Over the past couple years covering this sport I have made some good friends, be they the fellow members of the Council, many of the other Sounders bloggers (if I don't know you, you can't be a friend), some of the fellow members of the 214 even. All of those have made a ton of sense, but I also have a few friends in the Emerald City Supporterswho aren't on the Council, they aren't bloggers, they are just good people who follow the sport in a very different way than I do.
Due to a change of my own plans I needed a ticket to the game on Saturday, and I called one of these friends. They had the extra, but of course it would be in General Admission. I was asked if I was willing to sit there? I said of course, I will make a whole day of it - Fuel, their section of the March to the Match, the GA and ideally a post-game party.
This post is a different one for me, it isn't about the team, or the sport, instead it is about my day, my experiences as a Supporter for a Day.
Fuel - The day starts early. While yes, the bar opened at 8AM, I only show up at 9AM. Three hours of pre-game for a Noon start just feels right. There was immediate warmth despite my at times making statements that aren't necessarily ECS friendly. I was welcomed, not as a tourist, not as a potential member, but I was welcomed as a member of the family who hasn't been seen in too long a time.
It wasn't just that I was offered beers (I was), nor that people wanted my opinions about the game (Zakuani, Montero and Riley were popular topics), but likely due to me knowing several of the members through the Council even those that didn't know me personally reached out to welcome me on a day where I was a bit of an outsider. I'm older than their typical demographic. I only drink about a beer an hour. I like to watch the game from inside the stadium (I'm going to get back to that).
March to the Match- In the past there have been differences between the ECS and the team over the March to the Match. Most of these related to two issues - first year growing pains, the punk rock ethos (hat-tip to MFUSA) v corporate interests. Things eventually worked out, and the March is better for it.
The ECS does march separately, but they immediately follow the team led march. The chants are a bit more raucous with language that I only normally allow here in immediate comments in a gamethread. Several children watching kept asking their parents what certain songs meant, and the fathers quite simply stated "They are soccer songs. They are showing support" and left it at that.
In the front and sides of the ECS section of the March I saw roughly a dozen
road marine flares lit and held up in pride. My first thought when I saw the flares was likely due to my time as a Boy Scout, but I worried about safety. I did not need to worry. The people with flares stayed highly aware of their surroundings. They stayed to the edge of the group. They were prepared to be responsible. It was well done, and added a certain ambiance.
General Admission - From the outside I have seen the section grow. No matter how you define section, by number of people, size of displays or even number of groups and sub-groups. There is a PA system installed this season and it really and truly helps the capos lead the chants. From within the section I did not notice the speakers, but honestly I didn't notice much besides those standing beside me, the flags waving in front of me and a sense of passion.
I was dead center of the GA, brought there by Greg Mockos in order to get me the maximum experience. From that spot the game became more than a game, it became a communal experience an experience that in ways reminded me in ways of my time in US Army Basic Training, and my time as a very active member in several church youth groups. There is something to a large group people acting in unity, it is a certain psychological high that comes from being one of many acting in unity.
It is even played up during two chants. I can't recall the two, and someone will be sure to mention which two, but we put our arms up around our neighbors and jumped in unison (pogo-ing). This physical closeness to a bunch of no-longer-strangers probably highlights the somewhat religious feeling.
You don't see the game from the section, maybe occaissional glimpses, but you experience the emotion of the match as if you have jacked into the emotions of all 35,000 people. A direct link between the entire crowd and your primal emotions. It is powerful, and enjoyable. Timm, a capo, mentioned that he hasn't actually seen live play in quite some time, but he doesn't miss it. That's what the DVR is for, match day is about more than the play on the pitch. He helps to lead, he helps to build that passion and connects the back of the section to the front.
There are still chants I will never sing - and I did not even while inside the group. But that experience was a day of joy, and emotion. My emotions were quite maximized by being in that group. Several readers of this blog, and people who helped to vote me onto the Council, were nearby when Fucito scored that winner. I exploded, I didn't see how it happened, and it didn't matter. I knew that I would see highlights and the match later, but then all that mattered was that the ball went in the net.
I hugged people that I had met that day. I was not confined to just high fiving strangers (a common occurance in the 214), but grabbing my neighbors in primal joy with tears and screams and lost voices, an explosion of passion.
I'm going to try and get a little 30 second video up from within, but I took it upside down, so I have to figure that out, but it should be up later today.
Final Thoughts - Yesterday the first hand experience taught me a few things. For some the game day experience is not about the game, it isn't about being provided with entertainment, it is about showing support for the team. That support helps the team emotionally, and many players mention that during post-game interviews. It is notable that while the team applauds and thanks every section of the stadium their final bow before they head to the lockers is in front of the GA in the "Brougham End." But only after wins.
While many judge the ECS and other supporter groups, I would highly recommend that you experience from within before you judge. It was a day that I am glad to have enjoyed. It is not something I can do every game, but it is a thing that helped me enjoy a Sounders gameday in a way that I never have. Try it, try it with any group, there are several, and if the ECS isn't right, maybe another one is.
I will likely experience a day with Gorilla FC and the North End Supporters in the future as well. But yesterday with the ECS, and a Fucito game winner, was a day of joy from sport that may not be rivaled due to that lucky confluence.