It all begins with a vision.
Keith Hodo looks at the seats behind Qwest Field’s south goal and sees endless possibilities.
In the short term, a swaying sea of supporters colored in Rave Green, flags rippling, voices roaring.
Someday, hopes Hodo, there will not be enough space for those who will stand united for Sounders FC. Not behind the goal, not even in the upper deck.
“Ultimately, what I’d like to see in my lifetime is 65,000 people packing Qwest, and being absolutely raucous,” says Hodo. “I think the sky’s the limit and there’s no reason we can’t get there.”
Hodo and fellow members of the Emerald City Supporters were joined by more than a hundred others interested in forming and growing supporters groups at Qwest Sept. 11. They heard key club and stadium officials express not only encouragement toward that end but also offer assistance and incentives in going forward.
Certainly the arrival of MLS in Seattle is being celebrated, as more than 16,000 season ticket sales will attest. And while that number continues to grow, the organization and proliferation of supporters groups will generate a great deal of the matchday atmosphere.
Jock on Supporters
As the legendary Scottish manager Jock Stein once said, “Football is nothing without the fans.”
In MLS, supporters groups in D.C. and Toronto are the talk of the league. Beyond lifting their team to a higher level, they can help transform the spectator into becoming an active voice, a participant.
Greg Mockos of the Emerald City Supporters walked away from the meeting with the confidence that Sounders FC fans could set the standard in MLS.
“We want to increase our exposure, increase our membership and we want to be the best in MLS,” says Mockos. “We do a lot of stuff on own our, but in our case we’re lucky to have a really good relationship with the front office. We’ve got the drive from within, and we can augment it with help from the club.”
Bart Wiley of Sounders FC has outlined ways in which the club will help groups grow in strength in the south end. Drums and horns are welcome. Flags and banners can be unfurled. In fact, the stadium staff is offering to stow poles and large signs, then deliver them to group leaders on match day.
From the get-go, there’s been a healthy dialogue between the established ECS and Sounders FC. Upon request, three sections (121-123) in the south end are set aside as general admission, where supporters groups will congregate. Now the ECS plans to go forward and multiply. A membership drive will begin in earnest later this fall.
“We have those earmarked sections for supporters, and while we want everybody to become supporters, the south end will be the epicenter,” says Wiley.
Although Hodo sees the big picture, his approach to growing the ECS will center on establishing personal relationships, both with prospective members and the Sounders FC staff.
“Open communication with the front office is vital,” says Hodo. “Traditionally, supporters groups tend to be a bit anti-front office, so our relationship will be different. It’s important that we do things within reason, and that we make these things work.”
New Fans Welcome
Sean McConnell says ECS has intentionally recruited people with outgoing personalities, supporters who are not only good in dealing with club officials but also potential group members.
“It’s become a much more open, much more friendly atmosphere,” says McConnell, who is prominent in leading ECS songs and chants. “We’ll buy you a beer, we’ll put a scarf around your neck, we’ll teach you the songs, stuff like that.”
And if standing and singing isn’t your thing, that’s cool too.
Sections surrounding the general admission areas could be populated by diverse groups. Maybe it’s mariachi in one corner, the Sounders FC band in the other. Flanking them could be hybrids and overflow ECS.
“The more, the merrier in the south end zone,” says McConnell. “They can do their own thing; it’s not mandatory to be an Emerald City Supporter.”
Underneath Hodo’s Mohawk, his arms are open wide.
“I hope I’ve been welcoming of everyone,” he adds. “We want to make people comfortable in joining the group.”
Some fans may want to start by dipping their toe in the proverbial water. Others may be bringing young kids or are simply more cerebral by nature. Every section at Qwest may have its own dynamic.
“Anyone, anywhere in the stadium can wear a scarf and become an ECS member,” McConnell says. “Everyone is welcome.”
Or Start Fresh
Also attending the meeting were those who wish to start fresh. Kjell Hansen is a season ticket holder with seats on the west side. He has attended D.C. United matches and envisions something along the lines of The Screaming Eagles or Barra Brava, both standing and bouncing in the sections along the RFK midfield.
“I’d like to stand and sing or beat a drum or whatever,” Hansen says, “and I would like to have everyone in our section to join in and have a good time. But I don’t know who’s sitting around me and whether that’s what they want as far as atmosphere.”
Hodo now feels ready to go forward. There will be a push to sell season tickets in the south end and ECS memberships, which include a T-shirt and scarf for a nominal price. There are plans for monthly or biweekly pub crawls, plus an event in conjunction with MLS Cup on Nov. 23.
Currently, the ECS pulls upwards of 200 fans into its section for Open Cup matches at Qwest. Two years after formation, Toronto’s Red Patch Boys is recognized as the largest supporters group at 600.
“We’ve at least doubled our numbers and I would expect that through our recruitment efforts we can reach 600,” says Hodo, “and that may be a conservative number.”
Observes McConnell: “I see ECS growing to over a thousand. It’s crazy to gauge where this might go by next season. There are so many people waiting on the fringe, who will jump right in once MLS kicks-off.”
Come that first home match at Qwest, the Emerald City Supporters and their satellite groups intend to begin a tradition of unmistakable and unwavering allegiance to the boys in green as they parade onto the pitch.
“I’d like them to look up and see the most colorful, the most exuberant, the most excited fans in MLS,” says McConnell. “Flags and banners in the air, singing nonstop and being behind their team no matter what, rain or shine, ahead or behind. We want them to know we’ll be there for them.”