Cory Gardner first got turned on to football — or soccer, as it’s known mainly in just the U.S. — nearly a decade ago. His friend, longtime Orono resident and London native Chez Cherry, got him into supporting the English Premier League team Liverpool.
As the years went by, Gardner and Cherry began to create more Orono football fans, amassing a core group of about 20 people who would watch matches from the Premier League, Major League Soccer and other international leagues at bars and restaurants around Orono.
“There’s just something really infectious and really welcoming about pub culture, and the kind of camaraderie around football,” Gardner said. “You get one person into it, and then they get someone into it.”
Last year, Gardner, who has worked as a bartender on and off for decades, decided to take the leap not only into small business ownership, but also into putting his Orono football supporters club to the test. He purchased the former Bear Brew Pub in the spring and, just in time for the 2018 World Cup, opened the Common Loon Public House in the same spot — a local bar and restaurant with a special emphasis on football/soccer and other international sports.
One of the pub’s biggest days thus far is set for Sunday, when the U.S. Women’s soccer team competes against the Netherlands in the Women’s World Cup final. The finalists will face off at 5 p.m. in Paris — 11 a.m. in Maine, an hour that’s not even that early for the Guinness to start flowing at the Common Loon.
“Oh, most of this stuff takes place between 7 a.m. and 1 or 2 p.m.,” Gardner said. “People will show up for it. And for me, it’s great, because I can open the bar at 7 a.m., and be home by midafternoon. I don’t want to work nights anymore. And that leaves space for other folks to come over and watch college hoops or football later in the afternoon.”
The Loon staff makes its bones slinging beers, cocktails, pizzas and burgers to the general populace in the evenings, but during the day, it’s as close to an English-style football pub as there is in the state. Though other establishments around Maine show soccer matches, only the Loon caters specifically to fans of the sport. A huge chalkboard with leaderboards and schedules for Premier League and other leagues dominates one wall of the downstairs pub, while the upstairs patio is decked out in the flags of various countries and teams.
Soccer has only recently caught hold in the U.S. as a mainstream professional sport, but it is by far the most popular sport in the rest of the world. That multicultural fan base is reflected in the kinds of people who come out for various games — and increasingly so as word of Orono’s football pub has spread.
“There are all sorts of English and Irish people living here, and slowly they start coming out of the woodwork. They’re from all over, and you had no idea they’re here,” Gardner said. “We have a gentleman from Dublin who lives in Milo, some folks from Castine, we’ve got a bunch of English guys from Bangor. The word is getting out.”
Orono and the Bangor region’s population of international students, academics and professionals has also started to come out. The Africa Cup of Nations is now being played in Egypt, and area residents from various African nations have been showing up to watch the games, including a loyal cadre of Cameroonians.
Other sports are also broadcast at the Loon, including rugby, which is especially popular in Southern Hemisphere countries such as Australia and South Africa, and cricket, which has an obsessive following in both India and Pakistan. Gardner has subscriptions to channels that broadcast or stream just about every international sports game imaginable.
“Basically, if someone wants to watch a game, I’ll put it on,” he said.
Gardner and his “footie” — slang for football — fans have started recruiting new followers. Terry Greenier, an Orono town councilor, was not a soccer fan, or even much of a sports fan, until he came under the spell of the scene at the Loon. Now he supports Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League and has eagerly followed the U.S. team during the Women’s World Cup.
“There’s just something so lively and fun and inviting about it,” Greenier said. “There’s a lot of good-natured joking around and giving each other a hard time. It’s really developed into a very unique thing for Orono.”
Though watching football in a pub is a national pastime in the U.K. and other Commonwealth nations, in the U.S., it’s by nature a novelty. For local residents who do not know much about the sport, or pub culture, going to watch a match at the Loon is a chance to have a different kind of experience — one that’s very easy to get sucked into, Gardner said. The success of the U.S. team in the Women’s World Cup only helps to increase awareness.
“It just ups the enthusiasm, but it’s an atmosphere that’s here year-round. We’re working on recruiting more people to general pub culture all the time.”
The Common Loon Public House is located at 36 Main St. in Orono. It will open early on Sunday for the 11 a.m. Women’s World Cup final match between the U.S. and the Netherlands.