Coon Rapids couple in London to see the Vikings play

In the 22 years that Mike and Claire Gazelka have been Minnesota Vikings season ticket holders, they have never missed a home game at the Metrodome.

The Coon Rapids couple won’t be missing Sunday when the Vikings have a home NFL game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, even though it is not being played at the Metrodome, but rather at Wembley Stadium in London, England.

They traveled to London this week with other Vikings fans to see the team in action “across the pond” in the 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium that is sold out.

The Gazelkas are not world travelers. In fact, Mike has never traveled outside the United States as an adult, nor has his wife, although he did go across the border into Canada on fishing trips as a child, he said.

In fact, although the Gazelkas have each had a passport since 2006, they had never signed them, let alone used them – until now, Gazelka said.

However, a long plane trip – they are not taking a direct flight to London from Minneapolis and back, but have stopover in Washington, D.C. – won’t bother the Gazelkas.

“We’ve been to Hawaii several times,” Gazelka said.

The decision to make the London trip came at the last minute, although he and his wife had been talking about it for some time, according to Gazelka.

And going through the Creative Charters company, they got the last two available seats on the aircraft that will take them to London and back to Minneapolis.

They left home Wednesday and will return Monday, Sept. 30. There is a six-hour time difference between London and Minneapolis so the game will be played Sunday evening London time so that it can be shown live on television at noon Minneapolis time Sept. 29.

“Claire wants to go to London to see the sights, not so much the game,” Gazelka said.

While in London, the Gazelka will get to visit traditional tourist locations like Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Trafalgar Square.

Their tour guide through the charter company will be Geoff Barnett, who was the Minnesota Kicks soccer goalkeeper in the late 1970s and early 1980s after playing for Everton and Arsenal, two top clubs in England.

But Gazelka wants to visit some English pubs to sample the beer while he is in London and also go to Harrods, the giant department store, he said.

The couple also plan to ride the double-decker “hop on and hop off” buses in London and well as the London Underground train system, Gazelka said.

And if there’s time, they would also like to get together with a Coon Rapids neighbor, who is currently living in the city of Cambridge, which is north of London, he said.

The Gazelkas will be staying in a hotel in Wembley near the stadium. Wembley is in north London.

To prepare for the trip, the Gazelkas have been watching videos and reading books about London, he said.

“This is going to be exciting,” Gazelka said. “We are looking forward to it a lot.”

Gazelka now works part-time for the city of Coon Rapids as a seasonal employee in the code enforcement department after retiring from the city of Minneapolis engineering department, where he worked for more than 30 years.

The Gazelkas have lived in Coon Rapids since 1971 and have two daughters, Lori and Angie, who both graduated from Coon Rapids High School, and three grandchildren, Ashley, Carter and Caitlin.

According to Gazelka, he has followed the Vikings since they came to Minnesota in 1961 and went to games as often as he could, which was why he and his wife became season ticket holders in 1981.

“We have good seats,” Gazelka said.

Gazelka hopes to continue being a season ticket holder when the Vikings move into their new stadium, he said.

When the Metrodome roof collapsed a few years ago, the Gazelkas went to the home game that was played at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium.

“That was fun to go and see the game played in the snow,” Gazelka said.

But they did not travel to the home game that was rescheduled to Detroit, he said.

However, they have followed the Vikings on the road for some games over the years, according to Gazelka.

He toasts Vikings wins with a beer, but when they lose, he deals with the pain by taking long walks, Gazelka said.

Following the last-second, one-point loss to the Chicago Bears Sept. 15, the walk was especially long, he said.

And to deal with the frustrations of watching a Vikings road game on television, Gazelka said he has a “foam brick” to throw at the TV.

The new Wembley Stadium opened in 2007 to replace the original stadium that was built in 1923.

The England national soccer team plays its home games at Wembley, which is owned by the governing body of English soccer, the Football Association.

The stadium, which has a partially retractable roof, is the second largest soccer stadium in Europe, but no club team plays there.

Only Camp Nou (98,787 capacity), the home of Barcelona in Spain’s La Liga is larger, according to FC Barcelona.

Peter Bodley is at peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

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