Despite the early hour on a recent Sunday morning, a group of cheerful and eager fans made their way to Lir on Boylston Street in Boston. Clad in red and white jerseys, complete varying names of team heroes and an iconic crest, fans trickled into the Irish pub.
They did not come to cheer on the Red Sox or the Patriots or any other hometown team. They came to watch a game that was being played over 3,000 miles from Boston. They came to watch their beloved Arsenal Football Club, of England’s Premier League, travel to Stoke-on-Trent to play Stoke City Football Club.
It is a scene that has become more and more common throughout the United States as the opportunity to view foreign soccer matches has grown dramatically. Men In Blazers co-host Roger Bennett noted recently in an article about the nature of fandom for ESPN’s Soccernet: “More soccer is now broadcast in the United States than in England.” Take for example the popularity of the U.S. women’s national team over the past two summers, at the World Cup and summer Olympics.
As foreign soccer has increased in accessibility, the number of supporters clubs in America has grown. Boston alone boasts clubs that are dedicated to Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal — all teams that play in England’s Barclays Premier League. Given Boston’s strong Irish heritage, it is not surprising that there also exists a club supporting Celtic.
Many supporters clubs regularly congregate at pubs or bars to view their chosen team’s matches. But in this age of Internet and social media, an increasing emphasis has been placed on communicating with fellow fans through Facebook and Twitter. It is not uncommon for a supporters club to sport a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter handle. The utilization of these social media outlets, coupled with a move to a more centralized location, has dramatically increased the following of the Boston Gooners, a Boston club associated with the Arsenal America supporters organization.
The Boston Gooners are a relatively young club, having formed during 2009. Arsenal long ago assumed the nickname The Gunners, which has resulted in Arsenal supporters referring to themselves as Gooners. About a year ago, the club would meet at the Blackthorn on West Broadway in South Boston. Club President James Moler notes that, at the time, support was routinely mediocre at best, but since striking a partnership with Lir this past February, attendance on game day has dramatically increased.
The recent Sunday match against Stoke provided a fine example. At a time of day when residents commonly enjoy a morning of leisure, more than 30 supporters had nestled onto bar stools or taken up standing position throughout the bar before the 8:30 a.m. kickoff. It was a welcome site since the day’s match-up was anything but a marquee game.
At several points during the match, songs and chants were shouted, as the supporters urged their team onward. It was another component that the club has sought to incorporate to further promote an atmosphere of camaraderie. Samples of the songs are available on the Gooners’ website, along with information about upcoming matches and how to get in touch with the club.
Vice President Bryce Larsen mentioned that the club had over 80 fans in attendance for the season opener against Sunderland. Displaying a photo from his iPhone, complete with a Boston Gooners case, Larsen pointed out that the club had almost completely filled Lir’s first floor that day. It was an encouraging sign, and confirmation that the club had started down a road toward establishing a broad and enthusiastic congregation. The club’s ultimate goal, Moler said, “is to foster that sense of community.”
Indeed, that vision of community appears to be blossoming. A couple and their young son took in the game against Stoke. And amidst plates of eggs, home fries, and toast, fans exchanged their thoughts on the season’s prospects and engaged in lighthearted banter. There were Boston Gooners shirts available for purchase, and Arsenal flags were hung underneath several of Lir’s televisions. But still, the club aspires to do more.
Moler, Larsen, and Jeffrey Werner, who manages the club’s website and is in charge of communications, shared their ever-expanding vision. They hope that someday soon the club will have the entire second floor of Lir to itself on match days. At the end of September, they have plans to host a video game tournament, pitting club members against each other in the popular soccer game FIFA. Echoed throughout the conversation, the trio of club officers reiterated that their intentions are to give people the motivation to come out on match day, to build a strong assemblage of devoted Arsenal fans.
It is becoming apparent that soccer is no longer a fringe or niche sport in America, and supporters clubs, like the Boston Gooners, are admirably spreading the word.
To learn more about Boston Gooners, visit their website at www.bostongooners.com