Normally when you say the word 'football' in Texas it conjures up visions of Friday nights, Sunday afternoons, big hits and a funny-shaped ball.
But to a group of people in the state's capital, it means Arsenal. 'Deep in the Heart of Texas' you can always stop by Cuatro's to join a big crowd of loyal -- and very welcoming -- supporters. As group president Alex Cooke says:
Meet the fans: Austin Gooners
"The Austin Gooners are dedicated to bringing together all Central Texas followers of Arsenal FC and promoting the popularity and history of the Club in the region. If you reside in Austin, come be a part of the Austin Gooners. If you're visiting Austin for business or attending SxSW, ACL, or Formula 1, feel free to contact us for more information in advance of your trip."
Year established: "We officially formed in 2006."
Number of active members: "We currently have over 100 Austin Gooners in our membership list. Our Facebook Group Page has 270 members, many of whom live in other parts of the country but enjoy taking part in our discussions.
"For big matches, about 150 supporters will show up at The Tavern. For the opening match of the 2012/13 season, for example, we stopped counting at 150. For more routine games, we'll have 50-75 Gooners regularly turn out."
The group's beginnings: "A group of seven local Arsenal fans started regularly watching matches together at Fado Irish Pub in 2004. Fado is primarily where Man United and Liverpool supporters gather to watch matches. As our numbers grew, we saw the need for more viewing space. So, we moved our match viewing to a new locally-owned pub. From that initial seven, the Austin Gooners have evolved and grown and into a diverse collection of over 100 Arsenal supporters.
"In 2012, we collectively decided to become more organized as a group. We now have an elected Board, a mission statement, charter, and membership list. We designed a new website, a logo, and a banner. We've also begun raising money to support the organization and other local charities."
Arsenal in Austin: "The Austin Gooners are the largest organized supporters group of a Premier League team in Austin. Unlike some groups, we show up in strong numbers for every match. It's amazing how often you will encounter other Arsenal fans in Austin just by wearing the cannon on a hat or shirt. That's one of the reasons why we're getting better organized. We're committed to broadening Arsenal's fan base in Austin through our activities and social media.
"The popularity of the Premier League and international soccer in Austin is a growing phenomenon. Austin is one of the best TV markets in the US for international soccer. Austin even tied Miami for the highest TV rating for the 2012 Champions League final and ranked No. 3 in the U.S. for the 2011/12 English Premier League games televised by the Fox Network."
Where our members hail from: "We have locals, English ex-pats, UT students, tourists, people on business trips... Our supporters come from all walks of life and are very diverse in terms of nationality, ethnicity, and age. The presence of a 50,000-student university and a number of international companies in Austin definitely contributes to this diversity."
Group's favorite Arsenal moments: "We share our pub with the local Chelsea supporters. So, any victory over the blues provides a memorable moment for us.
"Two other events also stand out. For Thierry Henry's MLS debut against the Houston Dynamo, a group of Austin Gooners travelled to Houston. It was tremendous to tailgate together before the game and then to stand out in the crowd by singing and cheering for the King. On another occasion, John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) -- the former lead singer of the Sex Pistols and famed Gooner -- showed up at the pub one Saturday for an early match and shared a few pints with us.
"Outside of match days, we regularly get together for other social events, including happy hours, pick-up games, and holiday parties. We also recently formed an indoor team to compete in a local rec league.
"Most importantly, we're committed to giving back to the Austin community through various philanthropic activities. Over the past few years, we participated in a charity match with the local Chelsea supporters to raise money for various causes. We're now expanding our philanthropic activities by organizing volunteer efforts, food drives, and fundraising initiatives."
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