Matchday rituals can be very particular. Whether it’s a lucky scarf, a favourite pre-match eating place or a certain bar to meet up in before kick-off. These and other match day routines will be as important to fans as the full-time result itself. So consider the setting, nearly 5,500 miles from the Emirates Stadium and a whopping eight-hour time change away, where a hardy group of Gooners are going through their pre-match rituals. The fabulous city of San Francisco is home to the Bay Area Gooners,where kick-off times are always in the early hours, but that is no deterrent as up to one hundred plus loyal Arsenal fans congregate in Maggie McGarrys’ Irish Bar in anticipation of watching the live action unfold on another continent.

Revealed

But how did northern California get to have such a passionate Arsenal following? Well the answer comes courtesy of self proclaimed Anglophile Mark Barbeau. When Arsenal – talk met Barbeau, he was not hard to identify in his Arsenal tracksuit top, and he eagerly revealed that he never misses a match.

Suitably attired -Mark Barbeau at Maggie McGarrys in North Beach

Suitably attired -Mark Barbeau at Maggie McGarrys in North Beach

West Coast Following

“ Yes it can be dark outside,” smiles Barbeau when asked what affect the lunchtime kick-off’s have on him and fellow Californian Gooners, “ But we still get a big following here.” Barbeau who was “born and raised,” in San Francisco admits to growing up a 49ers fan, but then recalls the time around the hosting of the USA 94 World Cup and his chance meeting with a fellow American dedicated football fan that was to change his sporting life. “ This guy knew all sorts of stats and stuff about English teams. My interest in football and love for Arsenal in particular was to start almost ten years later. I started to watch the games and really became amazed at the passion and the fact that in ninety minutes the game was over. NFL games last over four hours due to television commercials and they don’t really appeal to me now.”

Patrons

Having realised that there would be other Gooners in the Bay Area, and in a search to find an establishment where they could meet up on a match day Barbeau approached Mick and Mairead the patrons of Maggie McGarry’s bar, whose initial reaction to hosting the Gooners was lukewarm.

The Bay Area Gooners' match day venue v

The Bay Area Gooners' match day venue

Loyal Gooners

“ Mick’s a Manchester City fan,” explains Barbeau, “But he and his wife have been great opening up for us for all these early kick-offs.” The extra match day revenue will have been welcome too no doubt, from the clientele which is a mix of American and expats. One thing they all have in common is as Barbeau reveals is that no one has a bad word to say about Arsene Wenger or his team. Well almost. “ One lady fan in particular is always going on about Wenger, but we just ignore her.” As we talk, two locals walk into the bar, acknowledging Barbeau. “ He’s a West Ham fan and the other one follows Liverpool,” he says as quick as a flash.

Highbury

And the link with London is strong too with Barbeau keen to point out that he and other’s from the Bay Area have been to the Emirates Stadium and also went to Highbury. The San Francisco Arsenal fans make up part of Arsenal America where Barbeau is their General Secretary. “ It’s voluntary, and we all love doing it. Once a week, we’ll have a conference call with all the guys from the rest of the US getting together to promote Arsenal.”

One of San Francisco's famous trams will get you there for the match

One of San Francisco's famous trams will get you there for the match

Unique

So if you find yourself in San Francisco on a match day, don’t despair at not being able to see the action. A short walk away from Fisherman’s Wharf, you’ll be pleased to find Mick, Mairead and Barbeau along with all the regular Gooners who will make you very welcome, and eager for you to enjoy the unique experience of following Arsenal on America’s west coast.

Bay Area Gooners – www.sfgooner.com

Maggie McGarry’s Irish Bar is on 1353 Grant / North Beach.

San Francisco USA. Telephone (415) 399-9020.