LONDON – The Barrowby and Banker is a stately pub hard by the River Thames in downtown London. Friday night, a Londoner walked up to the entrance and was barred by a couple of workers.
They told him the pub was reserved for the night by the Minnesota Vikings, and continued turning away Vikings fans attracted by the flashes of purple. The pub windows featured images of the Vikings’ logo, and the waitstaff wore team jerseys.
The story behind the pub’s apparent Minnesota roots had more to do with green than purple. Jay Taylor, one of the pub’s managers, said that his owners had developed a relationship with the NFL and hosted parties for various NFL teams when they came to town.
The better story stood outside the pub. Maj. John Vos, his wife, Jorrie, son Andrew and daughter Aurora flew into London on Friday afternoon, took the Tube downtown and walked across London Bridge. Aurora pointed at the purple and they regrouped in front of the pub.
John is in the army, stationed at Vicenza, Italy. He and Jorrie grew up in the Cold Spring and Albany area in Minnesota, and Jorrie’s sister graduated with Gophers great Eric Decker from Rocori High.
John and Jorrie hadn’t seen a Vikings game in person since Brett Favre played for the Packers. They had tickets to see the last game of the 2010 season, but then the Metrodome collapsed and they decided not to suffer outside at TCF Bank Stadium.
“We found out the Vikings were playing London and said, ‘We can’t miss this,’ ” John said. “So we flew in.”
“It was easy to get tickets, by luck,” Jorrie said. “Other military spouses posted a link we could use to get early access that the Europeans got. So the day they opened I was right on it and was able to get them right away.
“This worked out well. We’ve never been to London before.”
The Voses made a wise decision. I’ve traveled to London three times this decade, twice for Vikings games and once for the Olympics. I’ve spent more than a month in this city and feel like I’ve seen a smidgen of what might be the world’s greatest city, or at least its greatest English-speaking city.
Everywhere you go, from the Thames to the suburbs in which the Vikings have practiced on their two recent trips here, London looks like a Hollywood set.
You can see where Shakespeare drew his inspiration, or where Sherlock Holmes solved mysteries, or where hundreds of movies have been filmed.
If you read J.K. Rowling but never visited England, you wouldn’t understand that Diagon Alley exists in many other names.
London combines the best of New York, Boston and San Francisco. You can question the logistics and logic behind the NFL’s attempt to interest the U.K. in American football. You cannot question the NFL’s taste in this case.
Only in the case of American football could anyone ever argue that Jacksonville is in any way superior to London.
At Wembley Stadium in 2013, the crowd responded enthusiastically to the game between the Vikings and Steelers. This Sunday, the woeful Browns will face a good but relatively starless Vikings team at Twickenham Stadium, a rugby pitch that will lack some of Wembley’s modernity but, according to British journalists, compensate with charm.
London is an illogical place to play American football. The locals don’t seem to care, and are quite happy with the Premier League, cricket, rugby, tennis and golf.
But London is such an immense, sprawling city that the NFL wouldn’t need to attract a large percentage of the populace to increase the value of their broadcasts.
Playing in London might be inconvenient, but it creates an opportunity for fans to visit a great city.
Friday night, London bustled as the light faded and the pubs filled, and the Voses were among the many Vikings fans who were glad they came.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org