By Nick Solano

There is a short version of how the Orange County Gooners came to be. Several of us locals wanted something closer to home than LA, we brainstormed, talked to some people at Arsenal America, found a venue to watch games and there you have it! The OC Gooners were born.

It actually took a little more than just that.

It all started back in 2003, around the time that I moved to Orange County from Los Angeles. I had only been in LA for about six months, and was still new to California. I had recently joined Arsenal America, and knew of the LA branch but no longer lived close by. I was constantly searching for a local venue, but always came up short-handed. I didn't even know many other Gooners in the area.

 

ATP - Orange County

Nick Solano of the OC Gooners

So it was home or LA. I chose home, mostly because I hated driving to LA from Orange County. That and having no car at the time. Yes, I had no car in Southern California. Don't ask!

So for years I just dealt with it like I had in the many years before when I lived in other parts of the country. I sat at home and watched matches in my living room by myself in the early AM -- often waking up my roommates. I'd jump on message boards and get my discussion fix in with other Gooners.

But once I landed a steady job, I was exposed to several new fellow football fans at my work place. Mind you, none of them were Arsenal supporters, but it was better than nothing. We'd have our daily football discussions, start up fantasy leagues, play FIFA together, etc.

This was great… but I still hated their clubs.

Jump ahead a few years, and more football fans continued to crop up at my work place, including a few Arsenal supporters. With them came a few more mutual Gooner friends. Finally the proper surroundings!

At first it was much of the same: gather at somebody's residence, watch the match, and then have a great weekend or a terrible weekend, depending on the result. At this point, the 2008/2009 season, we all started talking about how great it would be to have a local branch to watch with other Arsenal supporters. We knew of the LA Gooners and had been up to Los Angeles several times, but we were all pretty lazy and preferred to watch matches together, without having to get up an hour earlier to make the trek north.

But it seemed like a mere pipe dream. Yes, it would be fantastic, but no way could it happen. So for one more season, 2009/2010, we made the LA trip a few times, continued to watch locally at a friend's residence and felt like we were getting enough.

We were wrong.

During that 2009/2010 season, Heineken brought the Champions League trophy on tour across the United States and one of the stops was a local pub. No football fan can pass up an opportunity like that. So one nice Sunday evening, our little group donned our Arsenal kits and went to take a look at the trophy our club had yet to win. When we got there, we discovered that we weren't the only Arsenal supporters in the pub. There were dozens and dozens of Gooners.

We then realized that we seriously had to start a local branch!

We joined some fellow Gooners at that same pub for a few of the last Champions League matches, and stayed in touch with several of them as the season ended. During the summer, I contacted several members of Arsenal America about starting up a branch. After I was given the green light, they advised me that we only needed to find a reliable local pub to screen matches, show up every week and create a means of contacting and letting members know what was going on.

I had already startedscouting out pubs and even had several on a short list, but most of them had an issue with opening up early or were in a less than ideal location. Some friends of mine, along with their club’s supporters group, were regulars at ‘The Olde Ship’ in Santa Ana. I attended a few World Cup matches there and loved the place -- it was definitely the perfect spot.

I contacted the management, told them what we were doing and asked if they would be okay with being declared our watch site. They didn't hesitate. With a venue locked down, we let Arsenal America know, were confirmed as a local branch, created a Facebook group, and got our website up-and-running.

When we acquired our domain name, we were given some credit for a Facebook ad. We ran it for about a week, and the group grew by 60-70 members.

 

ATP - Orange County

The OC Gooners at their new home

It's been a journey and I still cannot believe where we are today. The group continues to grow, we are generating a solid turnout for each match and people seem to really enjoy it. We currently are working on a new logo and website redesign and are also planning to create some group merchandise and a flag. Our Twitter account continues to gain more and more followers. We've also had Gooners show up and tell us they found us through the USA.Arsenal.com branch feature or from Arsenal America.

We've also discussed creating friendly matches with our other clubs’ supporter groups in the area and making trips of our own. When the LA Galaxy recently hosted the Red Bulls, we held a Thierry Henry event. Both the LA and OC branches met up at the Home Depot Center before kick-off and had a section of seats for our members. Unfortunately, Thierry wasn't fit and didn't even make the trip but our members still had a lot of fun.

And we expect a lot more of that. We expect to become a large group in the OC and be a great spot for local Gooners. Special thanks go to Keith Hall and Daniel Zarate, without whom the branch would not have been established.

If anybody is thinking about starting up their own branch, there are many tools available to get the word out. Arsenal America is a huge resource and we are proud to be an official branch. We encourage anybody thinking of starting their own branch to not hesitate and get out there!

If any Gooners from anywhere in the world ever make it to Orange County, stop by on match day and join us.

Up the Arsenal!

Nick Solano has been an Arsenal fan since the mid-90's. Since then, he co-founded the OC Gooners and developed a passion that he will take to the grave. He's planning on making it over to the Emirates in early 2011 to take in a few matches.

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 7 Oct 2010