The Global Huddle

Keeping up with the unfolding NFL season on the British side of the pond is a whole new ball game these days, reports CBS News Correspondent Tom Rivers.

A decade ago, the football landscape in Europe was bleaker than Lambeau Field in December. Tuning into the American Forces Network radio station in Frankfurt was about the only way to hear live games. But even that meant lousy reception with the play-by-play commentary fading in and out.

CBS News Correspondent
Tom Rivers
For a fan, keeping up with injuries, trades and retirements wasn't easy. But these days, things are different.

Briton Alan Hancock is emblematic of the change. He started following the game in the late 1980s after his brother moved to Los Angeles. Known to his pals as Â"the pigskin prophet,Â" Hancock admits that at this time of the year, his life revolves around football.

Â"I realize that for 21 weeks of the year IÂ'm locked into football, but hey, that leaves 31 free,Â" he says.

His girlfriend, Charlotte Hoare, isn't amused. She says she's living proof that the football widow phenomenon has been exported to England. For her, Sunday means Â"having a long bath and staying upstairs while Al has his noisy football buddies over.Â"

This Sunday is Charlotte's birthday, but Hancock says he'll have to take her out for dinner on Monday because, Â"The Vikes and Green Bay are on and me and my mates are heading down to the local (pub) to watch it. Priorities are priorities.Â"

Live satellite broadcasts and the Internet has changed everything for ex-pat football fans.

Sunday nights in London means at least one live televised game and sometimes a double-header. For the die hard, there is also the Monday night game, which actually goes out a day later starting at midnight.

ThereÂ's a Saturday TV highlights program and a couple of football magazines, but the biggest boon of all is the Internet, which allows fans to dip in and soak up the stats.

As it's been said many times before: The game will never knock soccer off the map in the Â"land of soccer,Â" but that is not the point.

For those who do follow what they call Â"American FootballÂ" here, new technologies have transformed the landscape.

Still, Hancock and his band of like-minded football buddies plan a long weekend trip to the states to catch a couple of games.

Â"Last year we went to New York for a Giants game and then to Foxboro for a Pats contest,Â" he says. Â"This November, the plan is to hit Florida and see Jacksonville, then Tampa Bay play.Â"

Though a deep-down Raiders fan, Hancock says his Green Bay Â"cheeseheadÂ" will be Â"firmly on come Sunday,Â" for the televised face-off against Minnesota.

While contemplating knocking the cheesehead off, Charlotte nstead eyes the calendar -- counting the months until the season ends.

©1999, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved