Let me begin by saying that I love Seattle. I really do. As someone who lives about 8 hours away, I’ve been to this city many times and have been to numerous Seahawks and Mariners games. As far as my experiences at these games, they have all fallen somewhere between pleasant and downright contentious. I’ve seen fights, but I’ve also seen strangers hug and celebrate.
As I now reflect on the match between Seattle Sounders and Manchester United — played on Wednesday night, I’ve come to the conclusion that not only is Seattle a diverse and passionate sports city that absolutely loves soccer, but Sounders supporters as a whole were exceptional and provided me with an enjoyable experience that I will never forget.
Driving from western Montana, I arrived in Seattle on Tuesday with four other friends (two United supporters, one Sounders supporter and one neutral) and I could feel the excitement in the city. United garb was everywhere. NikeTown (downtown) boasted a mural of Wayne Rooney and Chicharito on the outside of the store and had the crest on the doors and windows. After a long day in the car, I switched into a Ryan Giggs kit and our group traveled down to Pike Place market to grab a bite to eat. The comments came quickly. One gentleman jokingly said I had some rubbish on me and pointed at the crest (which I laughed at because I thought it was clever). An employee in the market asked “where are the Liverpool fans?” and started to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” after we ribbed each other back and forth a bit. The locals were ready for us and seemed to have a fun time with it.
Unfortunately, I have no report from the training held that night at the pitch because I was unable to secure passes to the event. However, just by walking around town I felt the same buzz in the air as when the New York Yankees came in for a three-game series. Except this was bigger and better. United was in town (and had been since Friday) and everyone knew it.
After months of waiting, matchday finally came. Another trip to the market for lunch was met with not only the instantly recognizable red, but also with blinding lime green kits from the Sounders supporters. With only a few hours left before kickoff, we began to make our way down to the stadium, which is located in south downtown. Heading down 1st street, we came upon a sea of red standing in front of the Four Seasons hotel and saw the United 2011 tour bus. We decided to press on because we were meeting two more friends who are both Sounders supporters.
Traditionally, the Sounders supporters clubs meet in Pioneer Square and have a march to the match. Although we did not march, the music and chants could be heard from blocks away. Walking to the stadium, one would have thought the crowd would be at least 30 percent in support for United. However, once in the stadium, the red became more of an accent in a sea of green. Our seats were 20 rows up on the south side in the southwest corner. The seats provided excellent views and we were right next to the Seattle supporters clubs (the two big ones are Gorilla FC and the Emerald City Supporters).
The pregame routine (chants, reciting of players’ names and drums) by the Sounders supporters sent chills down my spine. If you haven’t heard about the atmosphere for Sounders matches in Seattle, there was a gentleman behind me who lives in the Norfolk area of England and regularly travels to Old Trafford that probably described it best. “Impressive,” he said when I asked him about it. “This is comparable to what you would find in England.”
He was wearing a 1998-2000 United Umbro kit (the one with the zipper). We chatted for nearly the entire match. It was his first time in Seattle as he flew over from England to see United and was heading back on Saturday. When United beat Benfica in 1968 for the European Cup, he was 10 years old and had been hooked on the Red Devils ever since.
Next to me was an older couple wearing United shirts and in front of me was nearly all Sounders supporters. As anyone who watched the match will attest to, the Sounders started brightly and pegged United back for most of the first 15 minutes. With each shot fired near Anders Lindegaard, the south stand shook with excitement. As the Sounders’ missed, early opportunities mounted and United found its legs. The crowd went from chanting and drumming to watching in awe. As Nani and Giggs cut through the Seattle defense, you couldn’t help but think that United were actors on a stage and the Sounders were the props.
When Michael Owen put away the first goal of the match on a header from Patrice Evra in the 14th minute, you would have thought by the cheers that suddenly the match was being played at Old Trafford. For as loud as the United supporters were, what continued to impress me was the respect shown by the Sounders’ contingent. After each goal, Sounders supporters did not jeer or whistle. Iinstead they showed their appreciation by clapping and urging their club on.
As far as a friendly goes, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to go. Although I was wearing United, not once did I come across a Sounders supporter who was disrespectful or mean — even despite the fact that their team lost 7-0 at home against United. In fact, the only people that I saw who I thought overstepped their bounds were very drunk United supporters. However, I imagine that like most things, these were isolated incidents and are no representation of the really pleasant United supporters that I met throughout the trip.
Overall, it was a great atmosphere with wonderful people and a group of local supporters that were nothing short of spectacular. As someone who doesn’t live in Seattle and came in wearing red, the locals never made me feel out of place or as if I didn’t belong.
Kudos to Seattle and the Sounders supporters for putting on an amazing show and really showing how soccer in America should be.