FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The Patriots will be playing nine home games in 2009 by the count of members of the UKPatriots fan club.
After the NFL announced that New England will travel to London's Wembley Stadium to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next October as part of the NFL's International Series, the avid Patriots supporters from across the United Kingdom celebrated the addition of a sort of "home game" for their favorite team.
"Obviously, we're very excited for it," said Mark Ward, longtime member of the UKPatriots. "I think it's great because both the teams are well represented here and have strong followings. But the Patriots, with the success that they've had lately, are familiar to anyone who follows football here and I couldn't think of a better team to represent the NFL than the Patriots."
Over the last five seasons, members of the UKPatriots - the first fan club to enlist with the Official Patriots.com Fan Club Registry - have organized trips to home games in Foxborough.
Next season, the UKPats will have the opportunity to see the Patriots play in their own backyard.
"I think the general public in the UK have taken to the Patriots well," said Jaime Macrae of Chester, England. "The popularity in football in this country has increased over the last couple of years. I personally think that there will be added interest in next year's game due to the Patriots being there."
When the UKPatriots visited on their yearly road trip to Gillette Stadium a few seasons back, a message from the group flashed across the scoreboard declaring that they "wanted our tea back."
During this year's visit to the United States on the weekend the Patriots tussled with the St. Louis Rams, the New England fans from the Isles were in a giving mood. On their latest pilgrimage, the UKPatriots group of Patriots fans from across the United Kingdom got their first glimpse at The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon.
The road trippers left a more permanent mark at The Hall, donating a number of items to The Hall's collection, including pictures from their past visits, group T-shirts and an UKPatriots flag that has accompanied the group on each of its trips. Ward, a veteran UKPatriots Roadtrip member along with his wife Mandy, presented the items to curator Brent Hensel, who has showcased the memorabilia as part of a fan exhibit at The Hall.
"The UKPatriots are extremely devoted Patriot fans," Hensel added. "For most of them, the trip serves as their yearly planned vacation that they have saved their money for, traveling all the way across the ocean to see the Patriots play and, this year, to visit The Hall at Patriot Place. It's wonderful to have such amazing Patriot fans from all around the world and to have them give back to The Hall. I know they'll be looking forward to the game next year."
Behind each of the small tokens from the group's travels are the stories of the fans, themselves, and the oftentimes extraordinary measures they've taken to stay in touch with their favorite American football team.
Like Macrae, for example.
"When I first started following the team, I remember when the 1993 Draft happened, I actually rang the Patriots offices from the UK to see who we'd drafted."
To which he added, "Thank goodness for the world wide web, today."
While it may be relatively easier these days to keep tabs on the NFL from outside the United States, some fans, like Maurizio Jaconelli of Scotland, fell into the game without ever having seen a game in North America previously.
"I started to follow American football more because we had the Scottish Claymores playing in NFL Europe. It was sad to see what happened to that league, people were starting to follow it and getting to know the game. But I'd always been a fan of the Patriots."
James Cuff was introduced to the game while taking part in a study abroad program in Connecticut. While studying in New England, he began to follow the Patriots on their way to their first Super Bowl title in 2001.
"I was hooked," he said.
When Cuff returned home, it was nearly impossible for his girlfriend Kelly Lisle to escape the grasp of James' new obsession, which sometimes kept him up through all the hours of the night to listen to Patriots games for the occasional Sunday or Monday night matchup.
"He definitely pulled me into it," Lisle added on the couple's first visit to Gillette Stadium. "But now we're here, coming to see the team play. I'm glad he got me into it."
In the hours following the announcement that the Patriots were London bound, the UKPatriots site was flooded with new applicants of likeminded fans looking to share their plans for the upcoming trip.
"I think it was the busiest 24 hours the boards have ever seen," Ward said the day after the announcement. "We've already had over 100 people express their interest in attending and meeting up. We got the news over here around 6 o'clock and within a couple of hours we already had 15 new members. Hopefully, that number keeps on growing."