A group of teenagers throws a football around the fast-filling parking lot as the early afternoon sun rises over the iconic Wembley arch.
The Dolphins brought that Miami sunshine to London on Sunday as Wembley Stadium, the scene of Sunday’s NFL Week 4 game against the Oakland Raiders, was bathed in scorching light, staving off autumn for one last hurrah.
From south London the boys are here for their first experience of the NFL, and what a stage to see America’s greatest export in the flesh.
“We started following the NFL last season” said Aiden Stammers, 15, from Kingston. “I support the Dolphins, but a lot of my friends here are Raiders or Patriots fans.”
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For others like Sam Lloyd, 48, this is the culmination of a 30-year love affair with the NFL.
“The Dolphins are the first side I saw on television back in the ’80s,” Lloyd said. “They had Dan Marino and were great to watch.”
Sam brought his son Kyran, 13, along but things aren’t as picture-perfect as they first seem.
“I’m a Dolphin fan, and my son follows the Raiders, I think he’s slightly confused,” Sam said with a wry smile to his boy. “I’ve been supporting the Dolphins nearly 30 years, and Kyran is relatively new to the sport, this is his third international game. He was a Tampa fan, now a Raiders fan, next year he’ll probably be supporting Green Bay!”
The day was a celebration of American football as a sport, with most teams being represented, but that type of lighthearted rivalry is a little less easy to stomach for die-hard Raiders fans Matt Berry, 28, and Lee Baker, 33, members of the British chapter of the infamous Black Hole.
Dressed in an assortment of top hats, black capes and chains, the group would have made for imposing company if it were not for the huge smiles on their faces.
“Once you’re in you don’t get out that’s the black hole,” Berry said. “It’s worldwide, we have chapters all over.”
The Raiders were supported by Darth Vader, a cyborg pirate from a dystopian future and a medieval knight, all aiming to bring the atmosphere of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum to London.
Before the game, rapper Raider Joey gave a heart-felt performance outside Wembley Arena.
Dani Lopez Vega, an events manager from London, coordinated the Black Hole festivities.
“We had a huge pre-match party down at East London’s Pipeline the night before the game,” said Vega, himself sporting face paint and a giant pair of novelty Hulk fists. “We even had a few Raiders players from the old guard come down and share a drink and some stories.”
But the Oakland fans weren’t the only ones making an effort for the occasion.
Guerrilla Josh, the Dolphins answer to the Raiders’ Gorilla-illa was representing for the Miami fans and said there would be a showdown between the two great apes of the NFL.
“We’re meeting right here in the fan park,” Guerrilla Josh said from beneath his mask and giant orange Afro.
British rock band Def Leppard kicked off proceedings inside the stadium to a sellout crowd of 84,000 with all the pyrotechnics you would expect when the NFL bandwagon rolls into town.
The music pounded the evening air with Rock ‘n’ Roll classics, the twang of the guitar bringing a little slice of Americana.
Acrobats leaped around the field’s perimeter on those bionic spring-legs, the type you might buy during a late-night Internet spending spree, probably on the willfully bad advice of a so-called friend.
After a slow start and trailing 7-0 the Dolphins finally found their feet and didn’t let up, starting with a Ryan Tannehill’s 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Suddenly the aisles were awash with aqua shirts, grown men running up and down in celebration before returning to their seats and the embarrassed faces of their partners.
“I was here seven years ago for the game against New York,” said Dyfed Lloyed, 32, from Wales.
“It’s great to be able to see the Dolphins back in the UK; they’re welcome anytime!”
The Dolphins might well take up the offer, Wembley proving to be the place where their season might have turned around with a convincing 38-14 victory to even their record at 2-2 going into their bye week.
Wembley saw the Wave, crazed supporters and a thrilling game of football London is unlikely to forget in a hurry.