By Trey Mongrue
Two gentlemen walked into The Londoner Pub & Grill last Saturday afternoon. They came in with the hopes of watching the Belmont Stakes and possibly witnessing the first horse to win the Triple Crown in nearly 40 years.
However, when they asked if they could watch the horse race, the bartender politely refused.
“If I change the channel right now,” he said, “it will probably start a riot.”
You see, this was not an ordinary Saturday at The Londoner.
The United States Men’s National Soccer Team was scheduled to play a friendly match with Nigeria – the team’s last televised appearance before taking on Ghana in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. And anytime that the USA is playing, The Londoner morphs from Baton Rouge’s British pub into the headquarters for the American Outlaws: Baton Rouge – the local chapter of United States Soccer’s largest fan club.
Unfortunately for the two horse racing fans that day, they were outnumbered 30-to-1 by men clad in American flag bandanas covering their face and scarves around their neck.
“That was pretty ballsy,” said AOBR founder and president Mark Jones, commending the candor of the two gentlemen.
Days like Saturday are essentially what Jones had envisioned when he started the Baton Rouge chapter back in 2011, in the wake of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
“You want to take some pride in it,” he explained. “If I don’t start it up, maybe someone else does – hopefully someone does – but it has been cool to see the growth in Baton Rouge.”
To become an official chapter of the American Outlaws, 25 paying members and a local bar are needed. Nearly three years later, Jones estimates that AOBR’s member count is somewhere between 110 and 115.
Not only did the creation of AOBR create an outlet for soccer fans in Baton Rouge, it created somewhat of a revolution in Louisiana. Since AOBR’s founding, official chapters in Lafayette and New Orleans have since started up, with Shreveport, Houma and Covington right around the corner.
“I like to think that I had some kind of influence on that,” said Jones. “Some of our former members are starting those chapters and hopefully it will continue to spurn some growth elsewhere.”
AOBR has also provided an outlet for new fans of soccer to help further learn the game.
That was the case for Donnie Carvajal, who joined in 2012.
“I was needed something to do on Saturday mornings, so I started watching the English Premier League,” Carvajal recalls. “From there I became hooked, joined the Outlaws and have had a blast ever since. I can’t wait for the World Cup.”
The infusion of new fans like Carvajal is not limited to Louisiana. At AOBR’s start, it was the 46th chapter. There are now 147 chapters.
However, running the American Outlaws is not as simple as a group of friends gathering at a local bar to watch soccer. Jones orders custom t-shirts and scarves, sometimes out of his own pocket, and tries to sell as much as he can during matches.
On top of that, he is constantly trying to recruit new members, set up group travel plans for nearby U.S. and Major League Soccer matches, as well as set up partnerships with Baton Rouge Soccer Association.
“It’s tough,” said Jones who juggles is American Outlaw duties with his two jobs. “There is a lot of work involved.”
However, it is all worth it to Jones and as a big soccer event like the World Cup draws near, he can’t wait to welcome any new members with open arms.
“My hope is that they come here, see the passion and see what we are all about,” he said. “Hopefully, we can create new fans of the team and have some fun with them.”
For more information on the American Outlaws: Baton Rouge, visit its website: www.batonrouge.theamericanoutlaws.com