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Supporter for a Day - My day with Gorilla FC

This was from the season opener, but you get the idea... (photo by Greg Mauch)
This was from the season opener, but you get the idea... (photo by Greg Mauch)

There's a nasty rumor going around that cussing is not allowed in the Gorilla FC supporter's section.

After spending the day with the Sounders' resident antifa group, I can happily report that I wasn't so much as shushed for muttering the stray four-letter expletive.

Maybe that was because the Sounders were well on their way to a 3-0 victory over the Revolution and no one was in the tsking mood. Maybe it was because the resident verbal referee was absent. Whatever the case, I can tell you that I actually asked about this very thing (being as I have a tendency for absent-minded foul-mouthery) and was told they weren't entirely sure where the rumor came from. I know I felt right at home cussing at whatever situation drew my ire and that one of the younger members of the supporters group even knew when to cover his ears during certain chants.   

GFC does, however, frown upon threats of unmentionable acts being done to opposing players' relatives and other unnecessarily over-the-top violent or crass insults. This is, after all, a group whose founding is based upon anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic (as well as several other antis) ideals. Among their non-soccer related activities are raising funds for Haiti earthquake survivors. Somehow promising to do something awful to a player's mother doesn't seem to fit with that desired moral standing.

All in all, I got the impression that GFC is a pretty standard supporters group in all the areas that matter to me. They like to drink (before and after the game), they like to chant (although maybe not as constantly as other groups) and, above all else, they love their Sounders. 

The big difference, as far as I could tell, is that when the scarves go up, you see a lot more wedding rings than you probably do in other supporters sections. While some groups demographically trend in the lower to mid-20s, GFC is solidly in its 30s. Among the group I was with on Saturday, couples seemed to make up a solid third and one even had their 6-year-old in tow.

As someone who's now approaching his mid-30s, I must tell you it's nice to know there's a group where I won't feel like an old man because I happen to remember watching Saved by the Bell when it was the cream of the Saturday morning crop. 

I found myself sitting in Section 119 as an embedded blogger as part of an attempt of meeting Sounder at Heart's goal better knowing our supporters groups. A couple months ago, Dave spent the afternoon with the Emerald City Supporters. At some point in the future, we're hoping to do the same thing with the North End Supporters.

On this day, it was my turn to surreptitiously report on Gorilla FC.

(OK, I've used the verb "report" twice now, and should probably admit that it vastly overstates my level of professionalism in regards to this subject. Early on in the day, I decided that I wasn't going to record any conversations or take any official notes. That's what I would have done back when I was working in newspapers. One of the things that drove me crazy during those days was how much fun was taken out of sports when you're forced to be objective. "No cheering in the pressbox" isn't just an office rule, it's a way of life.

This story was about being a supporter, and acting like a journalist felt like it would have ruined that.

When athletes see that tape-recorder the mood changes, and they're used to being recorded. When the average fans see that you're transcribing their thoughts, they oftentimes turn into entirely different people. In best-case scenarios they just watch what they're saying a little closer. In worse-case scenarios, they don't want anything to do with you. I didn't want that barrier and felt that whatever I lost in accuracy would hopefully be gained in improved honesty. My one regret is that I didn't take any pictures. Maybe next time.)

The 7:30 p.m. kickoff meant there was plenty of time to get prepared for the match. For Gorilla FC, that means showing up at their pregame gathering place, Fado, at 4 p.m. When I got there a little after that, the crowd was still trickling in. By 5:30, the pregame celebration was in full force. About 50 people were sharing soccer war stories -- the group fields a co-rec team -- practicing their chants, throwing back pints, eating fried food and genuinely enjoying one another's company.

I have never spent any significant amount of time with another supporters group, but it's hard for me to imagine that bigger ones feel quite like this. With just over 200 dues-paying supporters, the active members seem to all know each other pretty well and there's a decent chance the leadership has at least met most of the constituents.

As an unknown entity and outsider, I felt welcomed and comfortable. All my questions were answered without a hint of skepticism and the fact that I didn't know anybody there hardly seemed to be much of an obstacle.

The three hours I spent there flew by so quickly, in fact, that I didn't even realize that we left for the stadium a good half-hour after the March to the Match. I subsequently learned that GFC has made the rather conscious decision to keep its own pre-party going a little longer in order to maximize the number of cheaper-than-$8.50 beers it can consume before entering Qwest. As a frugal beer lover, this was among the more endearing qualities of GFC.

GFC's mini-March to the Match had plenty of chanting, cheering and dancing for me to get my fix anyway. Theirs is led by Jason Young, a man who seems to symbolize GFC almost perfectly. Wearing the bright yellow Electricity kit and shouting at the top of his lungs through the streets of Pioneer Square, he's in his 30s, is married to a fellow GFC member and brings his 6-year-old son, Braden, to many games.

The other conspicuous figure in the impromptu parade is CIV, the gorilla-suited, drum-beating mascot of the collective. His likeness adorns much of the Gorilla FC tifo, as well as their scarves, T-shirts and other various items members wear in support.

Now seems as good a time as any to quickly explain the origins of Gorilla FC's name. The Reader's Digest version is this: Several years ago, a group of politically minded friends started a group called Guerilla FC that had ties to the anti-globalization movement, and also played soccer together. Around the time Seattle was awarded an MLS franchise, the group was revived and rebranded itself as Gorilla Football Collective. With Kevin Zelko as the frontman, it joined the supporter's culture, using the left-wing supporters of German soccer club St. Pauli as a model.

Since then, the collective has grown to over 200 members and has made a name for itself by helping raise money for such charities as Home Alive and the Haiti Earthquake Fund. The Haiti event reportedly raised $20,000 for Doctors Without Borders.

Although GFC is obviously tied to a certain kind of politics -- a Che Guevera banner has been unfurled at matches -- the group does seem to have a desire to avoid becoming overtly political. During my day with GFC, the only time politics came up was when I asked about it. The gameday conversation, at least, was almost entirely devoted to discussions of the upcoming World Cup, the concerns over the U.S. backline and, of course, the Sounders' chances against New England.

On our way to the match, Zelko and I ducked into Temple Billiards to grab a pint of the newest addition to Qwest taps, Brougham Bitter, before we'd have to pay Qwest prices to drink it. Being as the beer is ECS-inspired, I felt it relevant to ask about the seeming feud between the Sounders' longest-standing supporter's group and one of the newer ones. From Zelko's perspective, it's really not a feud. He says he has a positive relationship with ECS leadership and that it's just a handful of members that don't seem to like him and/or some of the left-wing sympathies of the group. He didn't have a negative thing to say about ECS or its members, only that he sees GFC as an alternative way for people to support the Sounders. Honestly, I wasn't particularly interested in entering the fray and considered that a sufficient explanation.

After grabbing another pint of Brougham Bitter -- this time shelling out as much for one as it would have cost to buy three at Temple's pregame happy hour -- we finally got to our seats just as the game was kicking off.

Like the rest of those in the Brougham End, we never actually took our seats, but rather stood in the relative vicinity of them. The biggest differences about being in the GFC section, as opposed to the ECS section, is that there's a lot less jumping, the tifo isn't quite as elaborate and the chanting and singing is not as nonstop. I love that there's a sizable section of people constantly doing all those things, but I also don't necessarily feel compelled to be one of them.

Considering Leo Gonzalez scored in the fifth minute and we scored two more times in the first half, it's hard to say how much of the celebratory atmosphere was a result of watching enjoyable soccer. I have no idea how the tension of a scoreless game or the frustration of a blowout affects the mood there, but my experience was that sitting in the Brougham End was like working in a joy factory. Good cheer and smiles were all around.

I'm at the point of my concert-going life where I have actually started worrying about standing for an entire hour-long set. Through 90-plus minutes of play and another 15 minutes of halftime, I never even bothered to put my bag down, let alone figure out which seat was mine. I chanted and sang along whenever I knew the words, cheered at the top of my lungs and had as enjoyable a time as I've ever experienced at a sporting event. It was the kind of fun that can be enjoyed by people of all ages -- one supporter's parents were even there -- as long as they're willing to participate and aren't sit-on-their-hands types.

When I finally got home around midnight -- of course, we had to celebrate the victory with another pint or two -- I had "Take 'Em All" stuck in my head, was thoroughly exhausted and knew I was in for a hangover.

I also couldn't wait to do it again.

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