Arsenal America: Where are you from? How and why did you get to where you currently live?
Joe Meloni: I’m from Stoughton, Massachusetts, originally, about 25 minutes south of Boston, and I currently live in Brookline, Massachusetts. I moved to Brookline because it’s basically a part of Boston without being directly in the city. There are elements of it that feel like the good parts of the suburbs. Still, my apartment is about a mile from Fenway Park, so I still get the feeling of living in the city.
AA: Why did you become an Arsenal supporter? What was your first live Arsenal match?
JM: In 2005, I was in my dorm at the University of Massachusetts, watching Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO. One of the interviews they featured in that edition was with Thierry Henry, discussing racism in soccer. The spot was ahead of the 2006 World Cup and Henry had just collaborated with Nike to start Stand Up, Speak Up. At first, Henry’s stories about the racism he experienced on and off the pitch served as just another reason to ignore soccer altogether – as I had to that point. However, as Henry’s story progressed, it dug into his work in trying to end racism in the sport and his place as one of the world’s best. The highlights they showed of Henry and Arsenal showed me a style of soccer I’d never seen before. It was fast. The players moved. They worked so well together, and I immediately started looking up clips of Arsenal and Henry. The highlights and other stories about his efforts to educate the public about racism in the game made me admire him even further, as a player and a man. Part of my focus in college was sport sociology, and soccer provided some great subject matter for papers and research. So I suppose I became an Arsenal supporter because of Thierry Henry, a great soccer player and an even better man.
I’ve never been to the Emirates or Highbury, but the first match I watched live was the 2006 Champions League final in a dining hall at UMass.
AA: What does the Arsenal family mean to you and how have you experienced it first hand?
JM: Being an Arsenal fan has helped me meet some really interesting people from around the city. Beyond that, my core group of friends, oddly, is made up of mostly Arsenal fans. It took some prodding in a couple cases, but it’s been awesome to have another thing to share with the people that mean the most to me. Drawing back on what I said about Henry and his work with racism in the game, I’ve also found that Arsenal fans are a really diverse group, and it’s been fantastic to meet Gooners from around the world currently living in Boston. When I was at UMass, about 80 or 90 people would take over the tables in front of the televisions in one of the campus cafeterias during Champions League matches on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and I got a taste of it even then.
AA: How are you currently able to watch matches and interact with other Arsenal supporters?
JM: I watch at Lir with the Boston Gooners right in the city. We were initially at a different bar in South Boston, but moved to Lir midway through last season. I found out about the group on Facebook, and it didn’t take long for my love of Arsenal to grow once I started watching matches with other supporters. As far as Boston Gooners, the group has grown pretty rapidly in the last year or so, and the atmosphere at the bar has improved so much. The turnout on opening day this season was more than 100 fans, and we know it’ll keep growing as more Gooners from around greater Boston learn about the group.
I always enjoy hearing about other Gooners’ reasons for picking Arsenal. Since most Arsenal supporters I know aren’t from Europe, their love of soccer could’ve led them any number of ways. The success the club had in the late 90s and early 2000s certainly played a role in a lot of people’s choices, but the way Arsenal plays is as much of it. I’ve noticed that enjoying the way Arsenal plays and growing accustomed to Arsene Wenger’s tactics has helped me develop a good understanding and appreciation of other club’s tactics as well, even if they’re parking the bus.
As far as the club, the difficulties of the last few seasons haven’t been easy to stomach, but I can handle anything when it comes to sports disappointment – I’m a Red Sox fan, too. Having some of my closest friends as Gooners certainly helps, but a lot of the people in Boston Gooners are active on social media. We talk about matches, transfer rumors or general hatred of Spurs pretty frequently on Twitter, and it’s helped made me – and I think I can say this about other people in the group – feel more connected and a part of Boston Gooners.