Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

World Cup in LA: In Orange County, a haven for British soccer, and expats

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This piece is part of KPCC's occasional series on the World Cup in Los Angeles, which takes a look at the diverse communities of Southern California through the lens of their love for their country's teams. Let us know whom you're rooting for in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter (@KPCC).

The British soccer team won't be moving ahead in the 2014 World Cup, to the chagrin of fans. Even so, there’s a place in Orange County where soccer will continue to hold a tight-knit community of British expatriates together.
 
For more than 50 years, the British and Dominion Social Club has drawn immigrants from throughout the British Isles together - more often than not, over the game they refer to as football.

The clubhouse sits tucked away in a Garden Grove industrial park just off the 22 Freeway, in a space where few might suspect that through the door lies a proper British pub, festooned with pennants and British league soccer jerseys. Some members, like Lucy Jones, have been coming here for decades.
 
“We do stick together, as you can see how many have come here to support the English team," said Jones, 90, who left her hometown of Birmingham, England in the mid-1950s. "We all feel close, even though we all most probably now are American citizens - I am. But we still have that tie, naturally, to England, and somehow we don’t want to break it.”

The British Club

The club, simply referred as the British Club by members, got its start in the early 1960s in Signal Hill with a mix of expats from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. It moved to Orange County around 1980.

Southampton native Bob Beale was a newcomer to Southern California back then. He heard of the club through a co-worker and decided to pay a visit.
 
“When we walked in, it was a monthly dance night, and it was packed," said Beale, a tool and die maker who arrived on a work visa. "They must have had 450 people in here, you couldn’t move. The old gals were in here, making the food, arranging the raffle. It was just a big family.”
 
Family is how longtime members describe the club. They’ve raised children together, celebrated weddings, mourned lost compatriots and helped one another out when in need, with the kind of expat camaraderie that transcends the regional tensions they left behind. Well, sort of.
 
“You’ve got some great people here from all over," Beale said. "You’ve got people from the south, the north, the east, the west...

"And then we even let some Scots in," he joked.

The British Club draws expats from throughout Southern California, but largely from Orange County and inland; it's survived along with the similarly old Mayflower Club in North Hollywood, founded by British transplants around the same time.

Orange County isn’t particularly known for its British community. But it’s there. Many are immigrants who arrived to work in the aerospace industry decades, during a mini-wave of hiring from European aerospace.

Ronnie Bambrough is one of those recruits, who arrived in the 1980s from Liverpool. He said the club's members have one another’s backs.

“Sometimes there have been members who hit on hard times," Bambrough said. "So one member will come forward, you know, without mentioning names, and will say ‘Let’s just hold a benefit dance.’ It’s the things like that that keep you together. You know who your friends are.”

Missing Yorkshire
 
Jayne Bradley was only 25 when she arrived in the U.S. in 1992, and was badly missing her native North Yorkshire. A few weeks after they got here, her then-husband started looking for a soccer league to play in – and that's when they stumbled upon the club.
 
“It was huge for me, because I was really homesick and I had a really small child as well," Bradley said. "And just being around people that were from similar backgrounds really helped me with the transition, because I was very, very homesick and I felt a long way from home.”
 
The new friends that helped Bradley make the transition have lasted her since. As has the soccer connection that got her and many others to the club in the first place.

The club shows British league games, including live games that in Pacific Time air in the middle of the night. It's also been showing World Cup matches on its many big-screens, packing the house when England has played.

“We haven’t won the Cup for 50 years," Bradley said, " so every World Cup when we qualify, we’re really, really hopeful.”

Their World Cup hopes may be dashed this year, but club's many soccer fans aren't dissuaded from their sheer love of the game, rising at odd hours to watch a hometown match.

“Football has kept this place going, and it’s held it together," said 28-year-old Luke Bambrough, Ronnie's son, who works the bar. "That’s why I come up on the weekend at 4 in the morning to open up for the football games. If you wait until 6 o’clock we have beer – and you’d be surprised how many people wait until 6 o’clock and want the beer.”
 
And the banter and sometimes downright bickering that comes with the territory. It’s what’s kept longtime member Stuart Clarkson driving back to the club for years, even after he moved from Long Beach to Mojave Valley, Arizona.
 
Clarkson remembers one recent on-the-road conversation with his American wife.
 
“We were driving up here," Clarkson said, "and she said, ‘Why are we going up here for? Why are we going to the club?’ And I said, ‘To meet English people.” And she said ‘We’re traveling 250 miles so you can argue about football?’ And I said ‘Yeah.’ Then I said, ‘If there were an English person in Needles, I’d argue with them.’ "
 
World Cup or not, they’ll most likely be returning once the British league football games resume in August.

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