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British mafia? Bills fans look to make themselves seen and heard in London



British mafia? Bills fans look to make themselves seen and heard in London

Linda Casazza wasn’t sure how she wanted to celebrate her 60th birthday this year.

Then the Buffalo Bills 2023 season schedule came out and it included a road game in one of the world’s most famous and historic cities.

“I said, ‘Let’s go to London for the game,’” she said Wednesday at Buffalo Niagara International Airport. “My sister-in-law and best friend were like, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Casazza, Melissa Casazza and Lynn Kovaleski will have plenty of company on Sunday when the Bills take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as Bills Mafia hopes to take over London.

Thousands of fans are packing their Bills gear for an adventure of a lifetime – some already boarded planes earlier this week – to experience all that London and the surrounding areas have to offer and then watch the game in person.

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The Buffalo airport in Cheektowaga on Wednesday took on some of the feel of a tailgate party as Bills fans began boarding planes to take them to connecting flights that would eventually deliver them five time zones away in Great Britain.

“It’s definitely been a while that we’ve been planning, so it feels nice that it is here,” Melissa Casazza said.

Therese Forton-Barnes, founder of the Water Buffalo Club, works for a living as an event planner and has gone to a fair share of Bills roads games, but this trip is one of the biggest things she’s ever planned.

“This is huge and it is a big deal for all of us Bills fans to go over there,” said Forton-Barnes, who once studied abroad in London. “It’s just so exciting. I’ve been working on this trip quite a bit.”

“I’ve been to London before, so I’m not worried too much about seeing all the touristy things, but whatever your plans are, I think people on this trip are going to have a great time,” said John Mikulec, a Buffalo native living in Charlotte, N.C., and owner of tailgate company Gameday Hospitality, who left for London on Monday. “London is an awesome city and the ability to go over to see your team play there … is pretty cool.”

Jim and Tami Peczonczyk of Hamburg check in for their flights to London. 

Matthew Covert, the Orchard Park branch manager for AAA Western and Central New York, will be one of two escorts leading 54 fans on a trip to London hosted by AAA. He worked on piecing the trip together and then was invited to come along. The AAA group will depart on Thursday from Toronto International Airport and arrive in London the next day.

“I never thought that I’d have the opportunity to actually go over to London and watch a Bills game, so it’s very exciting,” Covert said.

Latrina Hornsby said she got a little lucky. Her friend planned the entire trip and then all she had to do was say, “tell me how much and I’ll send the money.”

“I’m super excited,” she said Wednesday at the airport. “You know the Mafia is going to show up.”

Once Bills fans get to London, there will be plenty to do and see. Sure, there’s the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace, as well as other iconic sites like the Big Ben clock tower and Westminster Abbey, but there will also be plenty of Bills Mafia-inspired events as well.

Some of them have been planned by Bills Backers groups in both the United Kingdom and London and others by stateside football tourism groups such as Fans of Buffalo.

Mikulec is traveling as part of a trip with Big Game Travel, which put together a similar trip last time the Bills were in London in 2015. The itinerary includes a happy hour at one of London’s largest pubs on Friday; a pep rally at a historic London venue on Saturday; and then an all-inclusive tailgate party next to the stadium on Sunday. All the events will feature Bills Hall of Fame receiver Andre Reed as the guest of honor.

Big Game Travel also will be taking fans around London to places like St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Eye, Big Ben, Parliament and Windsor Castle.

Mikulec estimates there should be at least 10,000 Bills fans in London for the Mafia takeover – U.K. version.

“I’m excited to see what the atmosphere is like over there,” Mikulec said.

Going with travel company On Location Experiences, which was hosting groups departing throughout the afternoon Wednesday, Linda Casazza said their plans include taking in London pubs, a cruise of Thames River, bus tours and an afternoon tea party. On Location will provide the tailgate party on game day.

Bills fans to London

Bills luggage tags are available for fans who booked their arrangements through On Location, the travel and hospitality partner for the Bills.

“It’s going to be like we’re going to multiple tailgates every day,” Melissa Casazza said.

Forton-Barnes, who left for London on Wednesday, is most excited about the Water Buffalo Club visiting Windsor Castle for the changing of the guard ceremony. She said she is hoping for some photo opportunities with the royal guards at the castle – who are known for wearing tall bearskin hats – next to club members wearing their Flintstone-inspired tall Bills hats.

She has been on Zoom calls with representatives from both the Bills Backers UK and Bills Backers London groups. The UK Backers will be welcoming Bills fans throughout the week at downtown London bar the Admiralty in Trafalgar Square.

“The Backers have been working on this for months and they have a lot of plans,” said Forton-Barnes.

The AAA trip, which sold out in 24 hours after being announced in May, will feature tourist exploration on Friday that culminates with a group “Mafia-themed” dinner that night at a local pub.

The group will be engaged in plenty of tourist activities on Saturday, including a visit to the Tower of London and a Windsor town tour. At night, they will jump aboard a pregame dinner cruise.

Some fans are also taking the opportunity to see more of Europe while on the trip.

Mikulec is planning a quick getaway to Paris on Wednesday and Thursday. He also recently went to Ireland to watch the college football matchup between Notre Dame and Navy in August.

Since this will be her first time in Europe, Hornsby is flying in to Amsterdam and then going by train to see the sights in Paris, before heading to London. Her itinerary includes a trip to the Eiffel Tower.

Once Sunday comes around, Bills fans will get to see the stadium that’s become a model for what the new Bills stadium in Orchard Park will look like when it is slated for completion in 2026. Both are designed by architecture firm Populous.

Mikulec took a tour of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the spring as he scouted locations to visit during this London trip. He said he is excited to see how loud the stadium gets for the game and enjoy the larger concourses and canopy roof providing coverage from the elements for many of the fans inside the stadium.

“People are going to be blown away by the quality of that stadium,” Mikulec said. “I think fans who see it will better understand what they’re getting with the new stadium in Buffalo. That whole place is incredible.”

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