International friendlies are nothing new in the football world. National teams travel around the world for exhibitions all of the time. Major clubs go overseas during their pre-season to expand their brand, build match fitness, and give younger and reserve players a chance to be seen and perhaps earn their spots.
The Emerald City Supporters are also nothing new to the readers of this site. Within the supporters’ group, however, is ECS FC, a football club with nine different teams that play in different Seattle rec leagues. Within THAT club lies a small, “True beginner and low intermediate” league, ECS Pub League, for the players who are either learning the game or unable to keep up with the pace and skill required for even the lowest rec leagues in Seattle. They play two seasons per year, completely re-form the teams every season, and move people to the proper division on an individual level while prioritizing fun, community, and learning over wins and losses.
Imagine their surprise one morning when they got a message asking if they were interested in playing an international friendly.
Enter the Ballybrack Seagulls, a team based near Dublin, Ireland. The Seagulls began as a supporters’ group for the Irish National team that regularly traveled to any and every match they could. Over time, they worked with the Irish National Association on not only consolidating the fans into one section of the stadium and creating a better atmospheres, but also keeping ticket prices accessible to regular people and families.
After the Ireland vs. Spain match in New York City 2013, an idea was formed: “Why can’t we play, too?”
As such, Seagulls FC was born. Throughout the years, the Seagulls have played 12 different away matches on three different continents, including a recent match on the edge of the arctic circle against FC Santa Claus, a Finnish fifth-division side from Rovaniemi, Finland.
Their opponents vary wildly in skill level, from low professional teams to other supporter groups to... well, a league of beginners.
“Everyone wants to be part of something, don’t they? Ability, race, religion... once you’re having fun, who cares? Football is a way to connect people,” states Ballybrack player Wayne O’Sullivan.
There was quite a bit of internal debate within ECS Pub League as to how many spots to open up, as there would be a question of whether players would be willing to pay for a spot, knowing their time would be capped. Ultimately, it was decided to take the gamble and open up as many spots as possible, putting 44 slots up for sale to league members.
The game sold out in less than an hour.
“This is exciting. It’s a rare opportunity to play in a global match and meet new people. This also opens the door for a return trip,” says Jeremy Gogoel, who had never played soccer before joining ECS Pub League and is now a coach in the “Classic” division.
The trip is not just about soccer for the Seagulls. The Irish Heritage Club invited them to march in the Seattle’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday and several of them are making the trip out to Aberdeen, Wash., to visit the hometown of Kurt Cobain.
“A little-known fact is the famous red ‘Dennis the Menace’ jumper that he wore in the Roseland Ballroom concert was from Ireland,” remarks Wayne O’Sullivan. “With our equal love for football and music it was our destiny to construct our new kit around the genius and visionary that was our hero Kurt Donald Cobain.”
The Seagulls design a new kit for every city they visit with a friendship element related to the city they’re visiting. Their jersey for the upcoming game replicates the famous Kurt Cobain sweater, except instead of plain lines, the lines are WAV’s of six of Nirvana’s most famous songs (About a Girl, In Bloom, Come As You Are, Heart Shaped Box, Smells Like Teen Spirit, and Lithium) with snippets of the lyrics etched into the stripe.
In the bottom front corner of the shirt appears the K-Shield, a replica of the only known tattoo on Cobain’s body. On the back bottom of the jersey is Cobain singing in front of the famous Nirvana smiley.
The seagull’s signature number No. 32 represents the 32 counties of Ireland.
Above the number are the words “Peace, Love, Empathy” and below the number is the Seagulls’ motto: “Be Not Afraid.”
The ECS Pub League “Bluest Skies” match kit is based on the words from Perry Como’s song “Seattle” sung by the Emerald City Supporters at the start of every match.
The jersey is light blue with cloud elements on the back and features a watercolor-rendered photo of the stadium from the 2019 MLS Cup, taken by Sounder at Heart photographer Max Aquino, which the Sounders won and set a stadium record for attendance. Additionally, an ECS logo with pride colors the words “The Bluest Skies You’ve Ever Seen” sit just below the collar.
“You Matter, You Are Loved” are the words on a two-pole displayed prominently and constantly by ECS member Shannon Bradshaw during games (even during the run of play), aiming to bring awareness to mental health and suicide prevention. On the sleeves are elements promoting support to transgendered youth as well as a match emblem to represent the friendship between the Ballybrack and Seattle teams.
So what inspired a team of footballers from Ireland to not only pick Seattle, but a low-level soccer league of “from the stands to the field” players?
According to Wayne, “We like to go to the places that aren’t where most people from Ireland usually visit. There’s nothing wrong with going out of the way to places like Detroit and Seattle to meet the real people of a country. Once we picked Seattle, we came across what Pub League stood for and immediately knew that we shared values.
“It’s not just about finding the best competition. Our motto, ‘Be Not Afraid,’ is a bit of tongue in cheek on an old hymn from church. Ireland used to be controlled by the church and only recently have we been able to see real progress on things like gay rights. It’s not about forgetting the church, but coming out and remembering in a positive spin. Seeing what they’re all about, there’s not a better bunch we’d be excited to meet, is there? After you’ve been messaging different teams for a while, you just seem to know when you’ve found the right fit based off their first response. Who knows? We may even break our ‘We only play away’ rule if they come to visit.”
The game will be held at Ingraham High School on Sunday, March 12, with festivities beginning at 1 PM and is free to spectators. An after-party will be held at the Atlantic Crossing in North Seattle, where many items (including several autographed Sounders gear, donated by the RAVE Foundation) will be raffled off. All proceeds from the game and raffle will be donated to Lambert House, a community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth in the greater Seattle area.
More information on ECS Pub League can be found on their Facebook page.
More information on the Ballybrack Seagulls can be found on their web page and Facebook page.