Arsenal are in America, as you know, to participate in the pre-season exhibition tournament known as the International Champions Cup. Following an exhibition match with Stan Kroenke’s Colorado Rapids, the Gunners will face Bayern Munich in Carson, CA, followed by a match versus Fiorentina in Charlotte and finally a meeting with Real Madrid in Washington, D.C.
It’s a rare opportunity for US based Gooners to see their team in the states. I was lucky enough to attend Arsenal’s match with the New York Red Bulls and Thierry Henry back in 2014. This time, I’ll be heading to Charlotte to take in a match.
I reached out to the Charlotte based Arsenal supporter’s group known as the Queen City Gooners to see what they have planned for the weekend and find out a little bit more about them. I spoke with Michael Petko, the founder of Queen City Gooners.
TSF: When was the chapter formed?
QCG: We formed the group in 2011.
TSF: Has it grown since then?
QCG: Absolutely! We moved from our previous pub, Big Ben English Pub, after the two FA Cup wins. We were starting to outgrow them and wanted a more central location in downtown Charlotte. We watch all matches at Ri Ra Charlotte. We have an entire upstairs to ourselves with two large screen TVs multiple smaller TVs, an outside balcony with TVs as well as a downstairs if we fill the upstairs. Since moving to Ri Ra our membership has grown exponentially. Ri Ra really has been amazing in their efforts to grow the group as well as the awareness of the game in the city.
TSF: How many members do you have?
QCG: In the last few seasons we have doubled the number of paid members. Two seasons ago we had 49 paid members through Arsenal America. Last season we had over 100 members, and already this season we already have over 90 members, and we haven’t even hit the first match of the season! We are planning for well over 150 members this season.
TSF: How did you first get into Arsenal?
QCG: I fell in love with the style in which Thierry Henry and France played in the 1998 World Cup. Shortly after, he joined Arsenal. With the contingent of French players at the club at the time and Arsène Wenger’s style of play, I was hooked!
TSF: Have you seen a match live in England?
QCG: I have been over twice. Once in 2007 with my father to watch Arsenal v Sunderland, and once in 2017 with my family to watch Arsenal v West Ham.
TSF: Were you able to work with Arsenal in setting up any special activities for when the team is in town?
QCG: Yes! Arsenal is letting us “borrow” the Real Romford Pelé, Ray Parlour, for a few hours next Saturday to sign some autographs!
TSF: What do you guys have planned for the weekend?
QCG: Friday - July 19, 2019 7:30PM - 9:00PM at RiRa Charlotte, Live Q&A with Robbie Lyle of AFTV & Andrew Mangan of Arseblog
Saturday - July 20, 2019 10:00AM - 4:00PM at Ri Ra Charlotte, AFC in Charlotte - Tailgate Party with Special Guest Ray Parlour and march to stadium
Sunday - July 21, 2019 10AM - 4:00PM at RiRa Charlotte, Sunday Boozy Brunch
TSF: How many people are you expecting to turn out?
QCG: Hopefully we’ll have numbers in the thousands. We are the only city to host the team for a weekend match, so we are expecting the numbers to rival those of the Arsenal NY visit in 2014.
TSF: Is the city of Charlotte excited to host this event?
QCG: Very much so. We have had multiple pubs and media outlets get in touch with us about events surrounding the match.
TSF: How popular is soccer in Charlotte?
QCG: The youth programs are huge. Charlotte Soccer Academy competes against the highest youth programs in the southeast. The Charlotte Independence, the city’s USL team has been growing at a steady rate. And the new Carolina Panthers owner, is really pushing to bring an MLS team to the city!
TSF: I notice there is a push by a group called Mint City Collective pushing for an MLS team in Charlotte? What’s the status of that?
QCG: They have actually just recently reached out to us, and I suppose the other supporter groups, to form a unified front to bring the MLS to Charlotte. It’s something that I think wasn’t tapped into in our cities previous bid.
TSF: Anything additional to add?
QCG: We are incredibly excited to have the team that we love in our city! We, along with Arsenal America, have worked really hard to make this a fantastic fan experience for all Gooners from near and far!