"We're a very vocal group so be prepared to go home hoarse."
Brian LaPan, one of the branch managers of the Arizona Gooners, is proud of his group. He will tell you an interesting tale about them and how they are a microcosm of the city they call home.
MEET THE FANS: ARIZONA GOONERS
Much like modern Phoenix, the group grew out of virtually nothing. But through innovation and hard work, they are now one of the larger branches of Arsenal America.
The story goes like this. The group's founder, Adrian Cazares, had a difficult time keeping up with Arsenal in the football-barren Valley of the Sun. There were no pubs to speak of that showed matches and it seemed as though he was the only Gooner in the state. But after he relocated to San Diego, Calif., he received a welcome surprise: not only was that city rich with pubs that aired Premier League matches, they would actually open early enough to show them live. There was even a local supporters' group to join, the San Diego Gooners.
But in 2010 he returned to Phoenix to find the landscape was much as it had been: a dearth of venues that would cater to fans of European football. But through a little determination - and the magic of social media - he managed to bring together a fledgling group of supporters.
"While there's big football interest in Phoenix, I was surprised to find that there were few fan groups around the area for a city with such a large population," says LaPan. "But in just three seasons, the Arizona Gooners have expanded to over 200 members, and have found a home for ALL matches -- even the 4:45 a.m. kickoffs."
He says they regularly draw 20-30 supporters for matches, but it can get much more crowded for some key games. "We are by far the largest regularly gathering contingent of Premier League team fans," LaPan says.
When Real Madrid played the LA Galaxy here we got more than 20 new members just from people seeing us en masse.
And they keep growing.
"Most people in the Phoenix-area don't know EPL teams, but those that do usually spot something Arsenal I'm wearing and come over to talk football. We recruit new members to the Arizona Gooners all the time. When Real Madrid played the LA Galaxy here we got more than 20 new members just from people seeing us en masse."
LaPan admits that, as most Arsenal supporters in the western U.S. would agree, life as a Gooner in Phoenix isn't exactly perfect. "With matches being so early, usually we're still wiping the sleep from our eyes, and ordering breakfast and a few libations by kickoff."
But that doesn’t stop them from singing and cheering throughout the game. And he says that can turn outsiders and soccer novices into fans almost immediately. He cites the example of the League Cup match against Reading in 2012.
"There were about 12 of us watching at the pub. It was a smaller turnout due to it being a mid-week, mid-day match - a lot of our members could not get time off work. But a bus full of pensioners pulled in, filled up most of the tables, and didn't really pay much attention to us.
"As we went down 4-nil just before halftime, an older women came to our table and asked why were so upset. As we explained the situation, Theo scored to give us a little hope. The woman returned to her table and updated her friends. When the comeback really got going, she came back with a few of her companions and they started cheering, yelling and screaming with us and after the final whistle there were hugs all around.
"They got to feel the passion of Arsenal "
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