseas and has considered expanding to Germany, Dolphins fans in the UK are relishing the opportunity to once again root for the team in person.

Coleman, 20, is a Dolphins fan — one of the countless that fill the soccer-first nation. He’ll be making the six-hour trip from Edinburgh, Scotland, where he attends school, to watch his favorite NFL team for the first time.

“American football is the first sport that I properly got myself into,” he said Saturday morning before embarking on his journey.

With the exception of last year, London has hosted games every year since 2007. Sunday will be the Dolphins’ fifth game in the UK and the NFL’s 99th international game. Miami last played in an international game in 2017, a shutout loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The UK has arguably the largest Dolphins fan base in the nation. Many of them watched clips of Dan Marino and the Dolphins in the 1980s and then passed the love of the team down to their children. But Coleman stumbled upon his fandom by chance. He said he was watching a random Poker game on YouTube a few years ago when he noticed the winner wearing a lucky Dolphins scarf.

“If I clicked on another video under, I wouldn’t be talking to you today,” he said.

Jack Horwitz was born and raised in Norwich, a city about 100 miles northeast of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. His dad is originally from Miami and passed the fandom down to him, which is “a blessing and a curse,” he said. He’ll be attending the game with his fiancée — his first since the team played the Raiders at Wembley Stadium in 2014, a 38-14 Miami win and its sole victory in London so far.

Horwitz, 29, watches the team on NFL Game Pass and joked he was lucky that because of Dolphins’ prolonged struggles, they don’t have to play a lot of prime-time games, which would force him to stay up until the early morning to watch (London is five hours ahead of Miami). He knows of the team’s large fan base but hasn’t come in contact with many other fans.

Jack Horwitz, a Dolphins fan in the United Kingdom, watches a 2019 game between the Raiders and Bears in a Cameron Wake jersey.
Jack Horwitz, a Dolphins fan in the United Kingdom, watches a 2019 game between the Raiders and Bears in a Cameron Wake jersey.

While Sunday won’t be his first Dolphins game, this season has marked a first: he was finally able to round up enough friends with interest in American football and make a fantasy football league.

Wayne Collard, 48, remembers watching a 30-second clip of the Dolphins in 1981 as his introduction to the sport.

“I thought, ‘Blimey, what’s this game where these people are wearing pads,’” he said.

Collard, a resident of Bridgewater in Southeast England, “instantly” became a fan of the Dolphins — one of few teams whose games were broadcast in the UK during that time. The first live game Collard watched on TV? Miami’s loss in Super Bowl XXVII to Washington.

Collard also said there are very few Dolphins fans around him. In 2017, before Miami’s game against New Orleans, he organized a pregame charity event to get fans together. The event brought in around 500 fans, raised $3,000 and the fan network has since grown larger. The official Facebook group “Fins Nation UK Miami Dolphins Fan Club” is closing in on 2,000 members. The group has raised money for causes within their nation, and also for some in the United States.

Wide receiver Preston Williams said he didn’t know about the team’s UK fan base until last season, when the NFL moved the games back to the United States and disappointed English fans reached out to him on Twitter. “That’s pretty cool having international fans like that,” he said.

Though 4,000 miles away from Miami Gardens and Hard Rock Stadium, these UK fans share the same emotions as their U.S. counterparts: dismay after years of shortcomings but relentless support and hope for a bright future.

“There’s a lot of real, hardcore Dolphins fans here,” Collard said. “I breathe, eat and sleep Miami Dolphins and there’s a lot of us over here. I’m also a Tottenham Hotspur fan. So, this weekend is a double whammy for me.”

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