If you’ve listened to the World Soccer Talk Podcast this season, you’ll be familiar with the voice of the Liverpool Football Club-loving Nate Abaurrea, the American who has added an unpredictability to the podcast with his wit, sharp analysis, football songs and walks down memory lane.
But that’s just scratching the surface. We sat down with Nate to learn more about his background and unique perspective on the game of soccer. After all, with a Twitter handle like DarthNater99, we just had to find out more.
But what else should we know about Nate, the man with the unique Twitter handle DarthNater99.
Christopher Harris (Chris): What’s your life story up until now?
Nate Abaurrea (Nate): I was born and raised in Watsonville, California, an agricultural bastion on the central coast of the Golden State. Watsonville is a predominantly Mexican town in terms of population, and growing up there (combined with the attitudes of some very influential British family members) definitely instilled a passion for the game of soccer, as well as a bizarre love/hate relationship with Mexican futbol.
I moved to Humboldt County to attend college in 2008, and packed about 20 years worth of “life experience” into a 5 year spell. I graduated in 2013, and moved 140 miles east to Redding to broadcast summer baseball with the Redding Colt 45s. I had little to no connection to Redding, and I was supposed to be here for just two months, but with the help of some amazing bosses, advertisers, and supporters, I was privileged enough to start a local sports radio department with AM station KCNR 1460, and pursue other areas of passionate interest. I never thought there would be a place that would offer me (straight out of college no less) ample sports play-by-play radio work, writing jobs, stand-up comedy gigs, and a high school soccer head coaching position. Never in 10 million years did I dream that the place to do all that would be Redding, California! But lo and behold, the North State is actually quite the happening place. You’ve just got to be willing to build.
Chris: How did you become a Liverpool supporter?
Nate: I was 5 years old. It was the 1995/96 season, and I just fell in love with the club as they were the first team I honestly remember watching (on the original Fox Sports World network in fact). I had no family connection to the club and absolutely no knowledge of history or pedigree. There was no glory hunting or fashionable reason for my selection. It was just one of those wild coincidental things, and I thank the footballing gods in the sky almost every day for that one. I soon began studying the makeup of Liverpool as a team and a fascinating city, and the obsession just grew and grew. The first time I ever felt the agony of the beautiful game was the last match of that incredible season, the ’96 FA Cup Final against Man United. I can still see Calamity James flapping his way out of the goal mouth at Wembley, and Cantona waiting at the top of the box to send a sharp, salt coated dagger 6,000 miles straight to my 5 year old heart.
Chris: You bring a refreshingly different perspective to sports that combines your knowledge of the game and quick wit. How did you get into broadcasting, and where do you hope your hard work will take you?
Nate: I’ve had an infatuation for the art of radio since I was old enough to know what it was. I got to host rap and punk rock shows on Free Radio Santa Cruz (a true pirate station that was raided by the FBI multiple times) when I was 15, and I pursued broadcasting as a major when I went to Humboldt State University. Sports broadcasting in particular has long been an obsession, and I’ve always known the ultimate dream is to call games for a living. I’m lucky enough to be doing that right now in a great small market area. But those big city lights are glowing bright…
Chris: Who would you say some of your heroes are in sports and soccer, both on and off the field? Also, which commentators (past and present) have influenced you or that you appreciate)?
Nate: My first favorite footballers were Stan Collymore and Robbie Fowler, with Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard waiting in the scouse nest. Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Eric Wynalda, Eddie Pope, Eddie Lewis, Preki, Edgar Davids, Zinedine Zidane, Dennis Bergkamp, Gianfranco Zola, Alan Shearer, Dietmar Hamann, and Mathew Le Tissier were just a few of the formidable talents that made a lasting impression at an early stage for me.
As for commentators, there are two people who have offered me more than I ever could have asked for. The first is San Francisco Giants baseball radio voice Jon Miller. His style is something I’ve always tried to emulate as a young broadcaster, while adding my own developing flavor. His voice is an integral part of so many surreal memories that blur the lines of sports, romance, and debauchery, especially ones from 2010, when my beloved Giants finally won their first World Series on the West Coast. (Miller also called soccer as a young commentator in the 70’s for a variety of NASL clubs including the original San Jose Earthquakes. A few of the famous “Soccer Bowls” had the Kahuna as the lead network voice in fact.)
The other person is Derek Rae. In 2005, as Liverpool were on their way to the Champions League Final, I wrote Derek a long email, just introducing myself and telling him how big of a fan I was of his work on ESPN. I had no idea how important that fan letter would be. We developed a friendship via consistent email correspondence, and he would give me some of the most profound advice in regards to pursuing my goals in the sporting world. He was the one who encouraged me to mute the TV and give my own commentaries into a tape recorder. He was the one who really instilled a love for the cultural aspects of soccer, and having intricate knowledge of more than just the match itself as a commentator. He also sent me a short message from Istanbul a few nights before the final against Milan, saying that he’d be thinking of me during the match, and sending the best of vibes all the way back to California. He always spoke about the tool of “talking directly to one person” as a commentator, as it truly personalizes your words. I still get those happy chills to imagine that for even a solitary minute on that legendary night of May 25, 2005, that Derek was speaking directly to me. I remember every single call, verbatim, like it was yesterday. A few of the toppers:
“From the back of this contest… with a vengeance! What a strike by Smicer! And the impossible, is becoming, quite possible.”
“It’s Xabi Alonso……… and can he follow up to score? He can! Unbridled Red joy!!”
“I think most of us, at half-time, thought this was over.”
“Can he keep the flame flickering for AC Milan…? A long run up by Schevchenko… OH and it’s saved by Dudek! And Liverpool are the champions of Europe! Rank outsiders at the start of the competition, and they’ve gone all the way to the summit… in the most unlikely fashion possible!!!”
In 2009, after a really horrific car accident and a tumultuous freshman year of college, I created a ridiculous master plan to drop out of school and move to England and embark on a travel journalism pathway at the ripe age of 18. A long conversation on the phone with Derek that July was one of the most important two hours of my entire life. The man grounded me. He talked me off the ledge in a way, and firmly yet politely told me to keep my eyes on my homeland and not be so naive as to think that dropping out of college and moving to another country on a whim was a good idea. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” he said. “You have a chance to be a big fish in the small but steadily growing pond that is soccer in the States. Always remember that.” I can never thank the man enough for all that he’s offered me. Hero would be an understatement in many regards. Mentor and friend would be proper terms.
Chris: You’ve mentioned on the World Soccer Talk Podcast some of the games you’ve seen in person in England, but which one was the most memorable to you, and why?
Nate: There are definitely a few that stand out. My first live match in England was between Aston Villa and West Ham at Villa Park, a midweek night game in April of 1999. (Back when Premier League tickets were not only readily available at every ground except Highbury, they were quite affordable) I was 8 years old wearing a USA jersey, and we stood in the lower tier of the Holte End. The sheer size and energy of that thing gave me the shivers, along with the series of fist fights, songs, and drunken madness that followed. Dion Dublin pissed away about six golden chances, and sadly the match ended 0-0. (I recently found the match program from that night. Youngsters by the names of Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard both started for the Hammers!)
The second trip across the pond came in 2005, and with ticket prices sky rocketing by the second, that trip consisted of a lot of lower league football and even some rugby. After a Monday nighter at Manchester City, (without a doubt THE WEAKEST atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of at ANY sporting event, a lackluster 1-0 loss to Bolton in what ended up being Kevin Keegan’s last match as manager) we attended matches in every other division. Crawley Town and Preston North End were great, but a Friday night in the raucous Kop of Prenton Park, the home of Tranmere Rovers, was one of the most enjoyable evenings of my life. A drive literally under the River Mersey from Liverpool into Birkenhead, three cheap walk-up tickets, and we were in. There couldn’t have been more than 3,000 people there that night, and at least 2,500 of them were in that Kop. Tranmere thrashed the Posh of Peterborough 5-nil, and after the match, the bouncer at the adjacent nightclub just casually waved us in, allowing for my first pint of Guinness to be quaffed, in a bar, at 14, fittingly on Merseyside, with Duran Duran blaring for an hour straight. Pure League 1 bliss…
Chris: How did you meet Nick Webster?
Nate: I’ve always been a fan of his work, going back to his days with Fox. He’s a unique pioneer of soccer media in this country. A few months back, he posted on facebook about an uncensored soccer website called RealFootyTalk.com looking for writers. I thought, uncensored Liverpool, Premiership, and USA analysis? Let’s have it! I contacted him, and within a few weeks I was not only writing for the site but also doing podcasts with Nick, Robin Burt, Grant Kerr, and a wacky, foul mouthed Colombian named George Valencia. Those shows were some of the most fun filled hours of radio style work, and they were most definitely not safe to play at the office, unless you had headphones. A few of the arguments between George and I got so vulgar they would’ve made Wayne Rooney and Roy Keane blush. From then on, Nick has been a huge ally for me, and is helping me grow my own craft through RFT and World Soccer Talk. Many of my words about Derek Rae could also apply to Nick. I can’t thank him enough for all that he’s offered me.
Chris: What’s the most surprising fact about you that our listeners/readers would be surprised to read?
Nate: I have a portrait of Amy Winehouse on the wall in my living room, and I consider F-Me Pumps to be one of the most perfectly composed tracks in the history of music. I also have loving obsessions with sushi, imperial stouts, socks, women with glasses, the literary works of John Steinbeck, The Clash, Venezuelan baseball, the antics of Miguel Herrera, and ugly plaid suit jackets.
Chris: Any messages to the listeners of the World Soccer Talk Podcast?
Nate: First off, thank you for the support. Secondly, GET INVOLVED! Reach out and touch the show. I love hearing from listeners, and I’ll always engage with anyone interested in the pod, or anything soccer related. Never be shy. Take advantage of social media, and truly be a part of this thing. You can follow me on twitter, @DarthNater99. Look forward to hearing from you!