Twickenham has hosted its fair share of box office matches, but nothing quite like Sunday’s NFL clash between ‘hosts’ LA Rams and the New York Giants.
The logistics behind the match have seen a series of changes made to the Twickenham infrastructure including walls being knocked through and a temporary barrier installed in the tunnel.
It is the role of NFL operations director Matthew Joyce to oversee the numerous changes to ensure Sunday’s game goes completely to plan. “It’s been exciting,” Joyce said. “I’ve been running the Wembley games for the last nine years and the learnings we’ve made from that side have been used here at Twickenham. There are a lot of different technologies we’ve used in the past that we’ll use here but it’s just more exciting than challenging.”
Here we outline exactly what has been going on behind the scenes at Twickenham ahead of Sunday’s game.
In the spirit of gridiron, Twickenham will be hosting a ‘tailgating’ party from 09.30 on Sunday. Hosted in the West Car Park, it will differ slightly to the usual rugby experience.
Traditionally for big rugby events fans park and enjoy picnics from the back of their cars while nearby tents are housed with all manner of alcoholic brands selling their liquid refreshments alongside food outlets. But on Sunday this will be a little different.
Twickenham will meet the tailgating experience — more a fan village focused around an American NFL experience for UK fans complete with cheerleaders — for the first time. There will be bars open and NFL-themed entertainment building the buzz ahead of the opening kickoff. A stage with various music acts will be at the fulcrum of the entertainment but with a number of roads closed in and around the stadium, the experience will extend around the south stand to create the additional ‘spectator plaza’.
Fan experience is at the forefront of Sunday’s NFL match at Twickenham. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Berths for traditional tailgaiting have been allocated in the Cardinal Vaughan car park while the NFL’s very own ‘Big Rig’ will also be on show on the south plaza.
The bars inside the stadium which are normally filled on a rugby day with punters enjoying the pre and post-match cover bands will offer a similar experience.
Merchandise-wise, there won’t be any red rose-adorned clothing on sale in the two big stores within Twickenham or on pop-up outlets on site. Instead they will be filled with merchandise from the 32 NFL franchises.
And according to his 7 Days song, Craig David is usually ‘chilling’ on a Sunday but this weekend he’ll be performing the pre-game show on a rolling stage.
Twickenham’s pitch is well-suited to the NFL and the smaller playing area than needed for rugby means the excess patches of grass will be where the bench and coaches sit.
For the coaches, boxes have been built at the top of west stand — level 6 — so they can have a bird’s-eye view of the game.
The pitch will have the Rams’ emblem painted in the middle.
And welcoming the players onto the field when they run out at the 50-yard line will be an LED wall and pyrotechnics.
The size of the teams mean the standard Twickenham changing rooms weren’t big enough. So for the Rams, the coaches will use England’s traditional changing room and the players will use the nearby gym, linked with a corridor, which has been transformed into a lockerroom complete with 55 lockers and the various NFL-themed posters over safety, pad regulations and key messages.
The Giants’ coaches will use the away changing room in the bowels of Twickenham while the players will be housed in the newly renovated England Rugby Internationals Club room, used usually for hospitality on match days, while artificial turf has also been laid in the room. This renovation has occurred especially for the NFL game with a door having to be installed to link the lockerroom with the coaches’ quarters.
The large playing and coaching groups means getting into the stadium also presents its own unique challenges. Whereas England rugby normally park their bus just outside the Lion Gates and walk straight into the changing room, each franchise will have between five and six coaches to transport their team to the match. The arrivals will be staggered with a much larger cordon in place around the team than at a rugby match.
The Twickenham tunnel has also been in for some special NFL treatment with a barrier now dividing the two teams, all geared towards building the expectation and excitement around the teams running on to the field.
The first few rows of the lower tier of the Twickenham stands have been closed off to enhance fan experience so no supporter will have a restricted view of the field. Where on rugby days the disabled supporters are near pitch level on either side of the field, they will be on raised platforms behind the end line.
www.espn.co.uk – RUGBY