If there are drinks, Americans will come show

Soccer support is spreading in the United States and the growth is apparent in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. The area is home to Maggie McGarry’s, an Irish pub frequented by individual fans and supporters’ groups alike.

Two particular supporters’ groups call the bar home. The San Francisco Man City Blues and the Bay Area Gooners meet regularly at Maggie McGarry’s to watch their respective clubs, Manchester City and Arsenal Football Club.

“You’ll get some Englishmen in here, but [the supporters] are nearly all American,” Patrick Dunphy said. The bar’s regulars know Dunphy as the “football day barkeep.” Saturday through Monday, he’s pouring people’s drinks.

Dunphy, 60, moved to San Francisco from England more than 20 years ago. He said he’s happy to see Americans come around to the sport he’s followed since he was a kid.

“The nearest football grounds to where my family lived belonged to Chelsea and Fulham, in West London,” Dunphy said. “I’ve always liked Arsenal, but my mum wouldn’t let me [transfer] train lines. I was only allowed to take one train to get to where I was going.”

Dunphy was forced to watch city rivals Fulham and Chelsea if he wanted to catch a match in person. Now Dunphy watches his beloved Arsenal every week from either side of the oak bar counter at Maggie McGarry’s.

The sport’s American supporters catch criticism from fans of the country’’s more popular sports and are often labeled as bandwagon fans. But the increase in support doesn’t bother Maggie McGarry’s owner and lifelong Manchester City fan Mick Graham one bit.

“Some of these fans are new to my club and the sport,” Graham said. “Is that bad? No. The sport is growing here. We’re known here as a soccer bar. People come here specifically to watch the matches,” Graham said.

Grahamopened Maggie McGarry’s in 2006. He said business has improved with the sport’s popularity. “Especially during last year’s World Cup. The place was packed,” he said.

In Maggie McGarry’s back hallway, the pictures of three world-famous footballers hang on the wall just outside the bar’s restrooms. The bar’s “banned three.”

France and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry and two of Graham’s fellow Irishmen are all banned from Maggie McGarry’s for what the pub’s owner calls “unforgivable offenses.”

Henry, who many consider to be the best player in both France’s and Arsenal’s histories, earned his ban during the buildup to the 2010 World Cup, when he knocked Graham’s Irish National Football Team out of World Cup contention with a controversial goal assist.

Graham said loyalties run deep in soccer and that he doesn’t care that Henry eventually apologized for the incident. “I’m sure it’d upset some of [the bar’s] Arsenal fans, but I’d have to turn him away on principle if he ever showed,” Graham said.

Mark Barbeau, one of said Arsenal fans, heads the Bay Area Gooners, a group with 700 members.

“We’ve been really good for the bar’s bottom line,” Barbeau said.

Barbeau, an American, said he’s been an Arsenal fan since he visited London and attended an Arsenal match in 2006. On top of his Bay Area Gooners affiliation, Barbeau organizes 10 other supporters’ clubs in the Bay Area through his website, FootySF.com.

Barbeau said he and Graham see one another at the bar often, and that the two have become friends over the years.

“I think we could sway Mick on his Henry ban,” Barbeau said.

Bay Area Gooners shirt (BayAreaGooners.com)
Mark Barbeau (center right) and Bay Area Gooners members outside of Maggie McGarry’s pub in North Beach (BayAreaGooners.com)
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