2013 was a very eventful year for Charsenal. Match day attendance numbers and our online presence continued to grow - we hit over 200 Facebook Likes and more than 400 Twitter Followers! We welcomed many visitors from supporters groups across the country and some Gooners tracked us down from as far away as the UK and Germany. A small group of us even made the trek to London in March for Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Reading. It was an amazing experience and also an opportunity to represent Charleston and its devoted U.S. Gooners.
A Charsenal identity really began to emerge this year. Camaraderie among Gooners strengthened and we became known as a supporters club where visitors are greeted with a warm welcome and cold pint. There is certainly a group core, but each match brings new faces that we applaud upon arrival. When Charsenal was formed in 2011 we sought to unite Charleston Gooners to enjoy matches together rather than scattered around town or in our homes and to ultimately grow Arsenal support in the US. Looking back over this past year, it’s safe to say that we are well on our way.
The 12/13 season finished with silverware for our branch, if not for our club: one of our members rounded out the campaign at the top of Madra Rua's Fantasy Premier League group. Thanks to the pub's generosity, a brand new 12/14 home top was awarded to our champion, who wasted no time in going out on top by hanging up his fantasy boots.
Our branch was presented with another trophy-winning opportunity at the end of June and beginning of July courtesy of an All-Time Arsenal XI Draft hosted by Arsenal America. Branch leadership from Austin, Boston, Baltimore, Charlotte, Jackson, Jacksonville, Kentucky, Nashville, New Haven, Orange County, and San Diego took turns drafting in their starting XIs, bench, and managers from a pool comprised of every Arsenal player or gaffer in history. Charsenal opted to field a 4-4-2 managed by Arsene Wenger and featuring Jens Lehmann between the sticks; Wilf Copping, Per Mertesacker, Steve Bould, and Alf Baker across the back line; Brian Marwood, Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta, and Theo Walcott in the middle; with Kanu and (in a clever twist) Kelly Smith spearheading our attack. Our super subs were John Jensen, Pascal Cygan, and Steve Morrow. Visitors to Arsenal America's website voted with the handbrake on, though, as our entry was roundly trounced by those of Boston and Orange County. Despite this, the draft was a massive amount of fun and allowed members of supporters branches across the country to interact with and get to know one another. Top quality exercise from Arsenal America that ought to be revisited for the next off season.
A short but agonizing wait after the draft brought us to the preseason and the beginning of a stellar partnership with Local 616, a new bar in downtown Charleston. Dwayne Mitchell (he pours what he wants!), its proprieter and a fellow Gooner, opened his doors in time for us to take in the Emirates Cup match against Napoli. The potential of having our own, permanent home after years of bar-hopping was immediately tantalizing and the atmosphere that Dwayne sought to create at Local 616 was irresistable. The members who attended that match viewing came away feeling even more excited for the start of our next league campaign.
And then Aston Villa came to town and humbled us on opening day. As thoroughly rended as our garments were at the time, the less written about that debacle at this point the better. The more important focus now is how the club responded to such a sucker punch. Having played 29 matches in all competitions so far this season, Arsenal has amassed an overall record of 20-6-3, including 12 clean sheets. What a turnaround! Highlights of the season thus far include blanking Fenerbahce home-and-away, embarassing our lilywhite neighbors on the day they sold their best player, which facilitated our signing of Mesut Özil (more in a minute), completely dominating Napoli, Jack scoring *that* goal against Norwich, packing the pub against a contained Liverpool (by far our best attended match this campaign), and beating Borussia Dortmund at their home fortress. Though we crashed out of the league cup against Chelsea we are still challenging for silverware on three fronts. I think in the past years of frustration that's ultimately what all of us wanted - to challenge.
Toward that goal of challenging, our club pulled off what was inarguably the transfer coup of the window by signing Mesut Özil. One of the best number 10s in the world, Özil instantly improved both the skill and spirits of the team while spawning a cottage industry of umlaut-laden accoutrement. Bringing Mesut (and Flamini, for that matter) into the squad was a clear statement of intent that is further backed up by our league position as 2013 winds down: first.
Speaking of firsts, our supporters branch experienced many firsts during this half of the season. CHSSoccer.net, a local site for all things football, interviewed our branch leadership for a great write-up posted in May, giving us some of our first local exposure. We went international in August when we were featured on Arsenal.com, including pictures and a full bio write-up, which yielded immeasurable smiles and high fives around Charsenal HQ. Both Arsenal Review USA and the Triangle Gooners were kind enough to treat some of our members to their first podcast experiences. We unleashed our first Charsenal t-shirts on the world in October and quickly sold out of our initial stock. At Thanksgiving time we welcomed our first Gunner to Local 616 as Danny Karbassiyoon joined in the fun of watching a match, which was a genuine treat.
2013 will undoubtedly go down as a turning point for this group, as it also will for our beloved Arsenal. This year has been so many things for us. Humbling. Frustrating. Creative. Progressive. Expansive. Entertaining. Captivating. The plain fact is that this year for our supporters club would not have been nearly as good without the dilligent and loving support from our members and those of other supporters clubs around the nation; the patience and good nature of our families; the football culture that is being nurtured in Charleston; the home that is Local 616 and the hospitality of Dwayne Mitchell; and the tireless work of our branch leadership. We are extremely grateful for your support and could not have come this far without your help. Many friendships have been gained through our passion and love for The Arsenal. They help everyone to celebrate the good times and provide support during rough ones. We at Charsenal are damn proud of this. We cannot wait to see what 2014 brings. Up the Arsenal!
~ Travis & Stan