How far would you travel to watch an Arsenal match?
Not to watch an Arsenal match at Emirates Stadium, mind you. To watch an Arsenal match at a bar with other Gooners. For a group of supporters around San Jose, California, the answer was about 50 miles.
Meet the fans: South Bay Gooners
San Francisco's Bay Area Gooners are one of the more venerable Arsenal supporters groups in North America. Their home pub, Maggie McGarry's, has become an institution in itself among Arsenal fans in the United States. But no matter how great the destination, 50 miles at 4 a.m. on a weekend will make even the most stoic of fans hesitate.
"There was a lot of interest from people to find a pub that was more local to watch Arsenal matches," says Sumit Kallo. So he took it upon himself to find a venue that could not only meet their high standards, but also open its doors for the pre-dawn crowds. And that led him to downtown San Jose.
Despite being about one mile from the center of the nation's 10th most-populous city, Jack's Bar & Lounge is very much a neighborhood bar. But it’s also one that has been a haven for soccer fans for years. It is the home to the official local chapter of the American Outlaws.
And it gets even better.
"The owner is an Arsenal fan and he is willing to open at any time when Arsenal plays," says Sumit.
With a home base and a solid group of supporters in place, the South Bay Gooners got their start in February 2014. "Since then," Sumit says, "we have watched every Arsenal match there and a bunch of other Arsenal fans from the South Bay have joined our group."
"It's great to see a true supporters group in San Jose," says a fan named Saul. "It is truly a good feeling to see other people wearing the Arsenal shirt around town – and not having to make the hour-long drive to San Francisco is also very welcome!"
It kind of makes me happy to see people around me wearing Arsenal jerseys. I feel like we all belong to the same family.
Of course, the lack of a long commute doesn’t change the kick-off time. So what kind of reaction do these loyal fans get when they say they are headed to a bar before the break of dawn?
"I think the best way to describe it is curiosity," says a Gooner named Qumber. "People are genuinely interested in soccer, especially with the World Cup coming this year. San Jose has a rich history with soccer with MLS and previous leagues. The San Jose Earthquakes have been successful and are getting ready to open up a brand new stadium next year so there is a lot of hype about the game."
But there are still the doubters.
"I often hear something along the lines of, 'You must mental,' especially from my soccer mom friends on the days where kick-off is at 4:45 a.m.," says Gooner and stay-at-home mom Myrll. But even that early in the morning, she says, "There's a lot of camaraderie and cheering - or, depending on the score, an instant beeline to the bar for much-needed alcohol."
"People always ask why I don't DVR the games and I tell them it is not the same," adds Saul. "I want the pain and joy at the same time as all the other Gooners around the world."
Qumber says that despite only being a few months old, the South Bay Gooners are already making their presence known. "We typically get about 20-30 Gooners out to the bar. Being a new group the current vibe is one of meet and greet and feeling out. We constantly have new Gooners showing up for the first time, including supporters from out of town. But there are already a couple Gooners leading chants and a lot of open discussion about the club."
"The scene at the bar on match day is great," says Sumit. "There's nothing like getting the weekend morning started with the fellow Gooners, discussing all things Arsenal. It kind of makes me happy to see people around me wearing Arsenal jerseys.
"I feel like we all belong to the same family."Copyright 2014 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 14 May 2014