It was the taxi driver who convinced me. The hotel waitress merely confirmed it. The film I watched on the flight here made it all click. In the words of Dorothy Boyd in Jerry Maguire, Seattle Sounders - you had me at hello.
Having made my way through SeaTac airport on that chilly winter day the taxi driver was there to greet me. It was my first visit to the Pacific Northwest, the ‘getting to know you’ part of the process which would eventually lead to me writing this column. The driver wanted to talk – i’ve already learned that the English accent is a real conversation starter here – but the topic he was most interested in? The Sounders. Now, you might not be so surprised at that and although i’d done my research into the club and its huge fanbase, I wasn’t quite sure how strongly the rave green coursed through the veins of the average Seattle-ite. The 30 minute ride into the city set me straight.
If I needed reassurance that soccer was such a big deal here, it came at breakfast the next morning. The hotel waitress asked me why I was here. I told her I was in town to see the Seahawks and Sounders organisation, thinking it would be the easiest way to open up that sometimes awkward conversation while you’re gnashing your way through a bowl of granola. Her reply has stuck with me since. “Oh I like the Seahawks and they’re all good but really I’m a Sounders fan”.
In short, the passion for soccer in Seattle blew me away. It’s one of the main reasons why I knew this was the right place to be and why I’m relishing the role as play-by-play announcer. From the taxi driver to the waitress to the messages I’ve received on Twitter (@rossfletcher1) to the superb staff within the club, it adds up to a terrific combination.
I didn’t need to cast my eyes over much of the DVD archive to know what a good squad Sigi Schmid and his team had already assembled. While there have been a number of departures and the likes of Kasey Keller (more on him in a moment) have retired, you only have to look at the quality that remains and the new signings to see that the Sounders will again be challenging for honours on more than one front. To begin the campaign with a Champions League quarter final is about as big as it gets and I urge you to buy your ticket if you haven’t already – I’m really looking forward to seeing how much noise you can make at CenturyLink Field as Santos Laguna come to town on March 7th.
So to that man Kasey Keller. While his retirement is undoubtedly a loss for the team, it’s a huge gain for me. Having Kasey in the commentary booth will add a real richness to the airwaves given his vast experience on the field and his standing within the game. If our opening email exchange is anything to go by, he should bring a fair amount of banter with him too, a quality which often set apart the great broadcasters from the very good. Let’s just say Kasey wasn’t slow to point out that he was in goal when one of his former clubs in England, Leicester City were four nil up within 19 minutes of a match at Derby County, the team I spent a good deal of my career covering. Thanks Kasey, plenty of time to get you back.
As for me and what I can bring to the table, well I’ll leave that for others to judge! Before crossing the pond I spent 99% of my 16 year career at the BBC in England, having called around 450 games in the EPL and Championship. I’ve also covered a few Olympic events along the way. What I can tell you for sure is that I’ll be giving it everything each week.
So I think you can tell I am hugely excited about what lies ahead. If it was up to me the season would start tomorrow. I would prefer an opposite reaction to what happened in the film but as Jerry Maguire once said, “who’s coming with me?”