Weekend mornings haven’t been the same since the English Premier League paused its season. The hope is the EPL is back on NBC sometime soon. Until then, NBC Sports Washington is devoting a week of stories to each of the Big 6 clubs in England: Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City. Because we miss the Premier League, too.
Our first week continues with a look at the Premier League supporters’ clubs that thrive all around D.C. and the metro area, including Chelsea’s Beltway Blues, who gather together most Saturday mornings from August through May to cheer their team.
It started for Allison Kasic during a six-month study abroad semester in London 16 years ago.
A junior at Bucknell University in 2004, a big sports fan who grew up playing and watching soccer, Kasic was searching for a connection to her new home. She found it right there in her west London neighborhood at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea FC’s grand old stadium where they’ve played soccer in some form since 1905.
“When I showed up, high on my priority list was asking ‘Alright what are the local teams?’ I just loved watching live sports,” Kasic said. “The club kind of chose me in that respect. And I’ve stuck with it since then.”
Kasic, who grew up in Colorado but moved to the D.C. area after college, has done more than that. She is chapter chair of the Beltway Blues supporters’ club, which meets most weekends at Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington, and is the national chair of Chelsea in America, a coalition of five regional Chelsea supporters’ groups made up of 35 local chapters throughout the United States.
Sports provides an emotional connection we’re all missing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Four Courts, open again for takeout orders since May 8 but unable to host watch parties for now, averages 40-to-50 Chelsea fans on any given Saturday or Sunday – much more for big matches, fewer maybe for the 7:30 a.m. EST start times. They all have a story. Kasic was hooked when she skipped a night class during her semester abroad and went to a pub with a friend who just happened to be an Arsenal fan.
That was the year of The Invincibles when Thierry Henry and the Gunners won the Premier League title and won or drew every single Premier League game. No losses on the record. Arsenal had beaten the Blues three times already that season and also played to a draw in the first leg of a Champions League quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge. It just didn’t look like Chelsea was capable of beating their London rival.
Until that wonderful April night back at Highbury, Arsenal’s famed old home ground, when Chelsea rallied from a 1-0 deficit at halftime to win it in the 88th minute on a Wayne Bridge goal. The Invincibles might have raised their Premier League trophy at the end of that season. But they wouldn’t be crowned champions of Europe. The Blues saw to that and then the next season won their first Premier League title in 50 years.
Kasic, a self-described John Terry fan, the legendary Chelsea defender, stuck with it when she came home to the States, but it wasn’t easy. Premier League games weren’t readily available like they are now on NBC and its platforms. She found herself looking up scores on the internet the year Chelsea won that long-awaited title in the 2004-05 season.
The crowd that gathers at The Four Courts could be as few as 10 people for an early start against a lower club or as many as 300 for big Premier League or Champions League games. The night Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012 you couldn’t get in the door even if you showed up an hour before the match.
The crowd is mixed, primarily Americans, but with a few ex-pats from the U.K. who used to be season-ticket holders at Stamford Bridge or ex-soccer players who played the sport in high school or college. Group member Lynn Feldmann had a youth soccer coach who actually played for Chelsea in the 1960s, according to Kasic. Go to any of these game watches and you’ll see how randomly people came to their love for the club.
Kasic herself tries to go back to London every other year to visit the city and catch a game at Stamford Bridge. Those early Chelsea days she was still a new fan enthralled by the atmosphere at the stadium, but probably didn’t appreciate it as much living in London at the time. It was a return trip that sealed her connection to the team.
“What was much more emotional for me was the first time I went back to a match in London after I moved back to America,” Kasic said. “It sounds so sappy, but when The Liquidator started, which is one of the songs they always play before kickoff, I started to cry. I was like what am I doing, I’m crying over a song at a sports stadium? But the whole atmosphere is really overwhelming in a good way when you care that much about it.”
But for now next year’s trip to Stamford Bridge is on hold. There’s too much uncertainty in the world to plan that far into the future. Kasic is just hoping life returns to some sort of normalcy soon and maybe the Premier League will be back this summer for its final nine games. Chelsea, with a young team, sits a surprising fourth in the standings and has a great shot at making the Champions League next season.
But if this goes on much longer, Kasic laughs, she might even start to miss the Arsenal fans who have their own game watches at The Four Courts. OK. Let’s not get crazy. A rival is still a rival. But devotion to a team is something we all share. Hopefully, that bond is renewed soon.
“I miss the people at least as much as the actual sport – probably more,” Kasic said. “Even if I’m traveling for work and go to a different city and catch a match with the local supporters’ club somewhere else. It’s a unique segment of American sports fans that we’re purposely waking up early in the morning to watch a sport played in another country. You have common interest with these folks and I’m used to seeing them every week. And for the last couple of weeks our pub hasn’t even been open [inside]. You miss the staff, too. It’s just a big part of our community.”
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