Last year, a few of our writers highlighted their respective city's Arsenal supporters group. I didn't write one up, mainly because there wasn't an actual, recognized group here in Minneapolis, at least one that I knew about. That changed last fall when the MPLS/STP Gooners formed.
I reached out to Eric Grafnitz, the man who made the moves needed to establish what's quickly become one of the coolest, friendliest and community-driven fan groups I've ever seen, to see if I could ask him a few questions about the group, how it formed, and the ways they're helping our community out here in the Twin Cities. They watch Arsenal matches at The Local, on Nicollet Mall, in downtown Minneapolis (where, officially, the most Jameson whiskey is consumed in the world - no joke), and they're welcoming of new members and Arsenal match-watchers of all backgrounds and diversity.
First, a few fun facts about Minneapolis and St. Paul, in case you're one of those people who thinks we're just some tundra hellscape people fly over daily.
- There are 18 Fortune 500 companies in the Twin Cities, including Target, Best Buy, 3M, General Mills, Cargill, Ameriprise, and Medtronic.
- Partly as a result of that, and the fact that the Twin Cities is one of the most educated metropolitan areas in the country, the Twin Cities is ranked #5 in the nation in median household income. The Twin Cities' GDP is also the 24th highest in the world.
- Considering the winter we have here matches, and sometimes exceeds peoples' expectation, it doesn't deter our love of spending time outdoors. According to bicycling.com, we're the top-ranked biking city in the nation (chew on that noise, pdb), we're the #2 healthiest city in the nation, after holding onto the top rank for the last three years, the eighth-best running city in the country, and we have one of the best urban trails for running and biking in the nation.
- We're the home of the Jucy Lucy, Grain Belt, Prince, Lake Minnetonka, and Garrison Keillor
With all those facts stated about this lovely place I call home, here's the discussion I had with Eric regarding his own fandom with Arsenal, the background of the supporters group, and the group's charitable efforts.
First off, Eric, let's get to know you a little more.
- Favorite current Arsenal player: Aaron Ramsey
- Favorite all-time Arsenal player: Thierry Henry
- Most memorable Arsenal moment: 2014 FA Cup Final
- On a scale of 1-F*ck Tottenham, how much do you hate Tottenham: "What do you think of Tottenham?"
- Favorite beer to drink at the pub while watching Arsenal: Harp for league matches, Heineken for Champions League matches ("because advertising works on me").
How long has the group been around? When did you get involved, and how many members do you currently have?
Officially speaking, our group has been around since September of 2013. Mesut Ozil's debut was our first match as a recognized group. I suppose that provided a much needed shot out of a cannon for our group to be as successful as we have been in our first season.
Before our group was started, the story of Arsenal in the Twin Cities goes back a bit further. Arsenal had good support locally but it was on par with other clubs like Manchester United in terms of numbers. There was little organization, less social media presence, and no reach in terms of attracting people to Arsenal and supporting them as a group.
The turning point came in 2012/2013 when I would be one of 5 people in the pub watching Arsenal. I struck up a friendship with one of the other 5 people and told him that we (the Twin Cities) can do better. I noticed that Minneapolis/St Paul had no recognized supporters' club and I decided I should do something about it for the start of the 2013/2014 season. Then the 3-1 Aston Villa match happened.
Acting as a plastic fan in a fit of disappointment, I told myself I would only go through with it if Arsenal qualified for the Champions League group stages. Arsenal dispatched Fenerbahce and I sent a couple of tweets and a couple of emails and we got it sorted quickly with Arsenal and Arsenal America. It has steadily grown from there.
Based on our likes on Facebook, follows on Twitter, and the number of people who have been in to watch a match with us. I would put us in the 220-240 range in terms of members. We had 170 in for the FA Cup final and 120 for the dreadful 0-0 at home to Chelsea Christmas week. We had over 100 on 4 or 5 other occasions and 75+ on another 6-7 occasions. One of the initiatives this season is to get a real member list created as it is a requirement of Arsenal to be a supporters' club.
I am looking forward to the new season to see all of the familiar faces and to meet all of the new people from our World Cup outreach program.
I recently noticed you do something I strongly believe in. Tell me more about the charity you're partnering with this season, what they do and whom they benefit?
For this season, we had members nominate and vote for our charity partner. The charity that was chosen was Camp Kesem Minnesota. It is a charity run by University of Minnesota student volunteers and its mission is to provide a free week long summer camp to kids ages 6-16 whose parents have or had been diagnosed with cancer. It gives the kids an opportunity to be a kid.
We will be holding 3 charity initiatives this season. The first is the first of hopefully a semi annual event which is a 5-a-side tournament with the other local supporters clubs (Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, etc). We will be holding a charity raffle with assorted items available including Lukasz Fabianski signed Arsenal kits. In the Spring of 2015, we will introduce a charity t-shirt where all profits will be donated to Camp Kesem Minnesota.
I couldn't ask for a better group of people to be around. The fact that we all support Arsenal makes it even better.
I want to thank Eric for the time he spent answering my questions, and I look forward to heading out to The Local this season to catch some matches and meet fellow, local Gooners. If you're reading this and live in or near the Twin Cities, I highly-recommend going to The Local to watch with Eric and the rest of the group. They have a great thing going, and the more support they have the better.
Also, the picture in the post? That's the MSP/STP Gooners with Lukasz Fabianski last month after Swansea City played Minnesota United in a friendly (he's directly behind Eric, who's the guy with the beard and glasses slightly crouching in the front). Eric made a few phone calls, got in touch with people at Swansea City to get an approval from Fabianski and the club, as well as working out details with Minnesota United. Once he got the approval, he managed to pull off quite the meet-and-greet that our FA Cup-winning keeper was more than happy to do for the group's members.