Green and gold across the pond
Ryan Peacock and Stephen O’Brien are the founders of UKPackers.co.uk, the largest site devoted to the Green Bay Packers in the United Kingdom. Peacock, who lives near London, and O’Brien, who lives in Ireland, met over their shared love of the Packers, and discussed with us the creation of their site, being a Packers fan across the pond, the offseason, and much more.
Packerland Pride (PLP): So how did the site happen? How did you guys meet?
Ryan Peacock: I think a lot of it comes from, there were a few different (Packers) sites that kept starting up and you’d follow them and they’d seem to get going and then they’d somehow disappear. One day I guess I just thought why not start my own and see how it can go, so I did. We started off with a Twitter account. I met Stephen by the Twitter account. We got to talking and I realized Stephen was just as mad as I was, and from there we started dreaming big – let’s have a website, let’s do this, let’s do that. It kind of spiraled out of control. It grew quite quickly, and then as we went we just met more and more people.
Stephen O’Brien: Ryan was a mad fanatic and he was sort of looking for Green Bay Packers stuff in the U.K., and there wasn’t really anything for such a big club. So Ryan started and I was writing for NFL Ireland, which was not as big as NFL UK and it was unofficial, but I was writing for them about all the NFL teams, and trying to do as much about the Packers as I could without sounding too biased. So when I saw Ryan start up the group I jumped on and said, “Look if you need a hand with writing articles,” and then between myself and Ryan we drummed up a few articles, drummed up a few writers, and now we’ve grown to the biggest Packers fan group in Europe. It’s insane.
PLP: When did you start the site?
Ryan Peacock: This was our first full season. We probably started around about this time (March) last year. So we’re only a year old. And in that time myself and Stephen set up what we’ve got, we’ve gotten other people to contribute to the site. We’ve got Dave Pione, there’s a few different writers, quite a group of us now that are pushing this thing forward, and we’re always looking for new talent to come aboard. We can showcase what they’re doing and at the same time it sort of provides more and more content for what we’re trying to do.
Stephen O’Brien: Dave Pione, he’s just an incredible writer. He’s really, really funny, with an insane knowledge of the game, and he was American but now he’s an honorary Brit because he’s been over in England for years now and he’s getting married to an English girl, so he’s just as good as gone. (Laughs.)
PLP: How did you design and build the site?
Stephen O’Brien: Ryan is our IT guy, and puts up with the site and does all the magic with that.
Ryan Peacock: Basically I think everything I’ve done so far I’ve self-taught myself. And then we’ve gone through it and tried. This is the first time I’ve put a website together. Any previous experience I had was two weeks of work experience when I worked for a graphics design company when I was still at school. But unfortunately I can’t draw so I didn’t have a future in graphics.
PLP: There’s also a store on the site with pretty cool, unique Packers shirts. Do you guys make the T-shirts too?
Ryan Peacock: I’d love to take credit for those. I put together an idea, but we have a guy, Luke Beauchamp, who does a lot of the artwork and he creates the pieces. Then we have a lady called Tammy over in Miami, she does a lot of the Photoshop stuff, so she takes the handdrawn images and puts them into an actual program and then we send them to a guy up in Manchester here in the U.K. who actually produces the shirts and sends them out. So we’ve got two people who put them together in America and we produce them here in the U.K.
Stephen O’Brien: What we’ve found as well is that most of these people do it pro bono. They’re just so mad about the Packers that it is sort of a family thing. I know the woman who does the graphic design in America, whereas she might pay for the image rights, she doesn’t actually charge us. We found the same with Luke. We approached him because we saw his art on Facebook, and he said, “Yeah you can take my images and put them on whatever you want.” So we put them on T-shirts and sell them to contribute to the costs of the site. But Luke has never put his hand out for any money, and he just put out another one with Eddie Lacy that is just a ridiculous piece of artwork that he just says, “Use for whatever you want.” He enjoys being apart of it, so we sort of witnessed that it’s a very family-like atmosphere, which is partly why I suppose we’re all Packers fans.
PLP: This seems like a good time to ask: how did you become Packers fans?
Ryan Peacock: Well me myself, I became a Packers fan by pure chance. I remember getting a Playstation game when I was 12 or 13, something like that, and my mom buys me this Playstation game at Christmas and on the front of it was Dorsey Levens. Obviously at the time I didn’t know who Dorsey Levens was, didn’t particularly know the Green Bay Packers. But I thought, well I’ll start playing with the team that’s on the front because they’ll be the best team, so I start playing with that team, it’s the Green Bay Packers, and that’s it. That’s honestly how I came to be a Green Bay Packers fan, just because my mom happened to buy me that game, and on the front was Dorsey Levens. That’s it, really. I think it was the following season after we beat New England in the Super Bowl.
PLP: That’s all it takes sometimes. A game or a player or the team’s colors, something like that.
Ryan Peacock: Yeah, there’s a couple of guys we spoke to – one of our writers, Dan, actually supports Norwich City in the English Premier League and their colors are yellow and green, and so we’ve actually got quite a few Norwich City football, or soccer, fans, if you like, that then picked up the Packers because they were the nearest colors. I actually get quite a lot of that. I know a friend of mine actually picked up the Kansas City Chiefs because their colors were the same as Arsenal’s. There are very different reasons for it, but I think I’ve got a good one.
Stephen O’Brien: Yeah I suppose I became a Packers fan more so because, over here, the way it’s done is probably the way soccer is done in the States. If you want to find anything out you kind of have to research it. So mine was a very cognitive decision to sort of go, “Okay who am I going to support?” Then of course you get swept up with the whole hillbilly Brett Favre thing too, then Aaron Rodgers swung around and he was pretty boss. But from an Irish point of view it was good for me, because Wisconsin is kind of a farming state, it’s kind of very country, so I kind of relate to it because that’s the way Ireland is. It has a bit of the back arse-of-nowhere sort of feel to it, a small, tight-knit community. That’s what drew me to it as well, the whole steeped-in-history part. That’s why we’re all mad to go over, because we’ve been welcomed by everyone over there, saying you have to come over. That’s a very Irish attitude, “Ah, just come on over and have some crack.” And “crack” is an Irish word meaning to have a bit of fun, not actual crack.
PLP: Very good to know. So neither of you have been over here yet?
Ryan Peacock: No, not yet. But we’ve actually got a sort of deal in place. I know Stephen was talking to a guy over there, but we’ve possibly got a deal in place to sort out tickets, transfers, flights, all the rest. We’re trying to put something together probably not for this season coming but for the season after. We’d like to come out as a group, and I know there’s a lot of people in Green Bay and the surrounding areas saying when you get out here let us know you’re coming, so I think hopefully it would be pretty cool. It would be a dream realized, I know that much.
Stephen O’Brien: Yeah that deal we were looking at would have us over for three days, then we’d get the tailgate, and beer and food outside, and then a tour of the grounds, and then we do a lot of networking as well so we’re actually talking to some mayors of cities around Green Bay, so it’s pretty crazy. What we imagine is like a float going down Donald Driver Way. (Laughs.)
Ryan Peacock: I want to see a college marching band as well. As we get off the plane I want the band to start. You’ve got to dream big. (Laughs.)
PLP: What, if anything, is different about your approach to or style of writing about the NFL in the UK?
Ryan Peacock: Some of the articles we have written, all but maybe one of them, are from the United Kingdom. So we have maybe a different perspective on some things, we have a different style of writing, and actually we have as many views on our articles from the United States as we do from the UK. I think there’s a piece that Stephen actually wrote where somebody said it’s really interesting reading what you’re writing because it’s different, and we weren’t aware that we were doing anything particularly different, but it’s different and gives a refreshing view of things that are going on over in the States. So we think that’s quite good, because we’re not solely just the UK. It seems to be that we are actually getting a bit of readership from the United States as well.
Stephen O’Brien: I was writing for NBC’s site for awhile, I was doing articles for them, it was NBC26 and WTMJ-4, so we were writing articles for them. But we’re not after the inside scoop, we’re not after trying to say Johnny Jolly said this or Aaron Rodgers is thinking that way, or he’s not getting on with Mike McCarthy, we’re not looking to dish up dirt. We sort of take the perspective that we’re not looking for breaking news, we just want to talk to the players to see how they feel about wearing the Packers jersey, things like that, you know? It’s the same with the articles as well. They’re a refreshing view because we’re not looking to pander to the U.S. media. We just sort of say what we feel about it, here’s how we feel from this side of the pond, right or wrong.
Ryan Peacock: All of our writers have their own style and what they’re doing. We had some previews, like scouting the enemy pieces that Dan was writing, and he just basically watched the game tape of the previous week of the team we were playing that week, analyzed them. That was good. Then we had Dave, who was writing a post-game piece, and in-between there we had some opinion pieces from Lee Ann, who got some great feedback.
Then Dave’s written some pieces in support of Jerry Kramer that were huge, and off the back of that Stephen interviewed his daughter, who does a lot trying get him into the Hall of Fame. I’m not a writer and I don’t pretend to be but I did a couple of articles that were educational pieces, I guess, for some on the background of the Johnny Jolly situation, or a history of the Lambeau Leap, things like that which, to people in Green Bay and the United States, are very obvious, but educating people in this country about the history of the franchise and so on, there are probably things they are not aware of. Certainly a lot of fans in younger generations probably haven’t seen anything of LeRoy Butler, or would know that he was the first one to do the Lambeau Leap. So I think everyone’s got their own way of doing things. Stephen was at one point writing one or two articles every week.
Stephen O’Brien: Yeah, one or two articles every week for NBC. That was pretty stressful. But that contrast in approaches, to answer your question, I don’t think we try to present ourselves as having one U.K. voice of the Packers. We’ve got sort of a different paradigm to the U.S. in the sense that, people in the U.S. probably see the NFL just as their birthright almost. Or it’s just what they do, it’s a Sunday. Whereas over here we have varying levels of interest. Some people just don’t care about the history of them, they just want to watch the game, they’ll jump on the team that’s good and wants to win. Then you have people that, like Ryan says, live it day in and day out, which is what Ryan and I do. So we have to sort of write articles to cater to everybody. We don’t want to alienate people by being too clever; we want to bring a certain level of, “Oh look at Clay Matthews and the size of his arms!” You know? Stuff like that. So we found, hit them with a bit of knowledge, but still be a bit clever with it, give them a bit of history if that’s what they need, like Ryan was doing with the Lambeau Leap, which was really popular, and then give them some funny pictures that they can retweet. And as annoying as it is, sometimes the really in-depth articles that can take you almost a week to put together are less popular than a funny picture of Clay Matthews flicking his hair in the air, you know?
PLP: What is the NFL’s popularity like in the U.K.?
Ryan Peacock: I think it’s definitely grown. If I think back to, what am I now? I’m 28, so if I go back to when I was 17 – and just a story to demonstrate how far it has come in those 10 or so years, I remember going to college one day and in the train station seeing a friend of mine who happens to be there in a New England Patriots jersey. And this is one of my best friends – still one of my best friends now – I’ve known him since I was about 3 or 4 years old, and there he is in the New England Patriots jersey. So I go up to him, “Where have you been?” And he said, “I’ve been to an American football shop and I just bought my first jersey.” I said, “How long have you been watching it?” He said, “Oh you know a couple of years.”
So I’m thinking there’s my best friend, I’ve also been watching for a couple of years but not talking to anyone about it, because I didn’t realize anyone else liked it. And neither of us talked to each other. So it’s kind of like we’re all hiding in our houses at 1 in the morning to watch a game, but don’t tell anybody you like American football because it’s not cool.
Now we’ve gone 10 years down the line and I think it has blown up in this country. It’s huge now. And the fans for these London games, they’re packing out Regent Street, absolutely chock-full. There are so many Super Bowl parties now, there are bars around London showing regular season games and doing regular NFL-type deals with food and drinks and everything, so it’s becoming a lot more mainstream, and we’re talking that growth in probably 10 years.
I would say everybody now, but maybe even sort of four or five years ago, I thought the offseason was pretty much the draft, and I’d just sort of see who we got in the draft and check out the players, then wait for the season to start again. But now I actually think more and more, as the education gets better, as the access from the States gets better over here, and through Sky Sports they’re bringing more in, and it’s easier to get the NFL Network now, so with all these things now it’s easier to get this information and so, you can live every aspect of the offseason, you can live not only Sunday or gameday, but you’ve got Thursday Night Football and the NFL Network every day of the week if you want it. So it’s become a lot easier to follow it. I think that’s really helped the growth.
Stephen O’Brien: Like what everyone says, the NFL is just about money and they’re looking to expand markets. In Ireland where I am they brought over the Notre Dame-Navy game. That sold out completely. And the important thing to note here as well is that I think the growth of the game here depends on the accessibility of people in the States to allow that to happen. What really annoys me is that, like, it was evident in the Irish game – let’s face it, right, you might get some people in America saying they’re Manchester United fans, and some people in England laugh at them, laugh at the Americans and say, “Oh yeah right, what do you know about it?” They’re sort of snobby about it, saying you don’t know enough.
And that’s kind of, we’ve witnessed that with the NFL and even the college game, because what happened? The college game came to Ireland and I was delighted because I was writing for NFL Ireland at the time and the guy I was writing for got a press pass to go down and take pictures and interview the players. But what we noticed when it went on TV was that there was an Irish guy who left Ireland about 25 years ago and went to the States and became a really big radio host. They got him to go around in the stands and ask people questions about the game. He spent the entire day on TV talking to these Irish people like, “Ah, do you know the rules of the game?” And they’re going yeah we do, we paid to come in here and watch the game. “Oh, well explain the offsides then compared to soccer, do you know how many play?” I mean he was picking out people who look clueless, and they just proved him wrong. And that’s kind of what pisses us off, because like what Ryan is saying, it is a massive game and people really underestimate how much we know. With the London games there were 400,000 people passing through Regent Street to join in the activities. When you think 400,000 exposed to the game it’s insane, and that’s per Wembley (Stadium) game (where the NFL plays its games in London), and now there’s going to be three Wembley games (in 2014), so 400,000 times three is 1.2 million people who are going to be exposed on a very personal level, who are going to be at the game or around the game or at the activities outside the game. So it’s becoming massive around here.
Ryan Peacock: It always used to be Spanish football on Sunday evenings, Barcelona or Madrid and all that, but actually a lot of places now if you go in and ask to put the American football on they’ll put it on, whereas they used to look at you like you had two heads. There will always be someone who will come up to you and say, “Why do you want to watch this, it goes on for five hours and there’s commercials every five minutes,” and you go, “Yeah okay.” You’re always going to get that guy that says it’s rubbish or I don’t understand it, but at the same time he doesn’t want to understand it. I think generally there’s a lot of interest in it now, and I think as well, what’s actually grown in interest along with the NFL is the amateur game in the U.K. and in Ireland. I think the participation in that now is big. We’ve got flag football in the parks now, they’re actually starting to teach flag football in some schools because it’s such an inclusive game. It doesn’t matter, boys and girls can play. If you’re big, small, heavy, slim, you can have a role on a football team.
If we go back to why we started (the site) and all that, I think it’s because individually we all knew there were a lot of fans out there. We knew it was getting bigger, we knew there was a lot of new fans out there that needed some guidance. So when we started out, there was only a small number of us but we knew it was something we needed to put time into because potentially it was a big market base for the Green Bay Packers in the U.K. and Ireland. And I think we are just starting to get into that now. But every week there’s more U.K. and Ireland-based fans suddenly just coming across our website, so there’s more out there. What we’re trying to do is just get everybody together, provide that hub of information, give everybody a home, if you like.
Back when I started watching it, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it with. Now we just provide, there are so many people that are making friends, we have meet-ups, usually on opening weekend and Super Bowl weekend, and people are getting together and actually making friendships now based around the Green bay Packers and solely because of the site. That’s probably the best thing out of all of it. We’re actually providing people now, you k