When a new Arsenal supporters’ group in the United States springs to life, it usually follows a certain pattern.
The group starts out as reasonably small group of friends or casual acquaintances with a shared interest in Arsenal, and then gradually grows as word gets out. For the first couple of years, a dozen people on a Saturday morning is considered a strong showing and everyone is pretty content.
Meet the fans: Columbia, SC
Of course, that’s not always the case. Consider South Carolina’s Columbia Gunners, a group that just opened operations at the beginning of the 2014/15 campaign.
“Stewart Kennemore and I often watched matches at home because of Columbia lacking a supporters group,” group co-founder Jackson Sawyer said. “But we knew that people around the community were doing the same thing.”
So the pair took it upon themselves to bring all of those people together. It turned out that was far easier than anyone could have expected. The Columbia Gunners didn’t even have to wait long to have that collectively memorable moment.
“Aaron Ramsey netted a game-winning goal against Crystal Palace during our first watch party,” Sawyer said. “It is a goal celebration that we will never forget.”
Now, just a few months they have already had turnouts surpassing 40 people.
How is this possible? Some other branches of Arsenal America took years to reach this level of support.
According to Sawyer, it’s simple.“Arsenal are gaining a lot of popularity in South Carolina. In fact, this is the state's third official branch of Arsenal America. The first being in Charleston - about two hours away - and another new branch about 90 minutes to the northeast in Greenville.
“The Premier League itself also seems to have really taken off,” added Ollie Johnson. a Londoner who is currently studying in Columbia. “It's so refreshing seeing people in America so enthusiastic and excited about the league because back in England people are really starting to concentrate on the negatives now, people don't believe the Premier League holds as much glamour as it once did.”
Granted, it’s not really the glamour of the Premier League that brings these fans together. Member Julian Fajardo cited the atmosphere. “Watching the game at the pub is so much fun because you're surrounded by a bunch of great people that are dedicated to Arsenal.”
And that shared dedication and enthusiasm has turned match days at their home pub into can’t-miss events.
“I feel as if the pub is our own stadium sort of speak and we control it every match day,” Kennemore said. “Now I can't even imagine watching an Arsenal match without the guys!”
“Watching the match with your friends at the pub adds so much more to the viewing experience,” Johnson said. “Whereas at home you mull over your own thoughts towards the game, with others at the pub - and a drink in hand - people are able to put across their own views about the tactics, the team selection and the match itself.”
As board member Andy Shain put it, he now has a group of like-minded friends to share all the highs - and sometimes the lows - that being a Gooner brings.
“Plus,” he added,” I don't get the stern looks when I yell at the TV like I did at home from my wife and kid.”
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