"The first official meeting of Arsenal Kentucky was the Arsenal-Newcastle match in December 2012. We won 7-3, and took it as a good omen."
Apparently it was. According to group founder Jon Guzicki, since that first game, the group has doubled in size.
MEET THE FANS: LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY
But omens aside, Guzicki and his fellow members of Arsenal Kentucky have put in a great deal of leg work to build their community. Since the group first popped up on the radar, they have been very active on social media, found a pub for fans to view matches together, and even created promotional posters and t-shirts to help make their presence known.
But they have also just acted as essentially ambassadors for the sport.
"I'm more than happy to talk about anything soccer related," says Guzicki. "It's not uncommon for people to be pretty interested, and ask more about the league, about Arsenal, or about soccer in general."
When most of us think about sports in Kentucky, horse racing and college basketball quickly come to mind. But it turns out that you may soon be able to add soccer to that list.
"Arsenal are growing at a very fast rate in Kentucky," says Landon Hampton. "In the larger metro areas such as Louisville, it is becoming quite the scene. Arsenal are even starting to catch on in more rural areas."
Guzicki adds that people aren't just watching the game – they are playing it. And at a rather high level. "We're in a corridor - from Michigan down to Nashville - that is really becoming a hotbed for soccer in the United States. In fact, the No. 1 draft pick in the MLS in 2013 came from Louisville, Kentucky - and was a graduate of the local academy program."
So how is this happening in Kentucky of all places? To borrow an old political line, "It’s the economy, stupid."
When I get to the pub on a match day I normally see the bar surrounded by red shirts.
"International companies like UPS, YUM! Brands, and others give Kentucky much more of a diverse population than all of the stereotypes would lead you to believe," explains David Phillips."And that means that the Louisville area is developing a very strong soccer reputation."
And with the growing reputation comes a growing fan base.
"When I get to the pub on a match day I normally see the bar surrounded by red shirts," says Guzicki. "Usually there are a few stragglers in the opposing team's colors hanging around in a booth, but a majority of them are for Arsenal."
Year by year the number of red shirts seems to increase according to Brian McGill."Every year I find more and more Arsenal fans. I believe Arsenal will be as big in Kentucky as they are most other states in the near future."
In Louisville at least, they are off to a good start. As Hampton says, "We gladly claim the grounds of Molly Malone's in Louisville on match days, and it's always fun heckling any other fans that show up. Most of the time, they have their eyes split wide open when they realize they've just walked into a sea of Gooners!"
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