Fighting footy withdrawal

Now that the Premiership season is over and Arsenal is galavanting around Asia, what’s a Bay Area Gooner to do?

Sure, a modicum of time is spent obsessing over real and imagined player transfer targets in the silly season, and moaning about how Arsenal never tour the States in the off-season (What is up with that, Kroenke?). But here are a few ideas to fill the void until August.

There’s a fantastic tournament coming to our fair city. Street Soccer USA is an organization that uses soccer to transform the lives of homeless men and women.

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On the weekend of June 22-23, they’ll stage the West Coast Cup here at Justin Herman Plaza. We’re organizing a Bay Area Gooners squad, so if you can play, stop by the BAG Facebook page and let us know. Our entry fee has been graciously taken care of by the owners of Maggie McGarry’s and an anonymous donor.

MLS is in full swing and our closest available team, the San Jose Earthquakes are battling it out in the Western Conference. The Quakes official affiliation with Tottenham Hotspur FC the Scum, makes it tough for many local Gooners to throw their support behind them.GalaxyHeader

In fact, Danny Coyle’s, the home of SF Spurs, is chartering a bus from the pub to the Quakes v Galaxy match at Stanford Stadium on June 29th. $60 gets you a game ticket, transportation both ways, and all you can drink. $40 for just the bus and the booze (for those with tickets already).  I confess I did one such trip a few seasons ago, and the on-bus banter back and forth between our rivals was good fun.

stompers

Closer to home, some leagues below the MLS, are our own SF Stompers who play at Boxer Stadium in Balboa Park and the Bay Area Breeze who play at Kezar Stadium.

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There’s a fantastic new organization here, the San Francisco Football Supporters Association working hard to drum up support for both clubs. The group and the teams are well worth your attention.

Finally, some of the big teams are visiting San Francisco. On Wednesday, July 31st, Everton FC (EPL) and Juventus FC (Serie A) face off in a friendly at AT&T Park.

Unfortunately, the folks promoting this failed to learn from last year’s Man City v Club America debacle, where they barely got 11,000 supporters in a stadium that holds up to 40,000.

The big obstacle for local footy fans? Once again, promoters have priced tickets absurdly high. They made available a very small amount of $40 tickets, which were snapped up right away, but the rest range $60-$300 apiece, with most averaging $70-80. And that’s before ticketing fees!

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 7.16.51 AMWe’re not all well-heeled tech millionaires here and if they’re serious about growing the sport in the Bay Area, they need to recognize people’s economic constraints. I went to the Man City v Club America match and the only section that was completely sold out was the upper most deck and that was because those were the most reasonably priced tickets.

They’d do well to emulate the San Jose Earthquakes who play host to Premiership club, Norwich City FC on July 20th. A majority of those tickets are very reasonably price, averaging $30 each.

My other gripe is they often do a piss-poor job of promoting these matches, failing to understand their audience at all. You could say, I’m fairly involved in supporting football in San Francisco, and I haven’t seen a lot of local marketing for these events.

I urge to come out and support your fellow Gooners at the Street Soccer tournament, or go to a Quakes, Stompers or Breeze match. I’ve been to see the Stompers and it’s good fun.

And it will help fill the days until Arsenal’s season begins again.

I don’t know what they’re doing

I get asked a lot about Arsenal’s plight. Maybe it’s because I run our local supporters group. And sure, like any Arsenal supporter, any sports fan, well, any human being, I’ve got an opinion about most everything. But what do I really know.

And aren’t there better qualified folks to ask? Just clicks away are tens of thousands of Arsenal blogs, interviews with current and former players and of course the speculative blathering of the media.

I’ve not been indulging myself in too many of these lately, not that there aren’t some worthwhile scribblings out there, but as many Gooners know, it can quickly become a dark, depressing, bile-in-the-throat circlejerk.

However, two of the pieces I have read recently were Amy Lawrence’s Guardian column about the Robin van Wanker transfer, followed by Arseblog’s typically wry, spot-on assessment of the matter.  Both left me feeling depressed.

As Arseblogger so keenly points out, the Arsenal narrative as fed to us by the club via Arsene Wenger does not align with the on-the-pitch reality we see week in and out.

We’ve got a nice collection of players-as-paperweights, but not enough decent, able-bodied players to spell the few we do have. Meanwhile, for the past two seasons, we’ve sold our best player. We supposedly have players who want to join Arsenal and money to buy them, but halfway through the January transfer window, none have come.

Every time I see Arsene Wenger he looks exhausted, spent, out of ideas, dare I say defeated. He was recently bested by a puffy jacket during one match. Some of his player acquisitions in recent years have me worried his Midas touch assessing talent is beginning to leak from his fingers.

Then there’s the perception amongst some that since Stan Kroenke became majority shareholder, as long as Arsenal operate as a profitable business, silverware is less of a priority. While I haven’t studied his tenure as owner of the Denver Nuggets in depth, a cursory investigation suggests this idea is not outside the realm of possibility.

I feel like Mulder, I want to believe. I dutifully drag myself to the pub every weekend at unseemly West Coast hours to watch the matches, but whenever someone asks me about the state of Arsenal, I have to be honest, I don’t know what they’re doing.

The Arsenal Bond

Those of you who turn up at the pub to watch Arsenal with the Bay Area Gooners even occasionally, are familiar with the almost instant camaraderie that ensues.  All it takes is an Arsenal kit for people who have never met to become instant friends.  A single goal can result in complete strangers high-fiving or hugging one another.

The benefits go beyond simply having a good time at the pub. Recent research suggests that watching sports is good for the brain.  If that is true, then watching Arsenal must make you a super-genius.  Not only that, but it could help you live longer, and (despite a lack of recent silverware) can make you really, really happy.

The Arsenal bond transcends race, gender, socioeconomic status, and in many instances is multigenerational. During our first season at Maggie McGarry’s, I watched many games with Rachel, a Londoner studying abroad in San Francisco. Her father not only introduced her to the club, but had saved her from a fate worse than perhaps even death.  Prior generations of her family all supported Tottenham, but her dad, understanding the depths of despair involved with that, wanted something better for himself and his family, and they’ve been Gooners ever since.

In our season-end members poll, many Gooners expressed an interest in bringing their little Gooners to the pub.  We also heard from folks not yet 21 who want to share in the great atmosphere we’ve created.

Beginning in September, those Bay Area Gooners with kids, will have an opportunity to provide a better life for their children as we are holding the first of 6 (maybe more) ALL-AGES Arsenal match-viewings throughout the season. As Maggie’s is 21-and-over only, we’ve had to seek out an alternate venue for these matches.

Wait, how did he get in here!

The Irish TImes pub, located at 500 Sacramento Street (corner of Sansome) has graciously agreed to host these all-ages matches.  They have a full kitchen and will be offering Bay Area Gooners food and drink specials. The first of these is September 15, 2012 at 7AM for Arsenal v Southampton.

However, in order to ensure the Irish Times as a viable alternate venue for our gatherings, we need a good turnout, so I’m encouraging Gooners young and old, one and all to turn up.

Hope to see you at the pub!