UK Faithful – Chris Wilkinson

49ers, New York and the British Army

Chriswilk1I want to tell you the story of how I became a 49ers fan, how I became a member of the British army, and how football and my military career are entwined with my sense of honor, duty, love and passion.

I live in the UK, and growing up there was only a small amount of American football on offer here. Gary Imlach brought us the glamour and the glitz on weekend mornings and my dad sometimes allowed me to stay up for a little bit while he was watching the NFL on Channel 4. I don’t remember much about the games and in my early teens I forgot about it altogether. Fast forward to 1996 and I was in my room watching videos on my old VHS player. I found a video, and slid it into the machine, only to find that it was an NFL game that my dad had recorded. I told myself that I would support whoever won the game. The team that won was the 49ers.

From that moment I was hooked. I immersed myself in all things football and I even signed up for the local youth team, the Norwich Devils. I spent two seasons there before moving on to girls and booze, but while I was there I enjoyed mixing with like-minded people. For those of us in the UK that love football, there is a feeling like we are kind of nerdy followers; probably a similar feeling to that of Americans who enjoy the English Premier League.


There wasn’t much coverage beyond what Channel 4 had to offer. There was a newspaper, and the stories were always out of date by the time it was published. That didn’t matter to me. I used to cut out the pictures of my favorite players and stick them into my scrap book. Sky Sports had NFL games but in my house we never had the money to get a full subscription. I can remember having a Sky box one year, and in those days you could get audio but no picture if you didn’t subscribe to Sky Sports, so I could listen to the games but not see them. My memory of Terrell Owens making the Catch II was sitting in front of a static covered screen, with headphones plugged into the TV, and hearing John and Pat call the game. “Three man rush… Young stumbles on the way back and fires up the middle… Pass is caught by Owens!” It was amazing and I still think of that as being one of my best 49ers memories.

Another great moment was Garrison Hearst and his 96 yard touchdown run. They were my glory days before the drop in fortunes. The Faithful campaign really struck a chord with me. Those of us that stuck with the team really were faithful.

chriswilk2In 2001 I had just enjoyed week 1 of the NFL schedule and I was waiting in anticipation for week 2. Again, I did not have Sky Sports, so the only football that I could watch live was Monday Night Football which was shown on Channel 5. The 9/11 attacks took everyone by surprise and the NFL understandably cancelled the games scheduled for week 2. I was crushed. I could not believe that somebody could do such a terrible thing and I vowed that if anything like that happened in my country I would join the army and get my revenge.

On July 7th 2005 terrorists struck London with a series of coordinated attacks. The heinous murders only made coalition forces and ordinary citizens more steadfast in their resolve. I was working for Pizza Hut as a delivery driver at the time and I drove past my local reserve unit several times every day. I used to pass it and think that I had promised myself that I would join if they ever attacked us. And even though I felt guilty for lying to myself, I did not for some time. Then one day I went onto Facebook in search of an old school friend. I could not find him but I found his sister; she told me that the reason that I could not find him was because he was fighting in Afghanistan with the Royal Marines. I remembered him being a skinny little guy who was only good at distance running. I just could not believe that he was a marine. The next day, I joined up.

I never did get my revenge. Afghanistan is drawing to a close and the only tours that I have done have been United Nations Peace Keeping tours. Although there is no shooting involved, I feel as though those tours are equally as important. Surely the act of protecting life is as noble as protecting my own country. Before my first tour I got a 49ers tattoo on my back and I have had to explain it to many a squaddy in the showers. I even made the effort to stay awake in foreign countries so that I could watch live games while on duty; often swapping with the guys so that I could get the graveyard shift on game days. I have been in the army for quite a few years now, and three of them have been as a full time soldier. I currently serve as a recruiter for my unit. Joining the army was the greatest decision of my life and I only wish that I had joined earlier.

The start of the 2001 NFL season was memorable for wrong reasons. Terrorists took the lives of innocent people, temporarily disrupted world events, and they took the NFL away from me for a week. I made a promise to myself that I kept in the long run. The 49ers, New York and the British Army have shaped my adult life, in ways that I never would have expected, and I hope that they have made me a better person.

Thanks for reading.

We all at 49erFaithfulUK would like to thank Chris for his service, and we feel particularly poignant about being able to post this on 11/11/2013.

Follow Chris on Twitter @CSJW