If you want to get a sense for how Arsenal's surging popularity in the United States looks at the local level, the Rochester Gooners are a perfect microcosm of a nationwide trend.
MEET THE FANS: ROCHESTER GOONERS
After trying out a few different pubs in recent years, the group found a new home of their own ahead of the 2015/16 campaign. And since the start of the season, the group has more than doubled in size.
“We have 45 new members so far this year and we are the biggest soccer supporters group in the city. No Premier League team has as many [members],” Rochester Gooners manager Phil Szrama said.
Why is the group attracting so many new fans? The obvious draw of “the greatest team the world has ever seen” aside, there are reasons aplenty.
Rochester is not your everyday American city when it comes to the beautiful game. It is steeped in a rich soccer tradition. The Rochester Lancers of the old North American Soccer League won a championship and played in the CONCACAF Champions Cup back in the 1970s. The city's current team, the Rochester Rhinos, are four-time champions of North America’s second tier and the only non-MLS team to win the the U.S. Open Cup -- the U.S. equivalent to the FA Cup -- since 1996.
Rochester also happens to be the hometown of Abby Wambach, arguably the greatest player in the the history of the women’s game. Wambach wrapped up her illustrious pro career with the Western New York Flash.
So yes, Rochesterians know their soccer. And there’s always a hunger for more.
That’s where the Rochester Gooners step in. Since their inception in 2012, they have created an impressive match day experience for fans centered around their home pub -- currently the Brickwood Grill.
“Our pub is an Arsenal-only pub," Szrama explained. “We are allowed to decorate it with any Arsenal items we like. We never have to take anything down.”
That includes banners, photos and scarves from other branches of Arsenal America.
“This has helped our chapter grow because people come in an see all of the Arsenal items and then ask about it,” Szrama said.
The Rochester Gooners even make their presence known to passersby.
“Two gigantic ROCGooners flags welcome any Arsenal supporter walking along Monroe Avenue,” noted group member Joe Kurnath. “And Brickwood’s always-congenial staff are decked out in smiles and Gunner red.
“Jeff Lumiti, Brickwood’s owner, has gone above and beyond to give Rochester’s Arsenal faithful a home.”
The pub is even becoming a vacation home of sorts for Gooners from all over Upstate New York.
“Two of our new members come all the way from Watertown, New York, which is 2-1⁄2 hours north,” Szrama said. To provide some perspective, that distance is further than Birmingham, England, to Emirates Stadium.
On September 12, the pub also played host to a huge gathering of fans from throughout the region for Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Stoke City. The meet-up, dubbed Goonerfest 2015, was even featured by NBC Sports during a national broadcast.
“It was our biggest event to date,” Szrama said proudly. “We hosted Buffalo, Syracuse and Ithaca Gooners at the pub. More than 150 Gooners were cheering on the mighty Arsenal.”
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