DENVER — Mark Tonge's passion for NFL football and years of cheering on the Broncos brought him to the south end zone of Empower Field at Mile High on Sunday, moments before the Broncos' division battle against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Tonge, along with Michael McQuaid, co-founded the Broncos Europe fan group to bring together international fans and keep them in the loop on the latest developments out of Denver. Before Sunday, though, Tonge had never attended a Broncos home game. That changed last weekend, as the Manchester native took the opportunity to fly to Denver for his first game at Empower Field at Mile High and see his favorite team play against one of its most bitter rivals. Tonge brought his father, Peter, along with him for the ultimate Broncos bucket-list item.
"I work in a school back in the U.K., so I get about one week a year where I can actually come out," Tonge said from the field during pregame warmups. "The schedule has to be kind to me. ...I look at the schedule every year to see if I can make that one week and it just worked out nicely this year."
Tonge's fandom for the Broncos dates back to a summer camp he attended in California. After the camp ended, Tonge was staying at one of the counselor's houses when a Broncos-Raiders game came on.
"I knew nothing about the NFL at this point, and the mother was a Raiders fan and the dad was a Broncos fan," Tonge recalled. "So the mom went, 'If you want to eat tonight, you have to support the Raiders.' And the dad went, 'Well, if you want to stay anywhere, you need to support the Broncos.' I went, 'Well, I've got nowhere to stay, so I'll be a Broncos fan.' And I've stayed — I've stayed ever since."
When he returned back to Europe, Tonge turned his enthusiasm for the Broncos to efforts to educate and grow the Broncos' fan following overseas.
The group organizes meetups for Broncos' fans, gets news about the team to its followers and hosts its own podcast. Tonge said the group has grown rapidly, with a burgeoning online community along with its in-person offerings, and that its goal is to connect people across Europe over their shared passion for the Broncos.
Tonge attended his first Broncos game in 2017 when Denver played the Dolphins in Miami, but he witnessed his first Broncos win last year on his home turf. When the Broncos traveled to London to play the Jaguars last season, Tonge helped organize fan gatherings and said the Broncos Europe contingent showed out in full force for Denver's 21-17 win.
"We were so excited to have the Broncos there," Tonge said. "In my time supporting them, [the team] hadn't been over there. To get the game against the Jags last year was amazing. We had a big Broncos Europe meet-up before the game at the Broncos' official pub. There were a lot of people there, and I know we had a whole Broncos Europe section in the crowd. Just to see the Broncos win is amazing. A win on our home turf and to get to watch the Broncos is out of this world."
On Sunday, Tonge and his father had another great memory to enjoy in the Broncos' 24-9 win over the Chiefs. The Denver defense and special-teams units combined for five turnovers, while the Broncos' offense posted a trio of passing touchdowns.
In the coming years, Tonge is most excited to see the Broncos' fanbase continue to showcase its passion for the sport and prove that the borders of Broncos Country expand beyond the United States.
"The European family is a lot more clued in than I think a lot of people think," Tonge said. "We've got a lot of diehard fans that come over to the U.S. to watch. They sell out the U.K. games every year, they sell out the Germany games and I think it's going to keep growing. It's a keyed-in fanbase."