Alan Hinton has fond memories of trips like these.
The Sounders FC broadcaster was with Derby County when they won the league in 1972 and 1975 and went on to play in the Champions Cup in Europe.
That meant trips on chartered jets to Madrid, Turin, Geneva, Sarajevo and all over Europe facing some of the top teams like Real Madrid and Juventus in high-stakes matches.
But that’s not all that rekindles old memories for Hinton.
As a guest of the team on their trip to San Pedro Sula, Honduras for the first match of the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, Hinton is reminded of his days with Derby County and the friends that flew with him all over Europe.
“I was able to take three friends and they loved the trip. Two of these friends are now dead and I know that the most memorable time of their lives was traveling on the plane with their heroes from Derby County,” Hinton said. “It’s fantastic for me, who’s well retired from playing the game, to be with the Seattle Sounders. This is a first-class operation. It’s well-run from top to bottom.”
Hinton has been with the team as part of a group that was invited by Adrian Hanauer to accompany the team on the trip along with Jimmy Gabriel and Pete Fewing. Even in that well pedigreed group, Hinton can hold court for hours on end telling stories of his days playing for Derby County after time with Wolverhampton and Nottingham Forest before coming stateside to the North American Soccer League. That’s when the real tales begin, as Hinton was one of the league’s more prominent coaches, including a stint with the Sounders from 1980-1982, until the league folded in 1984. Then he went on to coach the Tacoma Stars until 1990.
He’s been around the game for ages. But more importantly, he’s been around the game in Seattle for 30 years. So when he says he is impressed by a group of players, it holds some serious weight.
“Being with the players is really a joy because they are such dedicated athletes. The players today are of such high fitness standard that they aren’t sneaking off into the bar like so many did in my day,” Hinton said. “They’re very happy. They play cards. They laugh and have fun with each other. But they practice and play hard.”
Hinton has been with the Sounders in the MLS since Day One as a broadcaster providing pregame and halftime commentary and has been a fixture at training sessions. So having him on the trip has been almost second nature for the players - a chance to take a piece of home with them to a distant land in Honduras. And Hinton is like a kid in a candy store - laughing and smiling and watching the game he loves from the sideline.
“These players laugh a lot and the flight goes quick. It’s nice to see them so relaxed and so professional. And of course the club makes sure they have everything they need to produce and win and keep building up this wonderful Sounders organization,” he said.
Hinton has been smiling nearly endlessly since Seattle introduced as a franchise back in 2007. The grin grew wider when it was announced that the club would carry on the Sounders name that had been in Seattle since 1974. Now he can hardly contain himself when he sees crowds of over 36,000 blowing the roof off Qwest Field with each home match.
“I look at the crowds and I’m in awe of the crowds. They are so happy and supportive. I’m just thrilled to be included,” Hinton said. “I’m having a great time. I like the coach very much, I like the organization, I like the players. I couldn’t be happier with the way they treat me and I’m thrilled that I’m back involved with such a fine organization. It’s just wonderful to be around the players and everyone else that is a part of making this club so successful.”
The club has already seen dramatic successes that have carried them to the CONCACAF Champions League, where they will face Marathon Thursday night. With the playoffs in sight, Hinton sees more successes and more great stories still to come. Those experiences may be highlighted on match day at Qwest, but a trip like the one he took to Honduras is an experience even a cagey veteran like Hinton will never forget.
“All these experiences are wonderful. It’s lovely to see the high standards of this team. I’ve said from the start that it’s a first ticket club,” Hinton said. “We do have some work to do, but there are exciting times ahead.”