It all started with a key-ring. One of these to be exact http://i972.photobucket.com/albums/ae204/RetroDan16/Gumball%20Jerseys/001.jpg
A friend at school when I was about 7 years old had the New York Giants one, it came in a packet of Bubble Gum, so I got my Mum to stop at the local shop after school one day and in my packet, this Red Wooden Key-Ring with the letters SF and 49ers on it.
Being the "watch anything sporting" kid, I always used to watch Trans World Sport on Channel 4 on weekend mornings and this team that I had this SF 49ers keyring of, well, they were pretty good and so a long and beautiful and sometimes tortuous and painful relationship was born.
The games were on channel 4 back then and we were lucky to get one a week if memory serves. If the 49ers were playing then my parents would be instructed to record it onto video and I would then watch the game or highlights when I got home from school the next day!
I'll always remember desperately checking Ceefax and Teletext before School Monday morning's, almost praying that the GRIDIRON page will update with how my new team got on.
It was almost then by accident one night when playing with my radio in my bedroom, I stumbled across the Armed Forces Network where I could actually LISTEN to games live! Wow. How cool was this. Not only do I have Radio 5 for football, Channel 4 for watching games, I now have this "new station" for my American Football! Although the signal often left a lot to be desired. It would often involve moving aerials, or the radio just to try and catch some of the plays!
My first 49ers game I remember watching was Super Bowl XXIII in January of 1989. The John Candy Drive! From that game on, my collection of recorded games off the telly grew and grew and often in school holiday's I'd work my way through them. Not your normal behavior of a child who was thousands of miles away from San Francisco with no real connection other than a key-ring!
I even remember writing an article for our School "Newspaper" about the 49ers when I was only 11 years old!
The love affair continued through secondary school and then in the mid-late 90's when my parents got Sky TV, I was able to watch the game more regularly.
This continued through the early 2000's and then when the Internet was more readily available, both at work and at home, it was like I was in NFL and Statistic heaven. I had everything I could ever want, all at the click of a mouse.
Sky Sports began to show more games and more highlights and the game was quietly gaining momentum on the UK shores.
In the spring and summer of 2009, we had some downtime at work and this enabled me to spend some time writing about the sport I loved so much for a UK based website. This was possibly one of the best things that could happen to me going forward as in 2010 it was announced that MY San Francisco 49ers were coming to Wembley, to play a regular season game as part of our International Series games that started here back in 2007. It was like a boyhood dream come true. Only this was just the beginning.
My first venture into Social Media sites was Facebook and it was on here I noticed a number of former NFL players had their own pages, just like you or I. I spotted an opportunity. I wonder if any of these would be willing to do an interview for the site, but how do I know they are "real" not people pretending?
In October of 2009, I got given an email address for Roger Craig. I actually can't remember how, or where I got it from, but Matt Maiocco confirmed it was genuine, so what do I have to lose? He can only say No, or not reply. I send the request from my work account. I go home. the next morning comes and I log on to my Work PC and the fact I emailed Roger the day before had almost escaped my mind, until my Outlook refreshes, I GOT A REPLY I say out loud as a smile as wide as the Golden Gate bridge appears on my face. Does 8am PT/4pm GMT next Monday work for you?! "Oh my God! I'm going to interview Roger Craig!!"
That weekend I don't think I thought about anything else. This guy who I had grown up watching on VHS video's and highlights packages whilst everyone else was watching Manchester United and Liverpool was going to be ringing me, just some bloke who works in an office for an interview.
4-pm came the phone rings at my desk and I take the call. I have a list of questions all lined up and everything goes just smoothly. This guy is so nice! I can't believe it. I type up the notes that night, send it to Roger to proof and it's published later that week. Incredible.
October 25th 2010. It's 5am, the alarm clock is going off. It's time. I get up, I wake my girlfriend up and we have breakfast and set off on the bus across Reading. Reading station is our first destination. We go to the ticket machine, 2 tickets to London for the Heathrow Bus purchased, we walk to the Bus Stop. We're taking a chance that we might just be able to meet some of the players as they arrive in the Country. Some previous digging found out that the team should be arriving around 8am. We sit in arrivals, we chat, we drink coffee. 8am becomes 9am, 9am becomes a bit later and I'm starting to wonder, have I been given duff info? Am I in the right Terminal, then wait... "There's a guy with a TV camera over there, I wonder if......" We get up, wander around and then there's folks starting to come through, all with official 49ers suits, jackets on. "This is happening, I'm going to meet some of the players" and just like that, here they were. My voice must have sounded like that of a teenage boy going through puberty as I ask TOM RATHMAN for a photo, he duly obliges, I put my arm around him, he was RIPPED still! They continue to come, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, Joe Staley, Alex Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Brian Jennings, Jim Tomsula (What a guy) All more than happy to pose for pictures. Sure, I got blown off by a few of the guys and coaches, but that wasn't getting in the way of this!
Could this week get any better, well, most people would think No, however, through doing a little of that writing, the guys who ran the site had hooked me up with a Press Credential. I was officially going to see the 49ers practice. I was attending the 49ers Press Conference. My heart absolutely pounding as Coach Singletary is chatting at the podium. I had a list of questions, was I brave enough? Which shall I ask? Then there's a few seconds of silence... Can we expect to see more of Brian Westbrook given the injury to Alex Smith and Troy Smith at Quarterback
Coach Singletary glares at me, thinks for a second and answers with what was probably a generic cliche full response, I think I was so surprised I got it out, it didn't register. This then led to further questions about the gameplan from Matt Maiocco, Eric Branch, Matt Barrows etc and I even got a couple more questions in near the end before it was wrapped up.
I'm not going to lie, I was shaking like a leaf! But dammit, I felt great!!
From here, we were taken out to practice, where we mainly saw stretching, running drills, some passing drills before the players were released for the dressing room. I managed to get a 1 on 1 with Dashon Goldson, I got in on interviews with Patrick Willis and Brian Westbrook before I found Matt Maiocco and Matt Barrows who for once were the interviewees not Interviewers!
Could this week get any better, well, most people would think No, however, it was about to. I go home that afternoon, I write up all my interviews, send them off, check my email and I have one from Roger Craig, I'm here in London, I can't believe it, I'm staying at Hotel name. I give him a call and we arrange to meetup that night. So I travel back to London, with my Girlfriend this time and we find the hotel and spend a great couple of hours with Roger who also introduces us to both Keena Turner and Nate Clements in the bar.
Could this week get any better, well, most people would think No, however, on the Saturday there is a fan rally at Trafalgar Square where the crowd are introduced to Jerry Rice and a group of the current team up on stage as well as Roger, who then name checked us both in his speech! I had a couple of moments right there! Then to top off the whole 2010 Wembley week, the 49ers somehow claw a victory out against the Denver Broncos, a week after handing the Carolina Panthers their only win of the season in a game in which Alex Smith got injured and David Carr played QB.
In January of 2012 I made my first visit to San Francisco and I wasn't disappointed. I had purchased tickets for the playoff game versus the Saints. I booked my flight and hotels and I was about to achieve a life ambition. I would see a game at Candlestick Park and Oh what a game it was. The now famous words of Ted Robinson and Eric Davis will be forever etched into my brain... "Smith in the Gun with Gore on his left hip, 3rd down Alex takes the snap, Alex looking"
"At the Post"
"CAUGHT! TOUCHDOWN! TOUCHDOWN 49ERS!"
"VERNON DAVIS WITH THE PLAY OF HIS LIFE. ALEX SMITH WITH THE PLAY OF HIS LIFE AND THE 49ERS ARE 9 SECONDS AWAY FROM PLAYING FOR THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP, CAN YOU FEEL CANDLESTICK"
That still makes my eyes go moist when I hear it!!
Probably the most remarkable thing about my trip though was my journey from SFO to my hotel. After I had booked all my tickets, I had emailed Roger to say I was coming and he said let me know nearer the time when your flight arrives and I will pick you up. I thought this was a very kind offer and this probably won't happen, however, he confirmed before I left he would and as I exited the front doors of SFO, who is there waiting for me, none other than #33 himself!
My second trip to San Francisco for football (and 3rd trip in total) was this year, where we went over to see the home opener versus Green Bay, so I have been very lucky with my 2 trips to Candlestick Park in my lifetime. I'm just a lucky win on the horses or football away from making it a 3rd before she closes her doors for the last time.