Becoming an English Premier League football fan in Chicago might be easier… (Andrew A. Nelles / RedEye )
It is 6:45 on a Saturday morning, an hour at which most bars are sleeping off last night's Fireball shots and other assorted bad decisions.
"I'm Tottenham till I die …"
It is at this hour that Lincoln Square's Atlantic Bar has suddenly bucked form and crackled to life. Bleary-eyed members of the Chicago Spurs, a stateside fan club for English Premier League squad Tottenham Hotspur, or Spurs as they're more colloquially known, exhorting their heroes from half a world and six time zones away.
"I couldn't stand to not watch the game," said Denny Watkins, a 35-year-old Andersonville resident.
"We just love the team," added Joe Thomlinson, a 34-year-old Roscoe Village resident and third-generation Tottenham fan. "I can't think of anybody on that pitch out there right now who isn't trying to play their heart out."
Twenty-four hours later, at an hour when many people were going to worship instead of drink, a similar scene unfolded at North Center's The Globe Pub.
Dozens of Arsenal supporters clad in the team's familiar red jerseys roaring at every scoring chance, groaning at every missed cross and politely applauding once the team's 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion became final.
"It's an insignificant game, but we're devout Arsenal," said James Moscrop, a 34-year-old South Loop resident, who came clad in an Arsenal jersey and a Cubs hat. "We're Gunners."
They're part of a growing contingent of English Premier League fans in Chicago, a motley blend of English ex-pats and native statesiders who want nothing more than to celebrate a Premier League title.
Supporters say interest is on the rise because Premier League games are more easily accessible than ever. What was once a niche interest shared by a handful of die-hard supporters has become more mainstream thanks to a new TV contract that has NBC showing every Premier League game across its various channels, the bulk of them on NBC Sports Network.
"When I moved to Chicago in '07, it was just gaining traffic, but since [NBC] bought the rights to it, it's getting huge," Moscrop said.
Whereas in the past fans might stumble upon one of the season's bigger games, now they're able to see even the most meaningless contests between two teams who have long since been eliminated from title contention.
That, die-hards say, has been key in growing fandom stateside.
"Not only is it making it easier for the fans that already had a team to follow their team, but it's much easier to get new people into it but it's exposing them to 16, 17 teams that they may not have even heard of before," said Alex Conner, a 28-year-old Wrigleyville resident and longtime Manchester United supporter.
Some, like Anthony Seymour, are just coming around to the sport.
"I fell in love with it when I started watching it last year," the 35-year-old Logan Square resident said. "I really didn't have a club."
Seymour credits the regulars at The Atlantic with his decision to become a die-hard Spurs fan.
"I had met my wife at a bar that had an Arsenal flag out front so I was considering becoming an Arsenal fan," he said. "[Watkins] said why don't you just come here first before you choose and I came here and this group of people is just fantastic. This is the first place I walked into where everybody walked up to me and introduced themselves. It was really the people that sold me on this club."
Others, like Moscrop, didn't have much of a choice.
"My dad said if you want to be my son, you have to follow Arsenal," he said.
Just don't call them that dreaded "h" word.
"We're not all hipsters," said Katherine Rupp, a 27-year-old Gold Coast resident clad in a white Spurs jersey and blue scarf. "Soccer isn't just coming around. It's been here for years."
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
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