While our branch works on its year/half-season in review entry (look for it here in the next couple of weeks), I wanted to take some time and post about our match day experience.
Surely there are some of you who are trepidatious about making the trip out to Local 616 on the day of a match because you’re not sure you’d fit in or dig the scene. You may have friends who support the teams that Arsenal are playing against and are concerned about bringing them to an “Arsenal bar”. Others of you may need a little bit of a nudge to escape the gravitational pull of your couch and remote control when 10am rolls around. Perhaps you don’t feel “hardcore” enough to come for every match and only attend intermittently. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to address each of those points and try to convince you to make watching a match with Charsenal a priority.
While a lot of us like to create a boisterous, rowdy atmosphere on match days, the one word above all others I would use to describe our group would be: friendly. The leadership of our branch mills around to introduce ourselves and make introductions between Gooners. We enjoy applauding anyone who walks through the door wearing our beloved red and white to help them feel welcome. Lasting friendships get formed through the 2 hours every week we have together during a match. Fans who have been supporting for decades intermingle with folks who barely know their Giroud from their Djourou. Simple songs get sung in the hopes that the entire bar will join in. There’s an electricity in the air when the pub is packed and we like to foster that feeling as often as possible.
Here’s the thing: we’re not friendly to you only because you have a cannon on your chest. Make no mistake, part of the reason why Local 616 is our bar of choice is because the proprietor is a Gooner. More than being our Arsenal bar, though, Local 616 encourages fans of every stripe to visit. We routinely welcome opposing supporters. Our best-attended match of the season to this point was the one against Liverpool and about a quarter of the attendees were Scousers. Things remained civil and cordial, we had some laughs, and nobody that I am aware of came away from that day frustrated with the experience (though the scoreline may’ve been a different story for them!). Ultimately a bar full of committed, good-natured supporters (regardless of the color of your shirt) contributes to an incredible match viewing experience. We’ll strive to not harass you for wearing the opposing colors if you repay the kindness and we all just might have an enjoyable time for it. Unless you support Tottenham.
So here’s another scenario: it’s 7:15am (or even 9:30am) on a match day morning. 30 minutes to kick off and your alarm is ringing. You had quite a night and you feel like Han Solo frozen in your carbonite bed. Even if you can bring yourself to roll out, thanks to NBC’s acquisition of the EPL rights you can tumble right onto your comfortable couch and flip on the game. Why should you forsake this convenience to hit the showers, pull on your replica shirt, and come out to Local 616? If you think about the match as a movie, what you’re missing by not coming out to a match is sort of like the behind-the-scenes extras. I feel my knowledge about the club (and the sport) has increased dramatically since becoming a match day regular, which has only fed my passion for the team. Spirited debates about team selection and tactics happen frequently. Wisecracks are mandatory. We all start using a common vocabulary and foster little in-jokes. Honestly, you’ll never cheer more loudly or have a bigger rush (outside of being there live) when that game-winning goal goes in than you will when you’re with a group of your peers. That sort of experience won’t happen from your couch.
Showing up for match days becomes part of your routine if you let it, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a temptation to only come for the “big" games, which tend to be the matches that will attract a larger than normal turn out anyway. When it comes right down to it, though, *every* match is a big match. With only 38 games in a league season, each of those points is vital. 3 points off Crystal Palace are worth the same as 3 points off Liverpool. Each cup tie or Champions League match could be pivotal. One of the most enjoyable matches I watched this season was our dismantling of Norwich, featuring *those* goals from Jack and Rambo. Did you miss seeing it on the projector at Local 616 because you didn’t think it would be worth showing up for a relatively assured victory at the Emirates against the Canaries?
I’m sure this isn’t unique to Charleston, but there’s a sentiment in our city that we should be loyal to our local establishments. We as Gooners here are fortunate to have a place to call our own in Local 616, with an owner/operator who is focused on growing with our supporters branch to be a football destination for the downtown area. The best way we have to repay his loyalty is with our own loyalty and steady patronage. The better our attendance and the more regularly we can fill up the pub, the easier it will be to have drink specials, giveaways, and special events. Things like that will only lead to more people coming out. Can you imagine 50 or 100 people roaring at goal after goal, every match?
This post is not trying to make you feel guilty for not showing up match-in, match-out, though. I’m a new father and try as I might, my family and fixture schedule don’t always conveniently align. Maybe it’s a trip too far for you to drive downtown. Life gets in the way sometimes and that is perfectly okay. When everything falls in to place, however, I make watching a match with my fellow Charleston Gooners a priority because I’ve learned through repeated experience that it is by far the best way for me to enjoy the beautiful game aside from a trip to London.
I hope that if you haven’t watched a match with us previously or have only been able to tag in occasionally that you’ll take some time in the festive season of 2013 and resolve in 2014 to join us. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.