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Fan Club of the Month: Patriots Sweden
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To an outsider, O’Learys may look like any ordinary sports bar. Photos of Patriots and Celtics players and an I-95 sign cover its shamrock green walls. It’s not just a bar, though; it’s a Boston bar in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Norrköping native and long-time Patriots fan Markus Agebrink first stumbled upon O’Learys in 2003, around the time of Super Bowl XXXVII. From that day on, it became a place where he could share his love of New England football with fellow fans, and eventually, the meeting place of Patriots Sweden, the fan club that he oversees.
“The first time I went into it I said, ‘Oh wow, Patriots,'" recalled Markus. "You can see it from outside.That is a Boston bar. You can't miss that.”
O’Learys is part of an international franchise that celebrates Boston sports teams. There, visitors can find walls covered with memorabilia like Red Sox foam fingers, signed photos of the Bruins and pictures of Tom Brady. For a Patriots supporter abroad, it was the dream spot for a fan club.
Markus knows that watching a game at O'Learys doesn’t automatically mean a love for the Patriots, though. He and his club officers chat with everyone who comes in to see how much they know about football. He pays attention to who they name as their favorite players.
“If they say [Dont’a] Hightower or [Malcolm] Butler then we know that they are interested. They know what they are talking about.”
About two dozen members of Patriots Sweden usually gather at O’Learys on game days, while hundreds more stay in touch on Facebook, where they’ve had a presence since 2010. Five years after Markus created a page for his group, the digital community moved offline, becoming an official fan club and growing to more than 350 members. Markus thinks the club’s meeting spot played a huge role in increasing participation because it provided a place and opportunity for casual fans to learn from the die-hards in the crowd; they could ask questions in person without fear of judgement.
Though O’Learys helps unify the club at a central location, it’s still tough for everyone to gather at the bar in Gothenburg since Sweden is a large country, about the size of California. The members go back to their origins on Facebook to share thoughts about each game and predictions for the next.
“It's almost like sitting in the same living room, but just spread out over the country,” Markus said.
That communication combined with meetings at O'Learys has helped unify fans spread across Sweden.
“You watch the football and talk with friends,” Markus said of his group. “It’s simple.”