Arsenal California Love
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on August 2, 2016
The Arsenal had only ever been to the United States once, two years ago, to play and lose against the New York Red Bulls at that time led by Thierry Henry. Arsène Wenger had swapped those mostly secluded trips to Austria, an almost ascetic approach to preseason, hard training and a few closed matches in the rolling green hills of Europe. For this preseason he swapped it for the rolling waves, sandy beaches, palm tree lined streets, continual sunshine, and access to a market that has only just been tapped; called California. While NYC is a large city, a world unto itself, and rightful center of banking and trade, the State of California is the sixth largest economy in the world. Not only is California a large economy it has had passionate ‘soccer’ fans since the 1970s, it was not our proximity to Mexico in the 70’s that saw me and all my peers play ‘youth soccer’. The truth, it was an extension of California’s unique place in the world, it is a place that has defied the rest of the country since the end of the second world war. California has always seen itself as the more liberal, and by extension, the more western European side of America. Adopting ‘soccer’ and having World Cup Parties in America in the 70’s it did not occur to me as a child that this attention to global football was foreign. When parents of team-mates heard that I was born in Paris, to an English and Dutch father they all just believed I should know the game. The fact that I learned who Johan Cruyff was, while living in Los Angeles should have been strange, knowing what I know now about how difficult it was to get the sport to inspire the popularity it has even now. California is often thought of as the rest of the country’s hippy uncle, but that uncle paid the bills, and with so much of the tech and entertainment industries in California, today it has the closest thing to a middle class seen in much of America. This means that there are generations of football fans with money and passion to spare. The Arsenal may have been surprised by the love they received in California, I was not.
California… knows how to party
California… knows how to party
In the citaaay of L.A.
In the citaaay of good ol’ Watts
In the citaaay, the city of Compton
We keep it rockin! We keep it rockin!” – Tupac Shakur ‘1995
A great deal has changed in California since the 70’s and really since the 90’s by the time Arsenal played Chivas Guadalajara at the StubHub center in the city of Carson on August 31st, 2016, literally just south of Compton, and all of it Los Angeles. In the 90’s wearing red in that part of town would make you a literal gun target for someone wearing blue; it was the days of the Bloods and the Crypts. Today it is the home of the L.A. Galaxy, and when thousands of Arsenal fans lined up, in parade march, along the road into their blue stadium, flags, banners, and scarves proudly declaring “Red Army!” The worst was an occasional shot of bemusement. For many of these fans it was their first time seeing The Arsenal play in real life. Imagine being an Arsenal fan in such a giant city as Los Angeles, as more people emigrated across California’s southern border, with a love of football and made homes, families, and lives here, so did the market for catering to them grow. Even before all English Premier League games were broadcast on T.V., English teams came to L.A., but not the Arsenal. To be fair, L.A. having so many ties to South America, and a penchant for celebrity is largely a two team town; Real Madrid or Barcelona. That said, Los Angeles has over 12 million residence, and if you want to watch any match in the Arsenal pub ‘The Fox and Hounds’, be prepared not to have a seat. The exception perhaps a cold winter morning away to Stoke, no one wants to get out of bed, let alone go for a drive for that; but get out of bed for a 4:30am kick off on a Sunday they do.
Obviously not all the Arsenal fans attending Arsenal’s pre-season 3 – 1 win over Chivas were from California, but in this case Californian’s outnumbered the rest. In typical Gooner fashion I met fans from across the country who had traveled just to enjoy the spectacle. As I did two years ago in New York I met a nice family from London who took this game as an opportunity for a holiday. In very L.A. fashion I sat next to an English ex-pat who never thought he would see his beloved Arsenal in the flesh again. This was a party, there was no doubt about it.
The party of chanting, jeering the feigning Chivas players, and just seeing their boys in the flesh was intoxicating itself, and perhaps that was what inspired the team to turn it on in the second half, attacking the Arsenal America end. As if in response to this heady atmosphere Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain produced a worldie of run and goal, very much in keeping up with the party.
It put the game well out of reach of Chivas at 2 nil, and it put the Arsenal fans in rapture, captured for posterity ironically on television.
I spoke to some of The Arsenal staff still milling about the stadium before kick off, as an Arsenal America ticket holder I had early access, to gauge how their time in California was. In two words they were “blown away” by the number of supporters that came out and their “passion”. One of the Arsenal Media cameramen told me he had no idea how big they were here. I also asked rather hopefully if he thought the team would come again, and he smiled and said he didn’t know for sure, but “I think we will”. I only printed that because it oddly seemed to echo the conversation I had with Robbie from Arsenal Fan TV earlier in the day. I am not going to name the Arsenal staff I spoke too, out of respect for their candor, and frankly because I never said I might print what they said. With Arsenal’s main owner Stan Kroenke also the owner of the soon to again be Los Angeles Rams, a new stadium is already approved for construction, the opportunity to make L.A. a more regular stop for Arsenal is a genuine probability. Overall the staff I spoke to seemed genuinely blown away by the reception they received here. One just beamed with pride, while another staff member asked me why there was so little support for title winning Leicester, who had played and lost a game against PSG the night before at that same stadium.
“It’s simple,” I said. “we’ve been Gooners long before Leicester ever challenged for more than a lyric in our away chant.” It looks like Gooners will follow Arsenal over land and sea, even Leicester, and now California.