Sunshine state shines on the Blues

Our resident Stateside blogger, Stephen Rea, explains why he watched our win over Man City recently with glee in Florida...

It was third time lucky this week when I finally got to meet up with Chelsea supporters in Florida. But getting to watch our brilliant win against the defending champions was worth the wait.

When I visit an American city, I try to arrange to see fellow Blues. I’ve been going to my local football pub in New Orleans for more than 14 years, so I’m interested to experience what watching our team is like elsewhere. In the last couple of years I’ve watched matches with fans all over the country, from California on the Pacific coast, to Texas and Oklahoma in the mid-west, to Tennessee and North Carolina in the east.

I’ve been to the Tampa area three years running but, until Saturday, I had been unable to get together with the supporters there. New Orleans is the 49th largest city in the States by population, and Tampa is the 52nd, with only a two percent difference in numbers. But Chelsea’s support there was far larger than in the Big Easy.

Organiser Lindsay Mize told me they often have more than 30 fans for an important game, quadruple what we get in Louisiana. In common with many places around the US, every Premier League supporters’ group (save one) use the same spot as a headquarters, in this case an Irish bar called Macdinton’s, a few miles away from the city centre.

Lindsay said that even for early kick-offs, which are at 7.30am Eastern time, the owner will open for them. But he will only do it for the Blues as we are the only club who will guarantee enough loyal followers to make it worthwhile for him.

It was a sprawling cavernous venue, very different to the compact setup to which I make my weekly pilgrimage.

The setting changes but the cast of characters remains the same. Often there is a lone supporter of a rival club (in this case his side’s fixture had finished hours previously) who wanders around trying to needle fans of both teams.

But his banter antics didn’t dampen the Blues fans’ enjoyment, and afterwards he redeemed himself by buying dozens of shots for all of them to celebrate our deserved win.

Florida is known as the Sunshine State, and on Saturday the sun shone on us.