LONDON – Every 30 years or so, Geoff Reader takes advantage of a home game.
He’s been a Vikings fan since the team last played in London, in 1983. He’s been a Vikings season-ticket holder for years and flies to Minneapolis to attend games at the Metrodome.
Sunday, Reader will make a much shorter trek, from his home in Bedford, England, to watch the Vikings play the Steelers in Wembley Stadium.
“When they first played here and I went to see them, I thought, ‘I’m supporting a team wearing purple?’ ” said Reader, head of Pensions and Treasury Management for Bedford Borough Council. “That was a shock to the system. But we won, 28-10, and I won a pint of beer from my friend. That was a good day.”
Reader, 52, was born in 1960. “So I like to say I started at about the same time as the Vikings,” he said. “There is a bit of symmetry.”
He became aware of what Brits call “American football” in the 1970s, when, he says, a local channel aired highlights of the Super Bowl.
“Then, in 1982, a new company came in, trying to make its mark, showing highlights of American football on a nightly basis,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is really interesting.’ Because of the interest in those highlights, a crazy promoter decided he wanted to re-create the Super Bowl at Wembley in the preseason. They told him to get stuffed.
“He wound up bringing the Vikings and the Cardinals over. I went to that game. I had to choose a team for our bet. I chose the Vikings. The rest is history.”
In the pre-Internet age, being an international fan required work. Reader sought out every televised highlight and found some old NFL encyclopedias. He signed up for a tour that promised two NFL games in Florida, featuring the Dolphins and Buccaneers.
“But I found myself more interested in watching the Rams and Vikings playing on the TV,” he said. “I thought, I’ve really got to find a way to see the Vikings in person.”
He traveled to Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1988 to see the Vikings play the Bears in a preseason game, and they won again. “One of the highlights was seeing ‘AC,’ ” he said, using star receiver Anthony Carter’s nickname, “taking a slant route straight up the middle and beating the safeties and taking it all the way to the house.”
Soon after, he arranged his own trip to see two Vikings games in eight days. “Both games, they won 38-7,” he said. The hook was set.
Reader traveled to Berlin to see the Vikings play a preseason game against the Bills in 1993. “Practices were open, so that was a really good time, and another game the Vikings managed to win,” he said. “At that time, I was doing one or two games a year.”
He began collecting old NFL encyclopedias and old media guides. In 1994, he was having trouble finding the latter, so he wrote the Vikings, asking for help. The media guides arrived attached to a season-ticket order form.
“One of the things about the Vikings at that time was they didn’t sell out, so you’d get TV blackouts in Minnesota,” he said. “I had made some good friends and acquaintances in my time in Minnesota, so I thought I’d give a little back.”
He bought the cheapest season ticket he could find, near the Metrodome roof, and used his status as a season-ticket holder to purchase better seats. One day, he tried the season-ticket seat, and realized he liked being able to the entire field laid out before him. “That’s where the coaches cameras are, up there,” he said. “They’re there for a reason. When I go to a game, I like to analyze. I make fun of the fans who do the wave when our team is on offense.”
Reader lost interest in soccer as an adult. He buys season tickets for a couple of local rugby teams but has been turned off by clubs spending lavishly on free agents rather than developing their own players.
He prefers American football’s blend of athletic showmanship and strategy. He idolized “Two-Minute Tommy” Kramer, the Vikings quarterback in the ’80s. He admired Brad Johnson. He wears a Harrison Smith jersey but admits he ranks Adrian Peterson as his current favorite.
Like most American football fans, he can’t wait for the weekend. He’s going to socialize with other Vikings fans at a street party in London on Saturday, then prepare for a rare home game.
“I want to meet some of the people who are coming over here and give them a real British-American football experience,” he said. “And I want to show them what a real pub is.”