08-08-1993: Dallas Cowboys 13 Detroit Lions 13 (American Bowl ’93) Wembley Stadium, London
Finishing the 1991-92 season as Champions of the old Second Division meant that Ipswich would be competing in the inaugural Premier League campaign. Despite finishing 17th it proved to be a decent season for the Blue’s and included a 4-2 win against reigning champions Leeds United and a run in the League Cup (then the Coca-Cola Cup) that I was convinced would end with, at the very least, an appearance at Wembley Stadium. This was the first season that Extremegroundhopping Junior became a fully fledged season ticket holder and the icing on the cake would have been my taking him along for his very first game at Wembley Stadium.
The cup run began with a two-legged 6-2 aggregate win against Wigan, followed by a 1-0 win against Portsmouth at Fratton Park and a replay victory over Aston Villa by the same scoreline at Villa Park after a two-two draw at FPR. The quarter finals saw Town drawn against Sheffield Wednesday but after a 1-1 draw on home soil my hopes of proudly walking hand-in-hand up Wembley Way with youngster were dashed in the Hillsborough replay by a solitary Paul Warhurst strike.
The Owls ended the competition as beaten finalists (they were also beaten FA Cup finalists too) in April, 1993, a double whammy for players and fans, while I had a chance to partly make up for my disappointment by taking Junior along to Wembley that August for the ‘American Bowl’, an exhibition NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions. USA born Junior would get to see Wembley with a taster of his birth countries sporting heritage thrown in for good measure.
The NFL started playing regular season games outside the USA for the first time in 2007 when a sold-out Wembley saw the Miami Dolphins take on the New York Giants but that was far from being the first time that NFL teams had gone head to head in London. The aforementioned American Bowl was a series of friendlies first staged in 1986 when Super Bowl XX Champions the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys played at the old Wembley. During the 1980’s American Football enjoyed huge success on these shores, thanks in no small part to Channel Four who started broadcasting NFL match highlights in 1982. Interest went nuclear when the Bears clinch the NFL title, with a side that included the legendary Running Back Walter Payton, Quarter Back Jim McMahon and William ‘The Fridge’ Perry.
And so to 1993. This was my first ever in-the-flesh NFL game (I’d followed the Bears religiously on TV during my years in the States) and proved to be a wholly forgettable evening. An evening that dragged on into overtime after the Cowboys and Lions had been unable to separate themselves during the regulation sixty minutes. Nine year old Junior was bored senseless (actually playing time, interspersed with time-outs, and TV commercial breaks meant that elapsed time was more like three hours) and has shown no signs of any interest in American sports since (the Chicago White Sox World Series win in 2005 aside). Well I did try. Sat at the opposite end to the Wembley tunnel we were acres away from the occasional action that did take place and didn’t even get a half-decent view of the world renowned Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
It would be another seven years before we would see Town in action at Wembley. But good things come to those that wait.