Like most other Arsenal supporters in the USA, Jordan Wiebe became a fan in a rather unconventional way. It wasn't geographical. It wasn't a family link. And it wasn't through a friend.
It was through a video game.
"I pledged allegiance to the Arsenal in 2003 when Henry was on the cover of FIFA," he says. "I followed the club nominally until 2008 when I moved to the UK to do youthwork. And then I became football-crazy."
Meet the fans: Fresno Gooners
After returning to the states a year later, Wiebe was not about to let go of his new-found passion. And so he started trying to recruit his friends to watch matches with him on early weekend mornings. "I convinced a few friends that waking up early on weekends to watch The Arsenal was better than most things in life," he says.
For at least one of those friends, it was an easy sell. "He seemed excited to watch Arsenal and I always wanted to learn more about soccer," says Tim Haydock. Soon, he says, "I was hooked by the beautiful play of Arsenal and Wenger’s iconic presence."
Another early adopter explains how she became a Gooner. "I married one," says Wiebe's wife Channelle. "And then I was introduced to Thierry Henry. Done deal."
Soon, more family and friends started to notice what was going on. For some, like Ross Charest, it was a way to explore an existing interest. "I have always had respect for the sport," he says. "But before Jordan exposed me to Arsenal, I only took interest during the World Cup."
But with a team to watch, even though his first match with Wiebe wasn't ideal, Charest's curiosity turned into enthusiasm. "They lost," he recalls. I was tired. My wife didn't understand why we woke up or what happened really,"
"I loved it," he adds with a laugh.
And with that, they had a group. But since the Premier League bug had yet to really sink its teeth into Fresno, they were still on their own. "Technically our 'pub' has been at an array of homes," explains Channelle. "But they were always well stocked and full of lively fans."
I convinced a few friends that waking up early on weekends to watch The Arsenal was better than most things in life.
But ahead of the 2013/14 campaign, there was an exciting development. They secured an actual pub – Peeve's Public House in downtown Fresno – which finally gave them a chance to track down more supporters. "Every now and then I run into Arsenal fans," Haydock says. "I’m a professor, so I like to scout out my classes for any Gooners."
Ahead of the 2016/17, the Fresno Gooners announced that they would be moving their match day meet-ups to Strummer's.
Of course, the prospect of rising before dawn to go watch a soccer match seems a bit odd to the uninitiated. Channelle describes a common reaction from people whom she tells that she is hitting the pub for an early kick-off.
"You must really love it … Wait, what is Arsenal?"
Haydock agrees. "First, they ask if beer is involved," he says. "Second, they seem puzzled. Third, they ask if they can come. Hey, I get excited and sell the experience!"
And the match day experience, says Charest, "is awesome."
"It's exciting because there have already been a mixture of conversations during the week about the upcoming game. Everyone keeps getting more gear to wear to the games. There's food, beer, and a lot of random loud emotions being expressed."
Channelle adds that the feeling in the pub is "Lively, exciting, and nervous. There is plenty of Arsenal gear and everyone is all in."
And so even though the group is still reasonably small - Wiebe puts the usual turnout at around 10 or so - the Fresno Gooners make up for small numbers with big passion for Arsenal. And according to Charest, that has helped to create some very tight bonds.
"Being a Gooner to me has meant way more than watching the games," he says. "It has been about family.
"There's a lot of passion and love in being a Gooner."Copyright 2017 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