Ravens' European fans excited team finally spreading its wings overseas

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LONDON –- Every year, from his home in Saint-Claude, France, Sebastien Juliard would wait in anticipation for the announcement of which NFL teams would play in England that season.

"I crossed my fingers and hoped to see the Ravens [on the list,]" Juliard said. "I deeply thought they will come one day, and it's happening for real. I still can't believe it."

Juliard, 35, a computer-aided designer, is one of many Ravens fans in Europe who will get a chance to see their favorite NFL team up close Sunday, when the Baltimore Ravens face the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium. It’s been a long wait because Baltimore is one of just eight NFL teams that hasn't yet played overseas.

A Facebook group called UK Ravens was set up in 2003 and has been the social media meeting place for those all over Europe. The number of members has grown over the past decade from 80 to 1,800.

Juliard was drawn to the Ravens by his love of defense, Ray Lewis and the city of Baltimore (thanks to author and producer David Simon of "The Wire").

"Before, I was just watching the Super Bowl every year and not following the regular season and playoffs," Juliard said. "Now, I’m a die-hard fan for about 10 years."

Niall Fagan, 39, of Dublin, Ireland, stumbled upon the Ravens when he spent the summer in Ocean City, Maryland, as a student and met a girl from the Baltimore area.

"I owe my love of the NFL and the Ravens to her mom, who took me to see my first-ever NFL game in 2002 between the Ravens and the Jaguars," said Fagan, who works in sales and marketing for Facebook. "I was instantly hooked."

Fagan has flown to Baltimore many times to see the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. He watches their games every week at a Dublin bar called the Woolshed with one of his best friends, who happens to be a Ravens fan as well.

But not everyone in Ireland is as familiar with the Ravens.

"I have a Ravens logo on the back of my car, and I can see people in my rearview mirror point at it when stuck at traffic lights and ask what is that about," Fagan said.

More people in London know about Baltimore’s NFL team. Even though there are no Ravens bars, there is a growing following here.

Many fans have worn their Ravens jerseys to the annual NFL games in England when the Jaguars, New England Patriots and New York Giants have played.

"Whenever I've been to the London games and see another Raven fan, you always get an acknowledgement, a nod or a wink, there," said Paul Davison, 39, who lives just outside London.

Davison became connected to the Ravens in 2006, when he visited Baltimore for business several times.

"I struck up a friendship with a Baltimore native [Dave Nowak], who got me following the Ravens, and I got him following my soccer team, Queens Park Rangers," Davison said. "We would send each other Ravens-QPR items in the post and in person over the years and would always be in touch on Facebook and text during games."

It will take a little longer for college student Calum Hunter to get to the game. Hunter lives in Glasgow, Scotland, which is about 400 miles from London. The drive to see the Ravens will take about seven hours.

Hunter, 23, has been a fan since the first game of the Ravens’ Super Bowl season. Baltimore’s season-opening rout of Cincinnati on Monday Night Football was the first NFL game he watched from beginning to end.

“This is the most excited I have been since Super Bowl XLVII for a Ravens game," Hunter said. "The defense is going to be amazing to see live, and it is not every day you get the chance to see a Super Bowl MVP quarterback [Joe Flacco] in action."