Ooh to be a Gooner: Mahlon

One might easily believe Mahlon Christensen was predestined to be a Gooner. Some 17 years, ago he wins a 2002-2003 Arsenal away kit during a pub quiz. Soon after, his good friend and rabid Arsenal supporter, Tal, visits and hands him a copy of Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby’s memoir of Arsenal fandom.

He immediately connects with the ideas of suffering and hope in the book. Watching Arsenal on television, he is captivated by the participatory nature of football fandom, the constant singing, chanting and bantering.

Theo Walcott, was the first Arsenal player Mahlon fell in love with. He settled on Walcott, while playing FIFA with Tay, because he was amongst the fastest players in the game. His current favorite is Gabriel Jesus. He’s brought an entire new dimension and attitude to our offense and to everyone. He has raised their game to a new level to match his enthusiasm.

Mahlon subsequently discovered the Bay Area Gooners online, joining our Facebook group. Originally from Modesto, now living in Alameda, he doesn’t get to Maggie McGarry’s as often as he would like, but has enjoyed some memorable moments at the pub including 2017’s FA Cup Final win over Chelsea.

In 2021, Dave Seager, the author of several books on Arsenal, reached out to ask him to participate in a new book. Mahlon has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, and Dave wanted him to share his story in Arsenal for Everyone, about Arsenal’s disabled supporters. Always check your Instagram DM’s, because you never know when one will provide a once in a lifetime opportunity or a chance for a new friendship. In this case I got both.

His friendship with Dave would solidify during Mahlon’s first visit to see Arsenal in person at Emirates Stadium in October, accompanied by his brother, Michael. Luckily my secret plan to make Michael into a passionate football fan came to fruition. His brother’s desire to go to London and willingness to help with logistics, got the duo planning in earnest. Dave secured them tickets to Arsenal v Tottenham and the trip was set.

On game day, the club arranged for them to see the Arsenal players arrive for the match, An incredible experience primarily because we’ve all seen it on TV for so long. They watched the North London Derby from the Clock End, just behind the Ashburton Army, an Arsenal supporters group.

The noise and pageantry was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard! There were flags and the army never stopped singing from first kick to the last. In fact ALL the fans sang, in unison. It was great to hear all the new songs and to feel the energy of an entire stadium pulling together willing the team to victory.  It was surreal.

We were right behind the goal which Arsenal was attacking during the first half. To see the first goal go in was a thrill, I will never forget! I felt like it was coming straight at me.  Everything just lined up for us to come this year and with Arsenal in first place it couldn’t have been a better year. And we got to go to the best game of the year and watch Arsenal win again.

Finally seeing Arsenal at the Emirates was the fulfillment of a long time dream! I honestly thought that at my age and with the significant arrangements that are required for me to travel, that I might never see Arsenal play in person. Mahlon saw his dream day at the stadium further commemorated by inclusion in the matchday programme.

Mahlon and Michael also accompanied Dave on a Legends Tour of the stadium, led by Perry Groves. This included the director’s box, the golden Invincibles’ trophy, manager’s office, and of course, the team locker room, Mahlon had seen so many times in All or Nothing. Mahlon says, I’d like to point out how helpful the Arsenal staff were on the tour; they were there to call elevators and facilitate my wheelchair movement throughout the stadium. After the tour, Perry spent another 30 minutes with them and was in Mahlon’s words, a true gent.

Following the tour, they took in the Arsenal Museum and Highbury, It was really incredible to be there after seeing it in pictures for so long! He also connected with UK friends he’d made online, some he’d corresponded with for a decade. It meant a lot to me that they each took the time to come to where I was staying to meet in person.

Being a member of the Arsenal community is vitally important to Mahlon. He’s happy to share his story with fans he feels understand him so deeply already. Not being a very social person by nature, initiating conversations is hard for me, so it’s great to have a built-in network of people who all care about the same thing that I do.  Whether we watch from near or far, no matter what the time zone, we all feel a part of something larger than ourselves. Arsenal is for everyone, we are one family.

Thank you to Michael McAnaney for sharing his photos. You can follow Mahlon on Instagram here.

We interrupt this title run

As we get ready to adjourn the Premiership season for a month to accommodate an ill-advised World Cup, who amongst us thought Arsenal would be in pole position? We’ve had a fun ride so far and if Arsenal do the business against Wolves Saturday, we’ll stay top of the table until our Boxing Day match against West Ham.

A ton of work still to be done, but it’s been exciting thus far. We’ve enjoyed a great spirit during match-viewings at Maggie McGarry’s. Attendance has been up and down, though we still managed to get 30-40 Gooners in for a 4am match against Chelsea last Sunday.

Visit our Instagram for more pics!

We will accept no excuses this Saturday as kickoff is an absurdly late 11:45am. And it being our last match for a bit, expect we will get a crowd.

Hoping when we return in December, we’ll have new BAG t-shirts available for purchase, so stay tuned. We will also hold a charity raffle for a worthy cause, exact date TBD.

I’m sitting out the World Cup, but Maggie’s will be showing a full complement of matches, so expect many Gooners will watch there. My only real hope for the tournament is that any Arsenal players involved, do not pick up significant knocks.

Look forward to seeing everyone Saturday. Please remember, while outside food is okay at the pub, no outside drinks are allowed. Also, dogs only in the parklets.

See you at the pub!

Cheers, Mark

What becomes a legend most?

Legend. A term perhaps bandied about too much. When it comes to Arsenal, certain players instantly to mind. For me, it’s these two and I’m not alone. Gooners picked them to occupy the number 1 and 2 spots on the “Gunners Greatest 50 Players” list. And while we’ve had some truly great players since, few have achieved this legendary status.

Image: Arsenal FC

As for our supporters group, there is of course, Patrick Dunphy, our dearly departed Gooner bartender. He was and always will be, a Bay Area Gooners legend. If you were not lucky enough to know him during his tenure, you can read about him on our About page. A small part of his legend was his willingness to open the pub for us, regardless of start time.

This weekend, we play Chelsea, in another vital match towards our title hopes. There is the underlying drama of former Gunner Aubameyang facing his old club, but for West Coast Gooners, it is the 4am start time, causing the most consternation.

Let us know on Facebook if you’re coming!

But view it as a step toward cementing your “legend” status amongst our Gooner family and join us on Sunday. Anyone can turn up for a late kickoff, but it is the staunchest of supporters that turns up for a predawn match at Maggie’s.

Come, be the stuff of legends.

Cheers, Mark

Bumps in the road?

Bound to happen, wasn’t it. We’ve been so caught up in winning and singing “We are top of the league” after every match, we maybe forgot how young this side is, the monumental nature of the task ahead, or that we won’t effortlessly swat every side aside.

Southampton has been a bit of a bogey team in recent years and Sunday was one of the stauncher challenges the Gunners have faced. Sure, the ref was abysmal and continued this season’s tradition of letting teams kick the crap out of our squad. But after the first 30 minutes or so, we looked listless and without imagination. While disappointing, the draw was deserved.

See more BAG pics on our Instagram!

Another good group of Gooners at the pub, though turnouts have waned a little recently. A 6am kickoff will do that, but it’s always been inconvenient for West Coast Gooners to show support, so I hope we’ll see more of you soon.

Speaking of which, here’s our next 4 matches. You’ll note we have a 4am against Chelsea in early November. Maggie’s has confirmed they will open, so plan accordingly. We managed over 125 Gooners for the recent North London Derby which kicked off at 4:30am, so let’s rally the troops in similar fashion.

Let us know on Facebook if you’re coming!

But first, a few Europa League matches and the (not so) small matter of Nottingham this Sunday. Another problematic side for Arsenal, they’ve bumped us out of 2 FA Cup competitions in recent seasons.

Here’s hoping Arsenal have a bounce back game against The Tricky Trees (yes, that really is one of their nicknames) Sunday, and we can continue singing our familiar refrain at the end.

Cheers, Mark

The luck of The Arsenal

Always a little worrisome during the buildup to the weekend match, when various people assure you Arsenal will batter the club they’re facing. I always ignore that sort of hubris because it rarely works out the way people predict.

Following a 30+ minute technical delay, Arsenal and Leeds battled it out in fast-paced scrappy fashion, with the Gunners eking out a 1-nil win on the back of a glorious Saka goal. This in a match that included not one but three critical VAR decisions, the first ruling out a Leeds goal, the second garnering the home side a penalty, before the third denied then another. Nerve-wracking to say the least.

See more BAG pics on our Instagram!

This Arsenal season continues to defy expectations. The string of victories is one thing, but it also feels like our luck has changed. Season pasts, we don’t get that penalty against Liverpool, and in this match, Bamford’s penalty kick likely finds the back of the net.

To answer Dirty Harry’s iconic question, why yes, this punk feels very lucky indeed. Lucky enough to get to watch the Gunners Thursday in Europa League action and then again at Southampton on Sunday.

Let us know on Facebook if you’re coming!

On a personal note, thank you to the many Gooners who turned up last Friday for the Gutter Swan show. Very much appreciated.

I won’t make it Thursday, but will see you back at Maggie’s on Sunday!

Cheers, Mark

Winning: still a thing

The raucous crowd of Gooners who turned up last Sunday at Maggie’s were rewarded for their dedication, with sublime football, some defensive hiccups, a few nervy moments, and finally, a softer penalty than Arsenal are used to getting. But a win is a win is a win and when Saka calmly dispatched the match winner, the pub exploded.

See more BAG pics on our Instagram!

We were graced by presence of Scott Willis, everyone’s favorite Arsenal statistician, and you can read his report here. Pundits are now taking notice that something might actually be happening at Arsenal. Even Roy Keane suggested Arsenal is City’s biggest challenge to the title.

But there’s another Europa League match tomorrow and Leeds on Sunday, so we reset our expectations as the Gunners go out and do it again.

Let us know on Facebook if you’re coming!

On a personal non-Arsenal note, my wife Loryn (aka She Who Must Be Obeyed), is performing Friday night in North Beach with her duo, Gutter Swan, at The Lost Church. The newly relocated venue is located at Columbus and Chestnut. Links to their music and tickets to the show can be found here. Would be great to see some familiar faces there!

I won’t make it Thursday, but will see you at the pub on Sunday! And hopefully, Friday!

Cheers, Mark

We good yet?

Wow, a joy to watch Arsenal dispatch their biggest rival and much more so, with 100+ Gooners packed in Maggie’s for a 4:30am kickoff. Talk about dedication.

See more NLD pics on our Instagram!

With that win, Arsenal have played 8, won 7, lost 1, and sit atop the table. Still, many of the narratives about this side we’re seeing, talk about an overachieving squad or that we haven’t played clubs of any substance yet.

No one seems to question City’s performances against some of the same sides and by most accounts, they are expected to finish the season top of the league. Look, I get it’s early days, and results against the likes of City or Chelsea will add immensely to the Gunners’ credibility. But it’s hard not to feel like we’re the Rodney Dangerfield of the league right now.

Two chances this week to see Arsenal in action at Maggie’s. Thursday, we’re back with Europa League action and then Sunday, Liverpool comes to the Emirates. Despite sitting in 9th, the Scousers represent a significant challenge. Perhaps if we win, someone will suggest we’re a good side after all.

Let us know on Facebook if you’re coming!

I’m unable to attend the Thursday match, but Sunday’s is perfectly civilized start time, so expect a good turnout.

See you at the pub!

Cheers, Mark

What do we think of…?

Definitely been a minute. With the Queen’s passing and the subsequent match-postponements, seeing Arsenal play feels like a distant memory. But we’re back at it Saturday with a North London Derby.

Saturday’s match is a 4:30AM PT kickoff, but Maggie’s will be open and we will be there! We’re also giving away posters commemorating a North London Derby from The Invincibles season. First come, first serve, while supplies last. If ever there was a match to cement your Bay Area Gooner status, this is it!

Let us know on Facebook if you’re coming!

What to say about the Gunners’ 100+ year old rivalry with Tottenham. In trying to find a comparable Bay Area sports rivalry to contextualize it, only the Giants-Dodgers might be as fierce.

Personally, I find Chelsea and United along with their supporters more loathsome, but for most who grew up supporting Arsenal, there is no more bitter rival. The success of any Arsenal season depends in large part, on how we do against Spurs.

In the early days of our group, a British exchange student turned up regularly at Maggie’s. Rachel’s family were Tottenham supporters for generations, until in a fit of youthful rebellion, her father switched to Arsenal. She would eventually follow his lead, and the family rift was like a wound that never fully healed.

Once, a British couple watched a NLD with us whilst on honeymoon. The groom, white, supporting Spurs, the bride, black, and a die-hard Gooner. I only mention race, because they told me football allegiances caused far more consternation amongst their families than any racial aspect. Arsenal won that day and the groom steadfastly refused to have his picture taken in front of the BAG banner. I often wonder if they are still married.

I have a friend, born and raised supporting Spurs with whom I’ve bonded over music, literature, and football. However, it can be very challenging to discuss our respective clubs. A physical transformation (think Jekyll to Hyde) comes over him, whenever Arsenal is mentioned, so ingrained is his enmity, that I often avoid the topic.

I worry my disdain for Spurs is not sufficient enough for a proper Gooner. My animosity towards the aforementioned United and Chelsea, along with Stoke (some years back) might be more pronounced. I want to beat Tottenham every time we play them and am forever aggravated by the praise the British media lavishes on them despite a total lack of recent silverware, but is my hatred strong enough? I wonder.

A couple of Brits traveling the world stopped in to the pub once, one a Gooner, the other a Spurs supporter. When asked why they chose to travel with one another, the response was, We never lack for anything to banter about.

That’s probably where sports rivalries should reside. In pointed but civil banter. Still, when we sing, We hate Totteham, we hate Tottenham this weekend, I will be amongst the Tottenham haters.

See you at the pub!

Cheers, Mark

No match this weekend

We were just talking about fixture congestion and it’s likely to get worse in the future. The FA has opted to cancel this weekend’s fixtures, out of respect for the late Queen Elizabeth II, who died this week.

So obviously no Everton match-viewing this Sunday at Maggie’s and we’ll be back on Thursday for Arsenal’s Europa League match.