About 50 miles down the coast from Los Angeles lies 'The OC.' More than just Disneyland and surfing hotspots, Orange County is the home to a huge population of Arsenal supporters.
Back in 2010 some of them were growing weary of making the long trek to Los Angeles to watch matches with their fellow fans. Thus, The OC Gooners were born. And over the last few years, the group has grown by leaps and bounds.
MEET THE FANS: ORANGE COUNTY
Number of active members: "Our group on Facebook currently has nearly 600 members -- although that does include Gooners from all over the country and world. On match days, we get around 60-80 Gooners for the big matches and around 25-50 Gooners for the routine matches. It often varies throughout the season.
Where we watch matches: The Olde Ship British Pub & Restaurant -- 1120 West 17th St. Santa Ana, CA 92706. (714) 550-6700. "The Olde Ship is open for every match, no matter the time."
Where our members hail from: "It's mostly locals but we also have some ex-pats and others who moved to Orange County from around the world. We also get Gooners who are visiting for business and pleasure. It's great to provide a temporary home for those traveling Gooners."
The group's beginnings: "The group founders have been Gooners for many years, some even back in the mid 90's. The group was officially formed in 2010 when friends Nick Solano, Keith Hall and Daniel Zarate decided it was time to put a group together. They each had attended a Champions League trophy tour that came through the area and they noticed plenty of Gooners present. The leg work was done and a few months later everything was ready to go and the group was named an official branch of Arsenal America. It's been awesome so far.
"Many of our members fell in love with Arsenal from watching previous World Cup of the Euro tournaments, where they learned about the players and the club after the fact. Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp lead many of our members to the Arsenal. Many also have family ties or a friend introduced them to the club. One of our guys studied abroad in London. The family he stayed with and the neighborhood they lived in were all Arsenal. Some of us even fell in love with the club through video games (FIFA)."
Arsenal in Southern California: "Arsenal have a great presence in Southern California -- and California in general. We have five official branches all over the state, three of them in Southern California alone. The Premier League and international football in general is pretty huge out here too. You see supporter groups for just about every bigger club and supporters of all 20 Premier League sides, even lower league clubs too. It's a great place to be a football supporter."
Why we are Gooners: "Whether it was from growing up in London and attending matches every week, a friend or family member introducing us to the club, the gradual exposure of the league and club to the American audience, or even video game titles that donned the Gunners, we've all found Arsenal in our own special way. It all comes down to our history, our class and of course, our style of football. It's all second to none."
Top moment: "As a group, so far it's been each season opener at the pub. Every time we grow more and more. It's been great to see more and more Gooners coming out and joining us. The win versus Barcelona in 2011 was a pretty magical moment for us as well. We were going pretty mental. Arsenal history wise, the 03/04 "Invincibles" season will always be one of the most memorable moments. Others remember the win at Anfield in 89, clinching the first division championship.
"We also can't forget the first time somebody has been to a live match in London. Nothing can beat that experience.
"We've had several indoor and outdoor footie teams in some of the local leagues out here. The new season for them is actually coming up very soon. We've also hosted an end of the season party with a raffle and catered food, which was fantastic. We've had trips to Disneyland, we've attended Galaxy vs Red Bulls matches to cheer on Thierry and even hosted a BBQ during the off-season. We plan on adding more exciting events in the future and continue many of the ones we already do annually."
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