L ast Sunday, Christy’s Irish Pub was so dark you could barely see your beer in front of you. The only light came from giant televisions tuned to a soccer game—Arsenal versus Burnley.
It was 10 in the morning. But the New Haven Gooners, decked out in Arsenal red, had been there since nine.
Tied 0-0 at halftime, Arsenal later scored a goal that looked slightly luckier than skilled. The Gooners, which is a universal term for fans of Arsenal, erupted in cheers anyway, sang their theme song with chesty bravado—“We sing in the morning / We drink before noon / Because we love Arsenal / We’re the New Haven Goons”—and settled in for the second half of a game that was suddenly theirs to lose.
NHG’s branch manager Teague Dwyer says the local fan club, which is an official branch of Arsenal America, was founded in 2010. Arsenal is based in London—where of course they play “football,” not soccer—which puts local Gooners five hours behind their team. Hence the early start on Sunday.
But it wasn’t early enough to dampen their enthusiasm. “For being not that big of a city, New Haven has a very vibrant soccer-fan community, because we get people from all over the world,” Dwyer says. “It’s pretty rowdy. Some other cities you go to, they’re sipping on coffee while they watch the game, and we’re jumping on chairs and yelling at the TV. We have a great time.”
The cheers descended into cries of exasperation and invective against the referee, however, when Arsenal player Granit Xhaka was red-carded and booted from the field. With Arsenal one man down and Burnley sensing weakness, the mood of the game shifted. Fist pumps turned to nail bites. The Gooners’ worst fear came true when Burnley scored a penalty kick and tied it 1-1 with only a few minutes left.
Shravan Bhat, a Londoner studying global affairs at Yale, says that’s he’s been a Gooner since he was 9, admitting that he picked the team as a boy because they were doing particularly well at the time. “I make no bones about that,” he says. Now, however, he’s with the team through thick and thin. “It’s the pathos of being a sports fan. You have to go through the good times and the bad times.”
He says one of his primary anxieties about moving to New Haven was Arsenal accessibility. “I thought, do they even have Arsenal on TV there? I was really concerned.” He found the Gooners almost immediately, however, and has felt at home ever since. “Everyone here was so kind and friendly. It’s beautiful,” he says. “Everyone here is as hardcore if not more so than people in London.”
Kreig Zimmerman, twenty years a Gooner, is a little more acerbic, although clearly still infatuated with his team. “What’s the appeal? Fuck if I know,” he says. “Basically it’s loyalty. You pick a team, and you stick with them.”
The pain of sticking with a team when it’s tied 1-1 and headed into the seventh minute of extra time should not be underestimated. “We probably get a little too wrapped up in the ups and downs,” says Tom Krattenmaker, a journalist and the communications director at Yale’s Divinity School. “Everyone was so depressed after Burnley got the penalty kick. It seemed like the worst thing ever, a grave injustice.”
In the kind of shocking reversal usually reserved for after-school specials and movies about underdogs, Arsenal was awarded a penalty in the 98th minute. Player Alexis Sanchez jauntily feigned direction, tricking the Burnley goalie and neatly winning the game for Arsenal.
The scene in Christy’s was chaotic, ebullient, messy, beaming. The Gooners sang their songs, clapped one another on the backs and toasted the superiority of their team, in which they had always been confident. It was a good morning to be an Arsenal fan.
“Days like this one,” Bhat says, “are the ones that stay in your mind.”
Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.