How does a somehwat loose consortium of fans turn itself into a rather formidable supporters group?
For Eric Grafnitz, a longtime Arsenal fan in the Twin Cities, the answer was pretty clear: organization.
Prior to 2013, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Arsenal Supporters - MSP Gooners for short - existed, but in spirit only. The fan base was certainly there, but was a bit disjointed.
MEET THE FANS: MSP GOONERS
“There was no organized Arsenal presence in the Twin Cities,” he recalled. “We had to change that.”
Like Grafnitz, a number of Arsenal supporters had been casually watching games together in Minneapolis for quite some time. They even would see some decent turnouts at a couple of local pubs. But this was was not line one of the well-oiled Arsenal machines you see in cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
“We knew that there were a lot of Arsenal supporters in the area,” Grafnitz said. “But there was no way to reach them.”
What a difference a bit of organization makes. After Granfnitz and some friends officially linked the MSP Gooners to Arsenal America and got themselves on the map, turnout for games skyrocketed.
Of course, it helped that the group had a venue that Arsenal fans had been heading to for nearly 10 years.
“We have been going to the Local as far back as I can remember,” Grafnitz said. “And we will remain at The Local for as long as possible! They open for every match. Arsenal is put on as many TVs as needed with sound to accommodate our size.”
How much have the MSP Gooners grown? Grafnitz said so far in the 2014/15 season, the group has been drawing around 80 people for each of the weekend games.
As we added numbers, we started singing and chanting. Then we started taking pictures and videos. All of these things have expanded our reach to make us the biggest - and best - supporters group in the Twin Cities.
“The Arsenal fans show up in large numbers compared to other supporters clubs; it seems we take up half the bar,” noted one supporter. “I could watch at home, but it's fun being with other fans.”
And that’s even for the early kick-offs, although outsiders may still question why people flock to the bar as early as 6:45 in the morning.
“Most of my friends think I'm crazy for being such a die-hard fan but most of them still think my commitment to the team is pretty impressive,” said another fan. “They are amazed about my passion for football and Arsenal FC.”
That passion tends to start a cycle: Dedicated fans create a better atmosphere. And a better atmosphere draws more fans.
“We started by just getting together and getting to know each other,” another member of the group recalled. “Then as we added numbers, we started singing and chanting. Then we started taking pictures and videos. All of these things have expanded our reach to make us the biggest -- and best -- supporters group in the Twin Cities.”
And possibly the most diverse. Many members are quick to share their pride in the fact that the group is a microcosm of Arsenal’s hugely diverse global fan base. And that diversity just makes the match day experience better.
“Part of being the biggest supported international club is sharing in the diversity in the community,” a supporter explained. “Minneapolis/St Paul has a very diverse population and they all have a place with us. We are extremely proud that we represent Minneapolis/St Paul as well as we do.”
And now the once loose consortium of fans has developed into a very tight-knit group. One Gooner summed up watching games at The Local this way: “It’s amazing -- and a great way to make friends and watch the best team in the world!”
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