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Building community: visiting NYC’s Arsenal bar

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3,500 miles from the Emirates was the place to be for Arsenal’s Premier League opener.

Spanish Fans Watch Spain v Netherlands FIFA World Cup Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

As new New Yorkers, I thought it would be fun for my wife and I to experience Arsenal’s Premier League opener at The Blind Pig. For all the non-coastal elites out there, The Blind Pig is a pub that serves as a matchday home for the biggest collection of Arsenal supporters in the biggest city in the United States.

We arrived at 2:30 p.m. EST due to other obligations during the day. I knew that fifteen minutes early was going to be about an hour too late but even I underestimated the turnout for an afternoon match. The place was filled from wall to wall with Arsenal supporters. With screens on all sides of a rectangular floor plan, unorganized rows of people, at least eight deep from bar to the tables on the back wall, stood as an amateur phalanx ready to engage the action.

After following the slow, seepage line into the center of the pub for roughly five minutes, we found a spot where we could mostly stand still. My new neighbor Chris and I commiserated about the sardine-esque conditions. Even the fact that I was back to back with another Arsenal supporter in a muggy and overcrowded bar could not dampen my enthusiasm. The energy and anticipation in the building was palpable.

It took less than two minutes of game action for that energy to erupt. The match was a rollercoaster to be sure. The tension present when your side is outplaying the opposition but losing makes for a unique atmosphere. You know your side can come back and win it and you, and everyone else around you, is living and dying with each chance. It’s the hope that kills you, but also the hope that gives you moments like this. (If you want to see NBCSN’s coverage inside The Blind Pig for each goal, here you go.)

In an age where viewing any and every match from home is increasingly easier to accomplish, the communal aspect of fandom has taken a hit. Today, the most “community” Arsenal fans engage in is jumping headfirst into Arsenal Twitter to complain amongst themselves.

The atmosphere in the pub for a match draws you in. Even if you’re a fairly introverted person, like myself, it only takes a goal for you to jump, full-throated, into a “Hey Jude”-inspired Olivier Giroud chant. It only takes one Big Event in a game for you to turn that introversion inside out, and to make best friends - even if only for 90 minutes - with a mass of people you’ll probably never see again.

The other great thing about communal viewing as opposed to watching on TV and following on social media: when people are physically together, sharing the same experience, their hot takes are far more easily ignored. I don’t care if the guy behind me thinks Aaron Ramsey is the worst midfielder on the team and should be sold, I’m still hugging him after Rambo laces a screamer past Kasper Schmeichel.

For those of us who can’t make it to the Emirates week in, week out, your local pub offers the best alternative: having a friendly drink (or two) while watching Arsenal play with scores of fellow Gooners.

The communal experience of watching a match together is important in this increasingly fractured world. Getting out of the house and congregating with people from all walks of life is a worthwhile venture. Let your shared passion for grown men kicking the ball around on a patch of grass act as a social lubricant. Even if you don’t have a life-changing experience, at least you’re not at home, yelling at your TV by yourself.

To help promote this sort of real-world community building, The Short Fuse is starting a new series of posts. Over the next month or two, intrepid TSF staffers will be attending matches at their town’s main Arsenal bar, and writing about their experiences. And it’s not just us! If you want to share your town’s pub matchday experience, we’d love it if you’d write a fanpost about your experience. Tell us about your Arsenal bar!

Our staff’s articles will use the “Building community: visiting (city name)’s Arsenal bar” title, and we’d ask that your fanposts do the same. We’ll compile all the posts into a group so they can all be easily found, and the next time you find yourself in a city with an Arsenal bar, you’ll hopefully be able to find some new friends.

EDIT 8/15/2017 by pdb:
Guess who else was at the Blind Pig on Saturday? NBC Sports, that’s who. If you look closely in the following video, you can probably spot fbj0 - he’s the one in the red shirt.