Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero: Miami Dolphins fans in London are forgiving but know team is flawed

Miami Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon, center, high-fives schoolchildren as they meet after practice in Allianz Park in London on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015.
Miami Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon, center, high-fives schoolchildren as they meet after practice in Allianz Park in London on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. AP

Iconic Trafalgar Square, where Britons commemorate a great naval victory over France and Spain during the Napoleonic wars, is being taken over by the NFL for four hours Saturday, and an expected crowd of 40,000 will celebrate America’s game and the International Series that kicks off Sunday with the Miami Dolphins “hosting” the New York Jets.

The lead-up to this event and Sunday’s game has seen an inestimable number of Dolphins fans flood into greater London, where they are meeting up with a surprisingly large and boisterous community of local Dolphins fans.

Together they will cheer on their Dolphins at Wembley Stadium. But there is one apparent difference between the imported Miami fans and the locals.

The locals seem much more optimistic.

A large number of Dolphins fans back in the United States, bitterly disappointed with the team’s 1-2 start and believing this year is more of the same old Dolphins, have taken to social media demanding coach Joe Philbin be fired.

At Miami’s regular-season home opener, the sold-out crowd often booed their own team in their own stadium as they watched the Dolphins lose to the Buffalo Bills.

The British Dolphins fans?

“I’m absolutely buzzing,” said Richard Cusack, a 20-year-old Dolphins fan from Derby. “Last year, the feeling of seeing my team live for the first time in supporting them for four years was unbelievable. This year is going to be even better with the Jets in town and having it all happen in our country.”

The Dolphins are the home team for Sunday’s game because owner Stephen Ross agreed to let the NFL schedule a Miami home divisional game at Wembley. The move is not great for South Florida fans who must tune in for a 9:30 a.m. broadcast if they want to watch on television.

It’s awesome for London Dolphins fans.

“I’ve been looking forward to it as soon as the schedule was announced,” said Harvey Zimmerman of Tamworth. “Words can’t describe it as it will be the first time I will see the Dolphins up close and personal!”

For English fans, this game, marking the second consecutive year the Dolphins play here, is a reward for overcoming the difficulties of following a team that is a continent and five time zones from home.

“It can be hard to be a fan of the Fins being so far away, we have a family, kids, and we can’t afford to travel abroad to watch them,” said Stephen Broadhead. “This is why on Sunday I’ll shout, scream, support my Fins all game no matter what happens. It’s going to be the third time I’ve watched my Fins live and it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Richard Moore, a resident of tiny Solihull near Birmingham, England, said the time differences “messes with work the next day” so he’s going to enjoy his team playing right before his eyes.

“When I was young I used to listen to games on the Armed Forces Radio service,” Moore said. “The coverage over here now is phenomenal and it’s booming. I have a season ticket for the Wembley games each year, and actually cried when I found out my Dolphins were playing the Raiders at Wembley last year. To now have a home game the following year is crazy. I’ve got to make the most of the whole weekend as who knows when they will be back over again.”

Judging by the scores of fans, the Dolphins are a big thing over here. And they’re a big thing over here primarily because of what Dan Marino did in the 1980s and ’90s.

“I picked the Dolphins having listened to one of their games on American Forces Radio Europe over 35-odd-years ago,” said Peter Joy. “I was intrigued by this strange sport and wanted to find out more. Then came along Marino and I was hooked.”

Fans here are grateful their Dolphins are here. But don’t mistake them for blind newcomers to the sport with no idea how troubled the team has been so far this season.

These folks know there are warts. They’re just more willing to overlook them this weekend.

“I like the pieces of the jigsaw but we need better coaching to put them together,” said Matt Francis, a resident of Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. “I like Ryan Tannehill but don’t love him. Been spoiled by No. 13 for years. Ultimately it’s a quarterback league and unless you’ve got an elite one it’s rare you do well.

“We’ve struggled since Marino because of it. It’s also been tough competing in the AFC East for obvious reasons. Finally, they’ve tried to get defense to get to Tom Brady but it’s taken a while and it’s not really working this year anyway.

“Hopefully Philbin can bring it together but I think 8-8 is the best we can do this year.”

Maybe these folks aren’t so different after all.

Armando Salguero: 305-376-4993, @ArmandoSalguero

Related stories from Miami Herald