Fox Soccer’s Magic Bus

July 2nd, 2012

As anyone with even peripheral awareness of footie knows, this past Sunday was the Euro2012 Final between Spain and Italy.  Throughout our fair city, pubs which had been crowded with fans during the tournament, were even more packed for the Final.

But I was not amongst those unruly mobs of the hoi polloi. For I and a select group of fans were aboard Fox Soccer MVP Bus, as a result of tweeting with the relevant #FoxSoccerMVP hashtag.

With all due respect to The Who, this was a Magic Bus.  Fully stocked with beer and snacks, outfitted with leather couches and chairs, the match showing on multiple television screens, including the big one at the back of the bus, and ably piloted by our driver, Jose.  And for some unexplained reason, in the center of the bus, there was a stripper’s pole.

Aboard the Fox Soccer MVP Bus

Our hosts for the day were the great Eric Wynalda, (former professional and U.S. Mens National team player and current Fox Soccer broadcaster) and a team of Fox Soccer marketing aces, led by the wonderful Lauren.

Our day started at The Brick Yard in San Francisco, where we were feted with good food and drink. Then it was time to board the bus. Mr. Wynalda or Eric as I’m now allowed to call him, met us at the door and gifted us with Fox Soccer scarves, draping them over our shoulders as a Hawaiian hula girl might drape a lei on your arrival in Hawaii.

Traveling on the bus with us were San Francisco Chronicle soccer columnist Alan Black, and Robert Jonas, managing editor of Centerline. and a fantastic group of supporters from around the Bay Area.

Once aboard, we gifted with additional Fox Soccer swag and plied with even more alcohol. The Bay Area Gooners were well represented and we presented Eric with a BAG t-shirt and scarf.

Bay Area Gooners represent!

Honestly, I’m not exactly sure of the route the bus took, because I was having too much damn fun, though I know we traveled across the Golden Gate Bridge.  This was one of those instances where it was the journey that mattered.

Hanging with Eric (That's Mr. Wynalda to you!)

We ended up back in San Francisco, following the match, and Eric smartly suggested more drinks were needed. Can this guy host or what!  In all seriousness, I was mightily impressed with his graciousness.  He is a consummate storyteller, and made every attempt to engage each of the fans traveling on the bus that day.  In fact, he was still there chatting with fans, several hours after the match was over.

Oh yeah, and Spain won, 4-0.

Meet the Gooners (a continuing series)

April 18th, 2012

Filmmaker Micha Peled can be forgiven for missing Bay Area Gooners Arsenal match-viewings at  Maggie McGarry’s this season.  He’s been busy traveling, presenting his latest film, Bitter Seeds, at film festivals around the world.

Fortunately, his hectic travel schedule recently landed him in London as Arsenal played host to Aston Villa at the Emirates, and he tells us about his love of Arsenal and his match-day experience.

I’ve always had affinity for Arsenal but I became a real fan who watches most games and follows the blogs gradually in the past ten years, as live television transmission became easily accessible in the U.S. I was in a live game just once before.

My work took me to a film festival in Sheffield, and I was able to escape Saturday morning and head to Wolverhampton for the away match. But my friends were only able to get me a ticket with the home crowd. The entire game I pretended to be a dumb American who knows little about soccer. I had to sit on my hands and keep mum each of the four times Arsenal scored. Across the pitch I could see the away fans, hear them chanting and waving the red-and-white scarves. My longings to unite with my tribe were frustrated that day. I felt like Moses looking at the Promised Land from Mt. Sinai, but denied entry to it. (I’m Israeli – hence the Biblical reference).


Micha would realize his dream of celebrating with his fellow Gooners, courtesy of a long-time season ticket holder and frequent Bay Area Gooners benefactor.

Finally I was able to get down with my tribe two weekends ago. It was a great intro to the Emirates, as we slammed Aston Villa 3 – 0. Jumping around and chanting with everyone else around was a real joy.

An award-winning documentarian, Micha dreams of having unlimited camera access to Arsene Wenger and the club over the course of a season, and maintains a mostly positive outlook for the future.

He says, My hopes for Arsenal’s near future are those of most fans: that this summer we strengthen the squad with significant players of world class quality. And that whoever replaces Pat Rice will perfectly compliment the Boss.  Though long-term, I can’t help feeling concerned what the post-Wanger era will bring.

You can see Micha’s latest film, Bitter Seeds, the third and final part of The Globalization Trilogy, when it has its Bay Area premiere at the San Francisco International Film  Festival.

The first screening will be on Saturday, April 21, 2011 at 3:45 PM at the New People Cinema (just up the street from the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas) in Japantown.

The film has already garnered two awards at its international premiere: the IDFA Green Screen competition and the Oxfam Global Justice Award. Here is what some notable folks in California are saying about it:

Films like this can change the world. – Alice Waters, activist, author, and owner of Chez Panisse restaurant.

A tragedy for our times, beautifully told and deeply disturbing. – Michael Pollan,  journalist, activist, and author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Better than a Batman movie, with real villains making up their own lines. – Peter Sellar, American theatre director and professor of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA.

You can get tickets to screenings of Bitter Seeds here.

Micha will be doing Q & A after each of screening. He says, Hope to see you at the screenings.

Meet the Gooners (a continuing series)

March 20th, 2012

Arsenal’s last match against Newcastle with its late winner was edge of your seat excitement for all Bay Area Gooners who watched. But possibly none more than Kenan Kuntsal who was in the stands at the Emirates Stadium, celebrating his birthday.

Kenan at Emirates Stadium for Arsenal v Newcastle

This was Kenan’s first trip to see the Arsenal in person, a pilgrimage all Gooners should make at least once in their lifetime. It is certainly not an experience he’ll soon forget.

The buzz around the stadium before the game was fantastic. Much different than a Major League Baseball game where everyone seems more concerned with beer and hot dogs. The chants from the crowd echo through the stadium and are much louder than they appear on TV. Every effort on the pitch is applauded, whether it be chasing back for a tackle or preventing a cross. My favorite chant: “He scores when he wants, he scores when he wants, Robin van Persie, he scores when he wants!”

So while most stateside Gooners were going berserk in the 95th minute in a pub or our living rooms, Kenan was living the  dream.

First of all, if any local Gooner is contemplating a trip: DO IT!  Well worth the travel. The post game crowd is immense. But, I would suggest you do NOT leave early, as evidenced by the many that missed the 95th minute winning goal!

A bit of local knowledge:  the Holloway Road tube station near the grounds is “exit only” after the match so you have to walk to one of the other alternatives. I would recommend finding a pub or restaurant and having a drink after the game rather than stampeding the tube with 50,000 Gooners.

In addition to witnessing a nail-biting finish, Kenan also did the stadium tour the day prior to the match. Didn’t really plan it out, just showed up!  I was really impressed with the access the tour provides. You can sit it the Director’s Box, visit both locker rooms, walk out the player’s tunnel onto the pitch, even sit in Arsene’s seat on the touchline.

Would definitely recommend it. It is by far the most incredible and impressive stadium I have ever visited regardless of sport, and it was fun to see it empty before the game to really appreciate the details of it.

In the Arsenal locker room

The Arsenal store on site is equally impressive. They have everything you would ever need to own – and then some – branded with the Arsenal logo, very jersey, every kit, etc. Somehow I made it out without removing my wallet. I am already scheming a return next year.

If you’re planning a trip to see the Arsenal, reach out to me at the pub. Usually, American Gooners can gain access to tickets by becoming members of Arsenal America, but as in Kenan’s case, occasionally I can help rustle up some through my London network of friends.

Cheers, Mark

Sweet dreams are made of this

March 13th, 2012

Actually woke up this morning thinking Arsenal’s late winner over Newcastle had been a dream.

I got up and watched the last 7 or so minutes of the match again, so I could be sure.

Weekday matches are always a bit annoying to begin with, because it is a rare occasion when I can disappear from work for 3 hours in the middle of the day to watch them. Thus, my day is spent in a heightened paranoid state where I attempt to avoid all media, text messages, or contact with the outside world.

My coworkers, having previously been admonished, occasionally like to joke about revealing the result. I remind them that doing so, is a firing offense.  It helps that one of our partners is Arsenal born and raised and enduring the same ritual as I.

I end up watching over dinner with She Who Must Be Obeyed, who is a loyal Gooner in her own right, but I’m still a bit chafed at not having been able to watch live at Maggie McGarry’s Irish Pub with other Arsenal supporters. Short of being at the Emirates for the match, there is no place I’d rather watch than with the Bay Area Gooners.

Vermaelen scored a dramatic winner as the clock ticked down. (Guardian Football Gallery)

Funny how a late winner will salve all wounds and make one forget the petty annoyances of the day.  A dream come true.

All That I’m Feeling

March 7th, 2012

We knew it was a big ask.

Arsenal were headed into the second leg of their Champions League match-up with AC Milan, needing at least 4 goals without conceding one, to make up for the 4-0 debacle at the San Siro.

The Gunners fought fearlessly and valiantly, putting in 3 goals before the half.  But it was not to be.  Yet, as with other defeats, I do not feel despair, regret, or anger (though I must confess to a level of annoyance with the abysmal referee).

All that I’m feeling is…

Who are ya!

February 16th, 2012

As an American Arsenal FC supporter, you get used to hearing from some English fans about how you’re not a “proper supporter” and never really could be, because you can’t attend the matches on a regular basis or you weren’t “born into it”. We’re sort of the ugly stepchildren football fans.

I got drawn into just such an exchange recently on Twitter. Still, for every fan I’ve met with this sort of attitude, I know dozens who welcome you with open arms, perfectly willing to engage in the shared experience of being an Arsenal supporter.

I’m proud to count amongst my friends, London-born Gooners following the club for 30 or more years, who don’t seem to have any issue, with my having been born on the wrong side of the pond.

The Bay Area Gooners are an official branch of Arsenal America, and as such, we subscribe to their mission. This means essentially that our group is for all Gooners around these parts.  It makes no difference if you’ve been following them since Highbury or since last week, you’re still welcome to watch with us at the pub.

We may not get to the Emirates much, but we are at the pub every weekend, often as early as 4:45AM to watch the matches live. I have to believe revenue from U.S. television rights and the merchandise we buy, must be as much of a benefit to the club as any money spent in the U.K.

Even stranger than snobbery from British fans, I found myself being taken to task by an American while watching the recent Champions League debacle at Maggie McGarry’s. I was a bit baffled by our conversation, as he did not reveal which club he supported (if any), but was perfectly willing to criticize me and the other Bay Area Gooners in the pub, as not being “real” fans.

Apparently, I’d not been following the club long enough to qualify in his opinion. Much like the Twitter incident, it was a pointless exchange, I should have abandoned sooner rather than later.

Here’s the thing, I fell in love with watching Arsenal and this affair was consumated during my one and only trip to Highbury.  I don’t claim to have the history of my friends Mark, who celebrated 50 years of following the club last season, or Jim, whose family has been supporting for generations.

But I love this club and I especially enjoy watching with other Gooners. You can be men, women, English, American, straight, gay, Hungarian, South African,  it doesn’t matter to me.  I won’t even hold it against you if your all-time favorite Arsenal player is Pascal Cygan (OK, maybe a little) – if you support Arsenal FC, you’re alright with me, and I hope to see you at the pub!

Unless you happen to be a prick.

 

 

Meet the Gooners! (A continuing series)

October 13th, 2011

One of nice things about being a Gooner is no matter where you go in the world, you’re a part of something that transcends borders, nationalities, races, genders – if you speak Arsenal, you have no trouble making friends.

This was never more apparent than when one of our Bay Area Gooners, Molly Keane, traveled to East Africa. Molly can often be found at Maggie McGarry’s Irish Pub for the Arsenal matches in the company of her family, which is fitting because it was her father Dennis’ Arsenal obsession that drew her into the fold.

The Keanes at Maggie's

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve always been a soccer player and my dad used to coach me, she says, His crazy Arsenal-love began when I was an undergrad in Santa Barbara and once I returned to the Bay Area, there was no choice but to jump on board.

Molly admits to be suffering from the PTSD after losing two of her favorite players in Fabregas and Nasri, but her love for the Gunners remains strong, especially for Wilshire and Song, and she likes the addition of Arteta.

She even speaks fondly of the 4:45AM West Coast kick-off times, saying, That’s when you know you are truly among real Arsenal fans.

Recently Molly traveled to Mfangano, Kenya for two months as part of a UCSF research team doing qualitative HIV/AIDS research.  Their days were spent running nutrition workshops, qualitative focus groups, and community events, but their nights were spent, hanging out with their host families, and learning about Luo culture.

Molly in Mfangano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I stayed with an amazing family who were Arsenal fanatics. My host parents love soccer and we all played in the island’s soccer tournament during my stay. Both my host mom and dad wear a lot of Arsenal flare and their kids have Arsenal underwear! The two things people on the island are most proud of, is that President Obama’s father was a Luo and being Arsenal fans.

Members of Molly’s host family

Molly discovered that following the Arsenal in Kenya can be a little tricky. We listened to Arsenal games through my host’s cellphone (don’t ask me how!) in Kiswahili. I could understand when goals were scored as you’d hear the player’s name followed by, Goooaaal.

There is no electricity or running water on the island, but the community center was able to project the Liverpool game onto a wall using solar power, which was awesome. I spent about a week traveling and while in Nairobi, had the unfortunate luck of being in a Manchester United bar, surrounded by Rooney-lovers during Arsenal’s match with them. It was traumatizing to say the least.

Molly is back in the Bay Area, but is still in regular contact with her Kenya host-family.  On behalf of the Bay Area Gooners, we sent them a box of Arsenal shirts recently, which they were thrilled to get.

Molly & Roberto

Of her “host-family” here, she says, I just want to say how much I enjoy watching Arsenal as a part of the Bay Area Gooners. There is no place I would rather be early morning on the weekends than at Maggie’s!

Bay Area Gooners in the news!

August 17th, 2011

Fantastic crowd at Maggie McGarry’s Irish Pub for Arsenal’s first match of the season. Sadly, the 0-0 draw at Newcastle did not exactly wash away any doubts leftover from the end of last season.

Still, it was great to see a lot of new faces along with those more familiar Gooners, and if this turnout was any indication, the pub should be rocking this season.

We’ve got some brilliant new t-shirts for sale as well as a limited number of Bay Area Gooner scarves (pictured below). The $30 shirt & scarf combo has been extended through this weekend’s match against Liverpool FC.

 

 

 

 

 

Our band of merry Gooners has featured in two recent articles on the world-wide interwebs.  The first appeared here in SFGate’s The Beautiful Blog written by Alan Black, author of the hilarious Kick The Balls.

This was followed by a little international coverage from across the pond, as our fellow Gooners at Arsenal-Talk took time to profile us here.

I’m hoping to restart a feature I’ve previously run on this blog called Meet The Gooners, in which we get to know better the folks we rub shoulders with at Maggie’s.  I’m particularly interested in Gooners who turn up regularly. If you have any interest in being interviewed, drop me an email.

See you at the pub!

Cheers, Mark

Top Chef and Top Gooner!

July 24th, 2011

Acclaimed American chef, Richard Blais, known in part for his appearances on Top Chef and Iron Chef America, rolled into the Bay Area this weekend, announcing his impending arrival on Twitter.

Chef Blais was the star attraction at Peaches and Tango: A Dinner in the Orchard, cooking a multi-course dinner for 175+ guests in Brentwood.

Attendees paid $200 a ticket for the event at Frog Hollow Farm, with proceeds benefiting The Edible Schoolyard,  a program of the Chez Panisse Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by chef and author Alice Waters.

Chef Blais is a huge Arsenal FC supporter, and is often be seen on his television appearances wearing t-shirts displaying his support.  Sure, enough when he arrived, he was sporting the finest in local Gooner apparel.

Chef Richard Blais, True Gooner!

You can find out more about Chef Blais here or if you’re in Atlanta, visit his Flip Burger Boutique.

If you like your anarchy, Gooner-style!

April 7th, 2011

If you’ve been to Maggie McGarry’s Irish Pub for any of the Arsenal FC matches in recent seasons, you’ve probably met Charles Belle.

This San Francisco native created the entertaining Goons of Anarchy blog, which regularly offers up witty and provacative opinions about our favorite football club.

Charles also serves as Director of Social Media for Arsenal America, the Official United States Supporters Club of Arsenal FC.

Funny, he doesn't look dangerous.

Arsenal America is a tremendous organization made up of an all-volunteer staff which represents the interests of American Arsenal fans to the club.

They coordinate ticket requests and organizes group road trips for their members traveling across the pond to see Arsenal matches in person, as well as staging Arsenal related events here in the United States.  I’ve been the club’s Secretary for the past two seasons.

In his social media capacity, Charles has recently launched a campaign to increase the Arsenal America Facebook Fan Page Likes to 10,000 Gooners.

I encourage you to support Arsenal America and to check out the Goons of Anarchy blog.  They’ve recently added a store featuring their unique t-shirts for sale!

See you at the pub!

Cheers, Mark