"Charleston, S.C. has come a long way since the days of me watching games by myself in some random sports bar."
Travis Poole, founder of Charsenal, isn't lonely anymore. Thirty fellow fans - and as many of 50 for really big games - often join him at a local pub to watch games.
Meet the fans: Charsenal
"I, like many in the U.S., became engrossed in the Premier League during the early 2000s when it became readily available via satellite," Poole explains. "I found myself watching games every Saturday and Sunday morning."
And after attending a match at Emirates Stadium in 2010, everything came together. "It was the pre-game pints at an Arsenal pub with equally passionate fans," he says. "Talking strategy and our love for the game is what ultimately gave me the idea to start a local supporters group … and Charsenal was the result."
Arsenal in Charleston
While Charleston may not be the first place many people think of when they think of soccer, the city has strong links to the game.
"Charleston is home to one of the most successful minor-league soccer teams in the United States – four-time league champion Charleston Battery," says Charsenal member Stan Sulkowski.
I would say our city is more soccer-centric than most in South Carolina. It is not uncommon to see Arsenal shirts throughout the city.
"I would say our city is more soccer-centric than most in South Carolina. It is not uncommon to see Arsenal or other Premier League team shirts throughout the city. I wear a Club lanyard at work and an Arsenal shirt around town because they tend to start conversations both with current Gooners and potential new recruits."
"There is always fascination with the placement of the kit sponsor! People used to ask me if I really like oxygen (O2) and now, if I've recently been to the United Arab Emirates. Most sports uniforms in the US are devoid of this sort of advertising so it feels a bit foreign to the uninitiated."
Converting the masses
"Most of my friends are big college football fans so they think soccer is some kind of phase that I am going through," says John Kleckley. "At first they think it's crazy – and a little sad – that grown men get up early on a weekend to go to a bar at 7:45 a.m. to watch soccer.
"But I have taken a few of the non-soccer fans to the bar for a game and they change their minds very quickly. They can see the passion and camaraderie and think it's fun."
Poole says that he usually gets a lot of positive feedback from people when he says "I’m a Gooner." Although he also admits there is a segment of the population who simply doesn’t get it and immediately makes comparisons to the NFL or baseball.
"I usually don’t take these types of responses lightly. In turn, I make my case about the sport’s superiority: the player’s need for stamina, agility, heart and intelligence, not to mention the passion and culture created by fans.
"It’s a beautiful thing and if they don’t see it they’re missing out."
I have taken a few of the non-soccer fans to the bar for a game and they change their minds very quickly.
How quickly are Arsenal growing in Charleston? Charsenal worked to add a second pub so fans could have an easier time watching games with fellow Gooners.
The main gathering place is a new downtown pub that has a soccer focus called Local 616. It also happens to be run by a Gooner. "We have been watching every game here and plan to do so for the foreseeable future," says Poole. "Local 616 opens up for all games - even if we have to strong-arm the owner for 7:45am kickoffs!"
The secondary venue is an Irish Pub in North Charleston called Madra Rua. Sulkowski admits that the pub is run by Liverpool supporters but he says, "It heavily attracts football supporters of every stripe. It can be fun to civilly mix it up on a match day there with fans of other clubs."
Describing the scene, Pool says, "Each game brings in new and sometimes old faces. Anybody can watch Arsenal on their couch in the comfort of their own home. But nothing feels better than showing up to the pub outfitted in a sweet Arsenal kit and supporting The Arsenal with those who share your passion."
"The Charsenal community definitely makes it more special," adds Kleckley. "And you really feel like you are letting the group down if you don't go."
Why we are Gooners
"I like to think that I didn't choose to be an Arsenal fan, but rather Arsenal chose me. It was meant to be. I knew I could never support Man United, Chelsea is a Bond Villain of a football club, and who wants to visit Liverpool? Arsenal were the only choice. The beautiful, flowing style of play, the decidedly French influence, a manager nicknamed 'the Professor'. Also, our mascot is a Cannon. All other arguments are invalid." – Adam Breaux
I like to think that I didn't choose to be an Arsenal fan, but rather Arsenal chose me. It was meant to be.
"I can thank Nick Hornby for bringing me in to the Arsenal fold. High Fidelity is one of my favorite movies. In exploring Hornby's other work I landed on Fever Pitch. The sort of dedication to a team through their trials and tribulations (as well as his own) that he wrote about really spoke to me." – Stan Sulkowski
"I played soccer growing up and always kept up with the US Men's National Team and MLS a little bit. When games became available on TV regularly in the States I really started to follow the Premier League. I enjoyed Arsenal's style of play and overall philosophy but I also think the tortured soul in me was attracted to the trophy drought a little bit." – John KleckleyCopyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 1 Aug 2013