Despite the focus being on the Ravens and Titans, leading up to the final NFL UK Game of 2023, 49ers’ fans were given plenty to be excited about, as the team prepared to host their first-ever London watch party, with a special appearance from 49ers’ legend, Joe Staley.
Before kick-off in London, Decyfr caught up with the former offensive tackle – breaking down the 49ers’ strong start to the season, his love for English football, his soft spot for Tottenham Hotspur and the growth of the British 49er Faithful.
Going into their Week 6 match-up with Cleveland, the 2023 San Francisco 49ers sat atop the NFL with a 5-0 record. Thanks, in large part, to their prolific roster. As Staley pointed out: “The team is one of the few teams in the NFL, so far, that have talent on both sides of the ball.”
While the defense continues to dominate, the offense has capitalised on the uniquely versatile skillset of Christian McCaffrey. Having just tied Hall of Famer Lenny Moore’s record of 17 consecutive games with a touchdown, McCaffrey has proven himself to be the ultimate weapon for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.
— Decyfr Sport (@DecyfrSport) October 20, 2023
“If Kyle was to create a player, for his offense, it would be Christian McCaffrey. What he’s able to do, not only as a running back but also in the slot, as a receiver. I think he’d be a Pro Bowl receiver as well as a running back.”
Throughout his 13-year career, 6x Pro Bowler Staley was no stranger to exceedingly talented rosters, playing a pivotal role in two NFC Championship-winning teams. However, Staley is also well aware of the devastating impact that injuries can have on a team’s season: “As I know, and people that have watched the NFL for a long time, it’s a long season. Injuries happen.”
As if he had foreseen it, that week his former experienced costly injuries to stars Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams, resulting in a shock loss to Cleveland and a subsequent three-game losing streak.
Despite the recent rough patch for quarterback Brock Purdy, ‘Mr Irrelevant’ has repeatedly shown why he is the right man to lead the team to a bounce-back win this Sunday, against the 6-2 Jaguars. As Staley put it: “Kyle Shanahan really expects a lot out of the quarterback position and for him to really take the team by the reigns, shows a lot about his character and also his ability.”
While undoubtedly a highlight of his trip, the watch party was by no means the only thing tying Staley to the UK and Tottenham. After hanging up his boots on an all-time career after the 2019 season, Staley turned his attention to another code of football that he had fallen in love with during his time as a 49er. This infatuation began thanks to former professional soccer player, and wife, Carrie Drew along with Tottenham Hotspur.
Joe Staley 🤝 Gareth Bale
Former @49ers offensive tackle @jstaley74 tells Decyfr how his Premier League fandom started as well as the teams and players he follows 👀#Decyfr #FTTB #NFL | @GarethBale11 @NFLUK @PLinUSA pic.twitter.com/MRHgljiEek
— Decyfr Sport (@DecyfrSport) October 16, 2023
“As I was learning about the sport of soccer, because I knew nothing about it when I first met her. She was teaching me about the sport and Tottenham came over and did a cross-over US tour. I got to go out there and go to practice with them, and that was when Gareth Bale was coming up and he was just a left back and the team was ascending. I remember watching him and thinking, alright Tottenham is my team.
“In the last few years the 49ers have taken, as of last year, majority ownership of Leeds United and I was able to be part of that investment group about 4 years ago. So now, Leeds United is my team that I follow. But I can now say that Tottenham’s my Premier League team.”
Earlier this year, 49ers Enterprise struck a deal and took full ownership of Leeds United, with Paraag Marathe, President of 49ers Enterprises, appointed chairman of the club, and Staley part of the investment group.
During his time with the 49ers, Staley held numerous honours, including being named a 2nd team All-Pro on three occasions. However, when looking back on his career, Staley sees his two games in London, in 2010 and 2013, as “Two of the most enjoyable experiences that I had in the NFL.” Experiences that have only strengthened his ties with the UK, with his former team now competing with other NFL franchises for eyeballs and fans across the Atlantic.
🗣 “It’s going to be a really exciting year.”
— Decyfr Sport (@DecyfrSport) October 16, 2023
The 49ers are one of the six NFL teams with marketing, commercialisation and fan engagement rights to the UK market, alongside the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, as part of the league’s Global Markets Program (GMP). The league announced in May that the program had expanded to 21 teams, across 14 international markets.
With the British 49er Faithful growing year-on-year, alongside the popularity of the NFL in the UK, fans can look forward to even more memorable experiences on this side of the pond.
“Seeing the sport grow out here has been tremendous to watch. You’re seeing the fan base grow and I think the 49ers are really excited.”
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