“Just support the home side. You’re a Rangers fan!” The shout from my father over the buzz of the crowd somehow didn’t dispel my internal confusion.
Rangers or Celtic? The first question most people ask following the discovery that I grew up in Glasgow, Scotland (the next question being: is it just like Trainspotting and Braveheart). I was lucky, I had a father who taught me the best answer to this tender football (soccer to you North Americans) query. Partick Thistle! The city’s little known third team, whose ground was within a few miles of my childhood home. This white lie would be of no help to me in Seattle, where my team / country loyalties were put to the test. Last month my visiting parents and I travelled south for a few days to Seattle, Washington. A visit that was to end with my mum browsing in a museum killing time whilst my father and I joined the 45,000 strong crowd at a football match watching Glasgow Celtic play the Seattle Sounders.
Seattle has been a draw for me since moving to Canada. Vancouver is a visually spectacular city, but Seattle has a superior arts scene, with an accompanying funky style. The environment nurtures quirky creatives such as myself (oh and they have much cheaper shopping thanks to the strong Canadian dollar). However, when planning this trip, I certainly did not expect to end my stay in an NFL stadium watching my childhood team’s arch rivals. In fact, I didn’t expect it an hour before kick off.
I haven’t attended a match for years in a spectator capacity, so being in the stands was strange. Almost as strange as learning a new way to support football. You expect most things to be bigger and brighter in the states, but soccer was the one thing I felt would be the same world over. Wrong! Oh no, these Seattleite’s take their football very seriously and the support is very sparkly!
A match is a full day event, all beginning with a march to the ground. An hour before kick off fans follow the team’s personal marching band, chanting and gaining supporters as they go. Generally the only football related marches in Glasgow are surrounded by armed police. This positive yet regimented pre-match ritual hooked us. Well, that and a supporters mini-bus round the corner that opened with a clatter as a bunch of beer cans fell to the ground (more like football in my childhood).
Ticket sales are even done differently as sales clerks don’t bat an eye at the season ticket holders who can’t make the match scalping their tickets a few feet away. This was where we met the lovely Maggie, and so began our insight into soccer…the American way. Maggie’s tickets bought our entry into her Sounders family of season ticket holders. Her seats placed us amongst die hard Sounders fans, all united by a love of their team. To our back left we had the father-daughter duo kitted out with a giant cow bell. To our back right the beer-drinking, 20 something male who never misses a game, and brought a baseball loving friend to join in his relentless love for soccer and the Sounders. On the left we had Mike and his little brother, the latter being the biggest fan of them all, who was to jump and scream throughout the game. And on our right a more sedate couple, who still managed to stand for the 90 minutes (which seemed a requirement for all spectators).
The match was pretty average, marred only by a poor refereeing decision (considering the match was a friendly). The sending off of the Sounders goalie in the 29th minute, amidst protests from both sides. The home side surprised us, playing to a much higher standard then either of us expected, even when reduced to ten men, and giving Celtic a run for their money at times. For me though it was what went on apart from the football that was fascinating. A full pipe band had joined the Sounders marching band on the pitch, before we had even taken our seats. Each band would take a turn, as fans held scarves above their heads or clapped eerily slowly.
A red carpet separated the two bands and along it two golden clad ladies carried a long thin wooden box up to a stand for a home game ritual as kick-off approached (or so we thought). Then the presentation of a Golden Scarf. A hush now fell over the stadium as everyone waited to congratulate this week’s citizen deemed worthy of this special scarf. Bronze Olympic medal winning speed skater J.R.Celski did not disappoint the crowds, ceremoniously lifting the scarf over his head, an action mimicked by the audience and followed by an explosion of confetti.
Pre-match procedure was to continue with the bands playing for both teams arrival, accompanied by country flags and followed by the American National Anthem, something unheard of in the UK. The patriotism was palpable and surged through the stadium in an instant, and then almost as quickly as it arrived, it was gone. Marked with more confetti and fireworks (yes, during the day). I was ready for my full rendition of Oh Flower Of Scotland, but it never came: only the whistle of kick off, and we were away!
The band, fireworks and sparkle were present throughout the game, as the band took up position in the stands, armed to play following any positive pass, shot or goal. Fireworks marked every home goal (of which there was only one) alongside the fresh sprinkle of confetti. The chatter and chants of the 45, 631 spectators present stayed steady ensuring a great atmosphere. They chanted even following the loss of their goalie, losing a penalty and finding themselves two goals down in the 64th minute. Of course, an uproar surged through the stadium, when two minutes later David Estrada pulls one back, despite his team being a man short. The match was to end at 2-1. We rushed from the stadium to catch our ride back to Canada, pleased to have experienced a new way to support football. Void of angry, bigoted chants and fear of violence, albeit with a little more glitz and glamour then we felt was needed. Maybe we could learn something of how the Americans do soccer, and in exchange we’ll teach them a few songs!