Football

In London, Panthers find a place to practice where Harry Potter (sort of) lived

The Carolina Panthers have found themselves quite a home away from home this week: A picturesque boarding school where both a “Harry Potter” movie and parts of the TV series “The Crown” were filmed.

The Harrow School, located on 324 acres in northwest London, is an exclusive all-boys boarding school for ages 13-18. It was founded in 1572, costs close to $50,000 per year per student and counts former prime minister Winston Churchill, actor Benedict Cumberbatch and several kings around the world among its alums.

On Thursday, the Panthers held an NFL “Play 60” community event there, playing the American version of football alongside several hundred kids from both the Harrow School and several surrounding schools.

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The Panthers are using the fields at the Harrow School in London for their practices this week in preparation for Sunday’s game. The school, founded in 1572, has been the setting for multiple scenes in a “Harry Potter” movie and in the TV series “The Crown.” Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The intermingling between players and students sparked a number of interesting conversations and left Panthers tight end Greg Olsen a little wistful.

“I wish I had a British accent,” Olsen said. “Everybody just sounds smarter.”

Most of the Panthers were a bit jet-lagged, as they flew through the night on Wednesday, arrived in England on Thursday morning and then came almost straight from London’s Heathrow Airport to a walk-through practice and then to the event at this virtual Hogwarts.

“I know what day it is,” Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “I don’t really know what time it is.”

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A student from the Harrow School intercepts a pass in front of Carolina Panthers linebacker Andre Smith (left) and long snapper JJ Jansen (center) during an NFL Play60 program in London, England Thursday. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

But the students’ raucous energy was contagious, and the players were soon running around playing flag football and setting up tackling dummies for the students to dive into.

The school attracts teenagers from all over the world, and it turned out that a few of its 830 students are from North Carolina. They were particularly pleased that the Panthers had shown up.

“I think it’s great,” said 14-year-old Arrington Culbertson, who grew up mostly in Greensboro but now has a slight English accent after two years at Harrow. “It’s like my home team is coming. I get to see the team that I’ve grown up around, 4,000 miles away from home. The odds are so low — of all the teams to come and visit — that it’d be the Panthers. It’s quite nice.”

“My favorites are Luke Kuechly and Olsen,” said Henry Oelhafen, a 15-year-old who has born in Charlotte, now lives in Raleigh and got to take a selfie with Olsen on Thursday.

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Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, right, poses for a photograph with a Harrow School student from North Carolina, Henry Oelhafen, during a NFL Play60 event Thursday in London, England. The Panthers are in London in preparation for a game they will play there Sunday against Tampa Bay. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he thought the London weather — overcast, windy and around 60 degrees — was superb, as was the setting.

“It’s pretty impressive,” Rivera said. “It’s got some great fields and the facilities are terrific. When you get a chance to really look at it, you think you’re in a Harry Potter movie.”

Olsen, the oldest Panther at 34, is like many of his teammates in that he has never been to Europe before. When asked by one student how he liked his visit to the school so far, Olsen responded: “I love it. This is super-cool. I’m fascinated by this whole setup. I feel like I’m going to ship my kids away and make them go to school here, because you guys are carrying on better conversations than kids in America do.”

Although most of the Panthers participated in the event, not all did. Running back Christian McCaffrey and quarterback Kyle Allen were among those pulled onto an adjacent field to do some filming for England’s BBC network.

The Panthers, who are now 3-2 after starting 0-2 this season, will hold a closed practice at Harrow School on Friday. Their game Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will start at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time, which is 2:30 p.m. in London.

“I know that stadium is brand new,” Kuechly said, “and it’s supposed to be awesome.”

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for the Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also is the host of the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth.”
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