Trying to better understand the culture of soccer supporters groups

15 10 2010

When I first heard about the Emerald City Supporters’ boycott of Tuesday night’s Seattle Sounders friendly match against Chivas de Guadalajara, it bothered me.

Seattle Sounders foward Michael Fucito (2) kicks the ball for a goal past CD Chivas de Guadalajara goalkeeper Luis Michel (bottom) and defender Christian Perez (L) while Sounder forward' Nate Jaqua (21) looks on during the first period of their match at Qwest Field in Seattle, October 12, 2010. Fucito also scored a second goal during this period. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Maybe I don’t fully understand these groups’ natures, or what exactly they are about. But the boycott just didn’t seem like a good idea.

Here was this body, this organic entity of devoted Sounders fans (many are season ticket holders, I presume) refusing to see their team play on the basis that they were unhappy with management’s decision to schedule three international friendlies this season. Those friendlies were two too many, the ECS reasoned, as the Sounders had a loaded schedule of Major League Soccer games, CONCACAF Champions League games, friendlies and U.S. Open Cup games.

ECS was concerned about the health and form of the top Sounders players and the timing of the Chivas match, that the Sounders were playing too many games to be in top shape and form for the MLS playoffs, which are a two weeks away and matter the most. So they organized a boycott and donated unused tickets to charity.

A classy move. But the boycott still puzzles me for the following reasons:

1. The top players didn’t play every game outside of MLS games. Reserves played a lot in the friendlies (Boca Juniors, Celtic and Chivas) and are primarily the ones being used in CONCACAF games. They also got time in the Open Cup matches, so the starters were given some rest. If ECS was protesting based on the overuse of the starters, the starters were much less involved in the less-important games.

2. If you’re a true fan and you have the means to go the match, don’t you go and support your team no matter what?

3. The Sounders front office isn’t perfect, but they seem to have done quite a bit right, right? This team does lead the league in attendance, Seattle is the epicenter of pro soccer in America and that has a lot to do with management, strategy and fan support. If the ECS boycotts a match based on the above reason, what will they do if and when the Sounders struggle to win?

4. The ECS and other Sounders supporters groups’ ranks are strong and full of good people who have made a huge footprint on the landscape of soccer support in this country. But soccer history tells us that Celtic of Scotland is the team with a history of violence with regard to sectarianism. Shouldn’t Celtic, if any club, have been boycotted for more noble reasons of taking a stand against hate?

5. The club isn’t going to get FC Barcelona and Chelsea every year. Sounders fans should keep open minds and embrace the chance to see Latin American clubs, even if they are not having good seasons. At least goals were scored.

Part of what makes soccer such a great sport is the manner in which fans are able to express themselves, and how there is such a close relationship between players and fans and the idea that management actually listens to the fans. The ECS boycott, while it had good intentions, should have been saved for a time when there is actually something more important to boycott. Like discrimination. Violence. Or a poor product on the pitch.




18 responses

15 10 2010

I totally agree. What a stupid boycott. The chance to get Fucito (and other young guys) into a real game where he scores goals and we realize that we might need to protect him is worth it. It’s not like these guys would be sitting at home resting without the game. This just replaces practice. If anything, the vets and regulars get MORE rest and downtime because of friendlies, where they sit and chat instead of having a team practice.

Anyway, what do supporters groups know about the fitness and management of pro soccer players? Nothing, nothing at all…

15 10 2010

I thought the boycott was misplaced energy, too. I understand that the timing of the C friendly was poor, however. I hope we have three friendlies next year, I just hope they’re both earlier in the season. HOWEVER, that said, I have LOVED LOVED LOVED having Monterry and Chivas fans roll into Qwest – they seem fairly impressed with the Seattle fans and set up. I know their (MFL) schedule does’t match ours, and I assume we’d have to accomocate them somehow.

Thanks Sounders FC front office for working so hard for us.

15 10 2010
Glenn White

A fair question.

My point of view is that to call it a boycott is misleading. All told, ECS donated 205 tickets to the Boys and Girls Club of Renton, through James Riley. A good number of ECS members were, in fact, in attendance. ECS simply chose not to bring their usual energy, chanting, tifo, and atmosphere to the Brougham End.

If we were there, or children to whom we gave our tickets were there, what kind of boycott was it? To be completely clear, ECS did NOT tell any of their members not to go to the match. They simply said that leadership was donating their tickets to the Boys and Girls Club, and if a member wasn’t going to go, to consider donating it as well. The request was that if they didn’t decide to donate, that the ticket not be sold to a Chivas supporter.

So in short, we simply chose not to drum, to sing, to wave flags, which we normally do, to show our displeasure with the idea of late-season friendlies.

The night of the match, Adrian Hanauer CLEARLY noted our displeasure, while we managed to take 200 kids to their first professional sporting event ever.

That’s not a boycott. That’s creating 200 future soccer fans in the US all while telling the FO that we want trophies, not friendlies.

And what Celtic supporters (or detractors) do in support of their team is their business. 😀

15 10 2010

I have to say I love ECS. They bring so much to the stadium. They work super hard to organize away trips, tifo, etc. But I’m with you… I still don’t get the boycott. Many members of ECS were in a room with the owners of the team in August for a meeting and were told that we’d only have one friendly next year. With the schedule the way it would change to 17 MLS home matches and one friendly. Yet ECS then used their protest to say they influenced this decision… when actually the FO already said we’d only have ONE next year. But I suppose they did what they thought is right. I also appreciate that they donated their tickets at least.

15 10 2010

I totally agree with this post and excellent points. I like ECS but disagree with them on this issue. What has been more disturbing is how they have responded to those who disagree. They ridicule and come across as arogant snobs. Maybe there success has gone to their heads and they think more of themselves then the club. They should start a supports club for themselves. Ok just joking at the end there.

15 10 2010

Muwahaha, the supporters take them night off and everybody else has a conniption…

15 10 2010

I saw lots of supporters at the Chivas match actually. There were about 41,000 to be exact. No conniptions… just observations and thoughts. It’s cool.

15 10 2010

Totally agree Jose… well said.

15 10 2010

I am glad you wrote this Jose. The boycott was such a bad idea. The open letter ECS put on the forums regarding ECS suggestions for supporters not going to the match says one thing but if you scroll through the ECS forum on their thread you will see that this was indeed an organized boycott. Several ECS members did not want anything to do with this match and the only reasoning behind it was that it was Chivas de Guadalajara. The amount of hatred on the forums was alarming. 28 pages of pure hate spewing through the forums. I did not agree with this based on the following reasons:

1) The timing for that friendly was perfect. Playoffs clinched, Open cup already obtained. The sounders reserves took on a majority of the minutes in this match and they need it if we are going to have a strong playoff run. We need players 1-24 firing on all cylinders going into the playoffs. To slow down now is just going to result in an early exit like last year.

2) The reserves were going to play a reserve match anyways. Anyone who thinks Sigi wasn’t going to have the reserves play in a reserve match from now to the playoffs is silly. The only difference between this and a normal reserve match is that it was at Qwest with 41,000 people watching. I would much rather our reserves play against a quality mexican side than play seattle university or some weak team that won’t give a true challenge. (Sorry SU, you aren’t that bad)

3) Chivas de Guadalajara and their fans in attendance all missed out on a wonderful soccer atmosphere that only Seattle can provide in the United States. Potential fans lost because of “busy scheduling”.

Instead of sugar coating their reasoning behind everything I would have appreciated an honest “I don’t want to see chivas de guadalajara” and not make up BS reasons for not going. I wouldn’t be as bothered if they were upfront. I have traveled across the US with these guys and I love the atmosphere ECS brings to the United States but this situation made me so upset. The only thing I can see eye-to-eye on is that the sounders hiked up the ticket prices for this match. So if I wanted to sell my ticket for section which has a printed value of $20 on it, which is now $25 for new STH with the price increase this season, for the price the sounders were selling it at the box office I would get laughed at. My $20 ticket was going for $64 in the sounders box office. It’s hard to sell a ticket for $64 when my ticket says value:$20 on it.

15 10 2010
Larry Eubanks

I agree Yes and No!!! on the fact that yes are main player are being rested and we did make the playoff. But what if it had came down to the wire and we need that day to rest some player or we could use that day to rest all your players do a friendly game at the end of the season really matter. That time should be use to secure or play for a playoff spot. The main thing die hard fans care about is the MLS cup and nothing else matter right now outside of that and if a friendly get in the way of that then it should be ax. I rather make sure we get far in the playoff than play in a silly friendly in a already crowed schedule. We are going to need every player to pull off a championship run and the friendly don’t mean anything and we don’t get anything out of it.

15 10 2010
Greg Mockos ECS

great post and comments on here. level headed.

I would like to put some perspective into this:

claiming 41 k attendance is a farce. There were not 41 k at that stadium. Approximately 32k. This is people that are just no present. This does not count the numerous sounders fans that sold their tickets to chivas supporters.

Therefore there were vastly more non-ECS NOT at this match than there were ECS NOT at this match. Yet, obviously the ECS is front and center and therefore the finger gets pointed to us.

15 10 2010

First off, the ECS was just a very small minority of season ticket holders who elected to “boycott” this match by not going. Most of them appeared to have sold their tickets to Chivas fans, and many thousands simply didn’t show up, but ECS chose to come up with a more structured outlet to show their displeasure at this friendly. It may be that other ticket holders are also Chivas fans, or wanted to promote soccer in Seattle by selling their tickets, maybe they secretly hate the Sounders, or maybe they simply had better things to do than watch two reserve/youth teams play each other at 8:00pm on a school night. Thousands of people, not just ECS, had different reasons why they didn’t go, so I can only explain my own personal reasons as an ECS member.

So, to address your points in the same order:

1. True, the starters were much less used, however this friendly was scheduled in the middle of 3 REAL competitions that our MLS limited roster barely has the depth to cover. Several of our key players took very hard tackles in that friendly, and there was a red card. We can argue about the level of risk, but my point is the reward is extremely low so the risk was unacceptable.

2. I almost always cheer on the boys, but I admit I’ve missed other matches due to family conflicts. I also don’t go out to training sessions and expend the same kind of energy I do in the Brougham End during a real game. This wasn’t a real game, it was a marketing event. In this case, I thought the best way to support the team in winning real matches was to send a message to the FO by skipping out on their marketing event/friendly.

3. Our FO does an excellent job and I consider it probably the best in MLS. However, I’m not perfect and sometimes need friends to remind me when I need to do better. This was an issue that could have been much better handled by the FO, and the ECS and Alliance Council offered several suggestions and alternatives before hand, but the FO chose not to listen. I’m very pleased they’ve hinted they’ll only have one friendly next year, but I think the experience of this last friendly will just reinforce that. This wasn’t a negative ‘hang our banner upside down’ kind of protest, but it was more along the lines of singing at a particular player encouraging him to play harder. That’s the role of a supporters group. We love the team and want them to win, it isn’t about us as individuals or the FO.

4. I consider my role in ECS is to have a single minded focus on doing what I can to support the boys to win. Boycotts or other actions to protest things like sectarianism are fine, but they’re not DIRECTLY related to the SSFC winning trophies. I’m also really leery of what happens when you mix politics with supporters groups. I just think it’s a bad idea. So, while I may support particular political or social goals, I wouldn’t want to pursue them via a supporters group.

5. This really makes me angry. I don’t care about seeing Chivas because we’re not playing them in a real game! We are, as it happens, playing teams from Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica in REAL games in a REAL tournament! These are exciting teams in games that matter in the Champions League! This is why I was upset with our FO, because they were promoting some silly exhibition game over the CCL. If we get to the group stage in CCL next year I think it would be great to play against Chivas. I’d even try and make the away leg.

In the end, from my perspective, everything turned out fine. People who wanted to go did, and had fun. Those of us who were upset got to get our point across to the FO. We didn’t pick up any injuries.

Even all this issue, while it has gotten overly emotional and personal in some places, has been a chance to explain more about supporter’s culture and what the ECS is about.

We miss you here in Seattle too Jose.

15 10 2010

Really want to thank everyone who read, especially those who commented, for some fantastic dialogue. I have to admit I was somewhat miffed at the comments I read in the ECS forum about attending/not attending the game (at least one that I thought bordered on being racist). And to be honest, I wish the ECS would have used the game as a chance to reach out to new (Latino) fan base that is clearly there, judging by the numbers of Chivas jerseys I saw on TV anyway.

Kudos to all of you for caring and being good fans (no matter what the haters on Soccer by Ives and other places say about you haha!) and another reason I miss being up there with all of you. Thanks again.

16 10 2010

Thank you for trying to understand. I hope that posting a link is okay, because this link has a great interview with ECS Co-President Keith Hodo:

Hopefully you’ll understand the ECS (and indeed supporter groups in general) a little better after reading it.

I would add that when the team is not getting the results on the field, it is definitely not time for a boycott. That is when you need to up your support. A protest would be appropriate only if the situation is a result of blatant mistakes by management that go beyond just making wrong choices in signing players. I say protest rather than boycott, because it has to go very far before a supporter group would consider boycotting full competitive games.

8 12 2010

“But soccer history tells us that Celtic of Scotland is the team with a history of violence with regard to sectarianism. Shouldn’t Celtic, if any club, have been boycotted for more noble reasons of taking a stand against hate? ”

On what evidence is this statement made? Is the author aware that there is only one club in Scotland with a history if institutional sectarianism? That club, Rangers, refused to sign Catholics for well over 100 years and didn’t come out of the dark ages until 1989, much to the dismay of their openly bigoted and sectarian supporters. Rangers supporters also have a long and shameful record of violent behaviour which continues to this day. Their history in Europe alone can be researched fairly easily – Barcelona 1972 is a good enough place to begin, all the way to Manchester 2008 and Romania last year. They are currently on a “final warning” from EUFA because of their repertoir of sectarian songs.

Celtic, on the other hand have had an inclusive signing policy since their inception in 1888 and their supporters are well thought of around the world – travelling in numbers and behaving well win, lose or draw. Sure, there can be an occasional idiot or two and one could find examples of misbehaviour of individual Celtic supporters but I challenge anybody to show evidence of large scale “sectarian violence” to back up the claim that Celtic is THE club with such a history.

8 12 2010
derek johnstone

I feel compelled to write to you regarding Untruths about my beloved Celtic football Club,my club was formed to help the Immigrant Irish dysphoria in the west of Scotland by a Marist brother,and from the outset we have been an Inclusive Football Club open to all.Indeed our greatest manager Mr Jock Stein was of the Protestant faith,Rangers FC on the other hand discriminated openly against Catholics (amongst others)and had to be dragged into modern times,kicking and screaming,Indeed this Bigotry still exists amongst their support,and violence too,they have rampged throughout Europe,Including Manchester (this made worldwide headlines)Celtic Fans go everywhere and make friends cross the globe,we won a UEFA fair play award for our support,80,000 fans and NO Arrests.Rangers “supporters” on the other hand sing disgusting songs,inc The Famine Song (telling us to go home to Ireland) and Big Jock Knew (a sick song wrongly accusing Jock Stein of of covering up child Abuse perpetrated by a celtic official) for real Violence,Intimidting,Bigotry and Racism please look in the right place.Even today we show our support in the right manner,Our support lauded for our anti-fascist,anti-bigotry stance,I as a Celtic fan am proud to be A Celt.YOULL NEVER WALK ALONE


9 12 2010
Henry Clarson

From the original article: “But soccer history tells us that Celtic of Scotland is the team with a history of violence with regard to sectarianism. Shouldn’t Celtic, if any club, have been boycotted for more noble reasons of taking a stand against hate?”

Wow! This was one of those moments when you read something so completely wrong that you find yourself wondering if your drink has been spiked with some hallucinogenic substance.

I can only imagine that the writer has somehow confused Glasgow Celtic with the loathsome, sectarian, extreme right-wing, racist bigots of Glasgow Rangers who have actively pursued discriminatory policies for most of their existence and whose supporters are notorious throughout Europe for their violent and anti-social behaviour. This has led, on more than one occasion, to heavy sanctions from various European authorities including the ultimate punishment of a complete ban from European competition. The club and its supporters have earned the nickname “Huns” throughout Scotland as a reflection of the universally recognised thuggishness of their general conduct.

Celtic, by contrast, have been the main victims of the Scottish establishment’s bigotry and have frequently been unfairly treated by biased officials. Occasionally, some of these officials have been found out and banned from the game but the level of anti-Celtic corruption in the Scottish game remains high – for example, in the last four weeks, two high ranking Scottish FA officials have been forced to resign for gross misconduct. One dishonest referee, Dougie McDonald, was proved to have lied to the Celtic manager about a penalty decision which went against Celtic. His boss, Hugh Dallas, not only attempted to cover up the lie, Nixon-style, but was also found guilty of distributing sectarian material in his official capacity as Head of Refereeing Development in Scotland.

That’s the type of thing that Celtic are constantly up against in Scotland and it’s very disappointing to
see the club so badly misrepresented in this article in spite of the international reputation which Celtic supporters have earned as being the standard for other supporters to aspire to. Both FIFA and UEFA have officially recognised this by making special awards and presentations to the club.
Please acknowledge that you have got your facts wrong on this one.

9 12 2010

I saddened to read that you feel Celtic are a club that tolerate racist and sectarian behaviour. This is not the case. Celtic have been one of the main instigators in the fight against sectarianism in the Scottish game. We as a support have had to endure sectarian abuse from not just our closest rivals, Glasgow Rangers but from other sides within the Scottish game.

We have an impeccable support who travel throughout Europe in great numbers. Our behaviour has seen us awarded as the “Best fans in the World.” Our support contains many people from many different walks of life. We do not tolerate exclusivity. Our club is open to all. Our first manager used the phrase “Celtic Park is a place where a man is judged by football alone” this has stuck with the club since the 1880s through to the 21st century. Many of the greatest figure in our club are not Roman Catholic, nor are they “Celtic Minded.”

I look forward to your retraction on this point.

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