Hammers herd Cowboys

America's Team and one of England's most historic football clubs came together recently as four members of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys visited West Ham United.

Safety Jeff Heath, place kicker Dan Bailey tight end Gavin Escobar and cornerback Micah Pellerin attended the Hammers' Barclays Premier League fixture with Aston Villa during their visit to London for the NFL's International Series.

The day after taking in an exciting but ultimately goalless draw at the Boleyn Ground, the Cowboys overcame the Jacksonville Jaguars 31-17 at Wembley Stadium in the third and final London game for 2014.

During their visit to east London the players, who travelled to the match by Tube, spoke to West Ham TV and revealed their love for the sport Americans call soccer.

"This is my first soccer game in the UK," said Michigan native Heath, who joined the Cowboys in 2013. "I actually saw Aston Villa play five years ago in Columbus, Ohio when they did a US tour, but this is my first time in London at a game.

"The atmosphere is awesome. The fans are right on top of the field and everyone is going crazy through the whole game. I expected it to be crazy, but this exceeded my expectations."

While most NFL players make a living either throwing or catching a ball - or stopping their opponents from getting a hand on it - Bailey makes his by kicking it.

A schoolboy soccer player, the 26-year-old was drafted out of Oklahoma State University in 2011 and has gone on to become one of the most-accurate kickers in NFL history - an achievement he puts down to his experience of playing the beautiful game.

"I grew up playing soccer and I followed specific players and I was a big Gareth Barry fan," Bailey explained. "He had a pretty good career with Villa, so I adopted the team and have followed the guys coming through there and have been a Villa fan since then.

"No question playing soccer as a child has helped me with my career in American football. I played soccer until I was about 16, then I moved over to American football, and there is no question that it paved the way for me to take my career in this direction. I lacked the skill to become a professional soccer player, as I played in defence mostly, but I felt I could have held my own!"

While Bailey's interest in football comes from his own playing career, Pellerin and Escobar fell in love with the game for different reasons.

"I am a huge FIFA fan and play it all the time," said Pellerin. "Literally before we came to the game I was talking about the Aston Villa centre-back Jores Okore and showing the guys that he was pretty good, then when we went to the pitch I met him, which was pretty crazy and surreal!

"I have played as West Ham a couple of times, too. I'm a big soccer fan. I played a little bit before I started playing American football and have watched the game on TV a lot, particularly during the World Cup."

"For me, my love for the game came from my girlfriend, as she has played her whole life and we met in college, where I watched all her games," revealed Escobar, who hails from California. "I also play FIFA too, which helped a little bit, but going to all my girlfriend's games made me appreciate the sport more."

The Cowboys players relished the opportunity to show their own sporting prowess at the Home of Football, where they romped to a convincing victory over the Jaguars in front of 86,000 fans.

The Cowboys have long been one of the most popular NFL teams in the UK and that certainly proved to be the case during their visit.

With rumours of a London-based franchise being established in the future, American football continues to grow in popularity on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

"We had a fan appreciation event in London and probably 90 per cent of the people there were Cowboys fans, which shows we are a worldwide team," said Heath. "Everybody recognises our logo and I was excited to play in front of a packed Wembley Stadium.

"The fans here are great and I feel, if they had a team in London, it would make football that much more popular. That would be something great."