"Columbus IS a soccer city."
Somer Mager, branch manager of the Columbus Gooners, is adamant about this. Not only is Columbus one of the original MLS cities it is also a regular site for US Men's National team matches – including more than half-a-dozen World Cup Qualifiers.
Meet the fans: Columbus Gooners
But soccer fans here aren't strictly focused on just the local element of the game. Mager says, "The EPL and other international leagues have a big audience in Columbus."
That fact shouldn't be too surprising. After all it's a city of more than 800,000 people - more than some other soccer-crazed cities in America like Washington DC, Seattle, and Portland. And when you add the large international student population at Ohio State, Mager says there is "a large footy community here that is thriving and growing each year."
The soccer scene
Most people will give you a crazy look if you tell them you will be at the pub at 7 a.m.
"Columbus is lucky enough to have quite a few pubs around town with a loyal Premier League following," Mager says. "I usually watch with 20 to 25 people that support many different clubs. There’s definitely lots of 'friendly banter' between us."
Fellow Gooner Brian Fontanarosa agrees. "I have lots of Columbus friends who are Gooners and know lots of other people who are Premier League fans here in Columbus," he says. "You can run into one almost anywhere around town."
Even fans of that club down the Seven Sisters Road. "One of my good friends is a Spurs supporter," says Don Morris, "so there's always friendly back-and-forth."
Still, it's college football that rules Ohio's capital city – especially on Saturday mornings. While the idea of going to a pub in the morning before a noon kick-off is not an alien concept to the locals, Katie Mitchell says, "Most people will give you a crazy look if you tell them you will be there at 7 a.m."
Although Mager adds, "Once they get over the fact that I’m waking up that early to do something that doesn’t involve OSU football, they usually can relate."
When you sort through the stories of how some of the Columbus Gooners became fans, a common thread is that they tagged along with friends or family to see what the fuss was about.
Attending my first Arsenal match at Emirates was an experience a decade-plus in the making. There may have been tears.
"I was going through football withdraw [in the winter of 2010] when some friend recommended I come to the pub with them to watch an Arsenal match," Mitchell says. "I went. I saw. I was hooked and have committed myself as a Gooner ever since."
Fontanarosa recalls a similar story. "I started going to the pub in 2007 with a fellow Gooner and decided to start following the Gunners because of their history and their beautiful style of football."
Mager's Arsenal roots go back even further – to Euro 2000. "I owe all my Gunner love to my cousin who pulled me in to watching the tournament. He fell in love with Thierry Henry during that tournament and we followed him back to Arsenal. Attending my first Arsenal match at Emirates [last season] was an experience a decade-plus in the making. There may have been tears."
Finding a home
But even with a passionate base, and despite a growing number of fans, Mager admits, there was one problem. "Gooners have been scattered about without a true home where you know there will be fellow supporters gathered."
Arsenal supporters all over North America know that feeling. Many of us at one time or another have been that lonely figure, clad in red and white, surrounded by the opposition in whichever local bar happened to show our game. As Morris puts it, "It would be nice to have one single place in town to watch Arsenal games."
Being spread out across the city made the number of Arsenal supporters seem smaller than it might have been. "Arsenal were like a quiet rumble compared to other clubs in Columbus," says Mitchell. "But we always managed a way of finding each other."
I started following the Gunners because of their history and their beautiful style of football.
And now they will have a much easier time finding each other – at a place on the edge of campus called Hendoc’s Pub. "The manager is a huge Arsenal supporter," says Mager. "And he is excited to welcome us each match day!" Mager expects this will be the start of a much bigger, much more Arsenal-specific crowd. "We hope that every Arsenal fan in Columbus, as well as those just passing through, will join us! Our goal for the 13/14 season is to average 15-20 supporters each week. "
Now that the group is centralized, the turnout should be even better for the big games.
And Mitchell expects plenty of new fans will pop in over the course of the season. "This opportunity of a home pub, a place where we can gather, makes me very excited for the following we can gain!"
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