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The London experience: Fan highlights from Bengals’ first international game

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As the Bengals played their first game ever in Europe, many fans across the continent took the chance to go see their beloved team in London. Here are some of the many experiences of those fans, myself included

Last Saturday night the clocks in Europe were turned back one hour. In a normal situation that would have meant one more hour of sleep, which is good. But last Saturday night wasn’t a normal situation. I was going to get on a plane to London to watch my Bengals live for the first time.

I own a pub in Madrid, Spain, and we are usually pretty busy Fridays and Saturdays, as nightlife here is probably the best in the world. We open from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., although we rarely leave before 4:00.

That is water, by the way.

That night, though, the clocks were turned back one hour. I am not complaining, after all more business is always good. But the clocks in the U.S.A. stayed put (that changes this coming weekend, which made the Bengals game in London start earlier, at least for us in Europe.

So I left the bar, went back home, took a shower and got on a bus to the airport. I landed in London at Gatwick Airport at 8:55 a.m. (9:55 a.m. in Spain) and headed to my hotel to leave my stuff and go to Wembley Stadium. I ended up getting there half an hour before kick off, but the fatigue from having gotten barely any sleep at all disappeared as I met the fellow Spanish Bengals fans who I was going to watch the game with.

We all made little sacrifices to get to see our beloved team play in London, not only us coming from Spain. There were fans from many countries around Europe and others that travelled with the Bengals from Cincinnati. My girlfriend, who is from Northern Virginia, also flew from the U.S. to see her Redskins.

These sacrifices might mean nothing to many, I know. A lot of people have greater struggles. We just had to make it to a different country to see an American team we root for, usually at a great distance.

The game wasn’t bad, though, the final score was bad. London games are often terrible but this one wasn’t.

I wasn’t able to take in the whole experience of the International Series, as I had to work on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but my friends told me how excited they were to hang out with Anthony Muñoz, the Bengals mascot, some of the coaches... and Cincy Jungle’s “Jungle John” at The Admiralty Pub, the designated Bengals pub in London for the weekend.

A win would have been nice, as the Bengals are trying to stay alive in the playoff race. But as with any other experience in life, the trip and the process matter much more than the result.

Xavi, a Bengals fan who started rooting for the team because of a girl he met while living in Baltimore, couldn’t find a hotel until the early hours of Friday because the one that he booked left him (and his wife and friend) out on the street. The third party company he made the reservation with ended up taking care of them because the apartment owner said they just couldn’t comply with the booking.

Gerar, who travelled from Valladolid (deep Spain, if you will), lied to his boss so he could get the days off to see the game. Dani got there on Friday from Asturias in northwest Spain. Antonio, who writes about the Bengals and the rest of the AFC North for AS - the second leading sports journal in Spain - convinced his wife to let him go to London on their anniversary. Imagine her face when he told her his plans. Antonio had to get her something from Harrods, thanks to Xavi’s wife, Mónica, for the assist. He also had some nice words about the London experience in his newspaper. You can read it in Spanish here.

Menez, who has been rooting for the Bengals for only one year after laughing at me for watching the NFL and not rugby, drafted Andy Dalton in the first round of our fantasy draft.

Me (left) and my friend Menez, only into his sixth month of Bengals fandom but already playing the part.

After so many podcasts about the Bengals, Whatsapp chats during games, frustration over late night losses - including in the Wild Card - we finally got to see the team live, and together. Some of us didn’t even know each other in person, and I only knew Xavi and Vic because they travelled from Barcelona to Madrid (a nearly six hour drive) just to watch a Bengals - Steelers game at my bar. We lost that game and also lost Dalton, by the way. So even if a win would have been nice, the trip was worth it beyond the final score. Beer was warm, soft drinks were hot - and I was counting on a heavy dose of Coca Cola to stay functional after the fourth-quarter. Nevertheless, we got to see a big return from Alex Erickson - finally, A.J. Green’s dominate, Tyler Eifert’s clutchness, and lucky breaks that kept the Bengals alive in overtime...

Cincinnati fans get to cheer on the Bengals plenty of time, but for us here in Europe this was THE chance. No matter how decaffeinated the atmosphere was with so, so many Dolphins (¡¡¡) jerseys in the stands. Nearly 75% of the crowd were casual British fans that came down to watch an NFL game, as is case in the U.S. with friendly soccer games in the summer.

Where else in the world can you see this

But there were also a lot of Bengals fans with stories to tell about what it took for them to get to London and support their beloved team, just like the ones I wrote above.

Share your story of traveling to London in the comments section if you attended the game; I’d love to hear from you!