Today Alabinbonban crosses the Atlantic again to meet a genuine and authentic Athletic and Seattle Sounders FC supporter, current champions of the MLS Supporters’ Shield of the American league. This interview brings us the true sentiment for some colors, a way of understanding football typical of the working class which is the same, regardless the birthplace and location, something that is fading out little by little in San Mamés. With freshness in the terraces and a whole world to discover that drives us to the early days of the terraces in Bilbao, please welcome, Wade Mendizabal, Emerald City Supporters.
Wade, first of all, what a guy called Mendizabal is doing in a place like Seattle? Are you a descendant of those Basque shepherds who went to the US to make a living?
Yes, my family moved to the State of Idaho several decades ago during the rule of Franco. As many of you may know there is a very large Basque community in Idaho, specifically the city of Boise. I spent a lot of my childhood there surrounded by and learning from many of the elders of mine and other families learning euskera and the traditions of our culture.
It took time for Seattle to have a team in the MLS after many attempts and having a quite big fanbase. How was the first league match after waiting for that long?
Though the MLS Sounders have only been since 2009, the Seattle Sounders have existed since 1974, crossing over through many leagues over the years. I wish I could tell you, it took me a couple of years of an MLS club existing in Seattle before I thought there was room for me, growing up I did not take “american soccer” very seriously.
Your club is proud of bringing to the ground the highest number of supporters in the MLS with similar attendances than in European leagues. Why that difference with the rest of cities? What’s so special about football in Seattle?
There are many factors behind that fact. First off the American Pacific Northwest is a hotbed for football, and from what I have read Washington State has the most youth soccer participation nationwide. I couldnt really say why that is exactly though. The sounders front office has done a very good job over the years though to bring in number and as much as it pains me to admit the majority of our attendence is made up of fairly wealthy, suburban peoples who like every sport and havent a clue of football culture.
The supporter scene in the US is quite young although is getting bigger and bigger. From Europe it’s kind of seen a bit as something artificially imported with little tradition and spontaneity. Do you agree or is there any specific feature in American stands? As clubs are so young, is it experienced with the same passion as in Europe or South America?
As much as the football scene in the US is filled with its fair share of plastic fans, know nothings and fakes, there are many that authentically love their clubs, this sport and football culture. Any that make fun of us for the stage we are at must realize europa has many decades, even a hundred years head start on us meanwhile the NFL, baseball and basketball have been the most popular sports over the last several decades not giving footy the chance to grow properly. There are traditions throughout the league between clubs that are very unique to the city, people take pride in their cities, in their clubs and I think it shows more in this sport than any other sport. Its very hard to explain, let alone type the specific feature that american terraces possess, its very unique and exciting BECAUSE its young. I am very happy to be at the forefront of the growth of football culture in america.
We’ve noticed the presence of young people involved in the skinhead culture within many clubs’ supporters like yours. Has there been any incident of football-related violence or at the moment the football scene is peaceful? Is there any problem with racism or fascism or infiltration of these people in the stands?
There have been small skermishs over the years, but nothing substantial like in parts of europe. The majortity of incidents are things like groups standing off with each other and chanting and scarf grabbing, very rarely fist fights, but I can not guarentee it will stay that way forever……There is absolutely no problem with racism or fascism in american stands, ANYWHERE, it is not tolerated at all.
Regarding this, one can see some tendency to the left-wing in some stands in a country that is not socialist precisely. In your opinion, what are the reasons for this to happen?
Though are country may not be entirely left wing the majority of football fans in this country are, whether or not they will admit it many “soccer fans” are “progressive thinkers” if you will. Because of the way american culture is many in the right wing dont care much for sports as it is, and if they do its practically any sport but football. Honestly, because there is little to no politically related problems within the fanbases in the US there is almost no organization for or against any one issue. When the terraces of america do stand for something it has been against homophobia and against the rising ticket prices as the league grows larger.
We’ve seen you maintain some rivalry with clubs from Cascadia, Vancouver and Portland, this last one with an important fanbase as well. Is it just a local rivalry or is there something more?
As much as its a local rivalry, Cascadia is an idea, a belief for the Pacific Northwest to be an independent nation, free of American empire rule, though many do not necessarily agree or actively support the idea. We have a unique and different culture here in the PNW and that shows in our supporter culture, which is considered to be the best in the US.
Supporters worldwide are starting to fight against the so-called ‘modern football’. How is that compatible in a league where teams are franchises backed by investors?
The majority of fans do not care about the issue, or frankly even understand the idea as americans are still learning about the culture worldwide and the issues that go along with it. Within every fanbase many have stood up to modern football using tifo and chants to express discontent. Although many of the MLS clubs are corporate backed, some pass down the benefits to the fans more than others. One of the Sounders owners, Drew Carey(a tv celebrity for those not aware) has boughten everyone in our local pub drinks, as well as coming up onto our capo stand and chanting with us. Little acts like these reassure me personally that while there is a lot of money in corruption within modern football and our league, our club has some of the best owners I could ask for.
In a country where distances are so big, can you afford to go to away matches? How do you organize away trips?
Away travel is very hard in the US, easy for us though than many clubs. Many of the clubs are spread out across the US and our infrustruction and transportation industry isnt exactly ideal. Portland and Vancouver away are the easiest to attend as they are both mere hours south and north on the Interstate 5. There are ECS organized buses for both away Cascadia club matches. When the distance is longer its usually organized on an individual basis, normally involving taking a place half way across the country. We have very good away support, with supporter groups spread across the country. Theres always at least some form of small group attending any away match, no matter how far.
What can you tell us about the Emerald City Supporters? Do you belong to any branch? How do you organize yourselves and how many are you?
Not sure what much there is to say that the website doesnt cover haha WWW.WEAREECS.COM. I myself do not belong to any particular branch or subgroup, in fact I am in the process of laying the ground work to form a new, but still within ECS, ultras group. Within ECS there are several subgroups spread through our section deemed Brougham End that is located on the south end of our estadio, many based on members location within Washington state, as well as a Latino barra brava influenced group.
You wear in your jacket the Basque flag (‘ikurriña’) and the Athletic badge. Do you follow their matches? Are you an Athletic supporter? Have you ever been to San Mamés? If so, how was the experience? If not, what would you expect to find?
Yes and both I wear with extreme pride, as well as the Ikurrina I have tattooed on my right forearm. I follow every Athletic match, even if its just a radio broadcast on my cell phone, but when I can I watch them. I have been to La Catedral but many years ago and I wish it was possibly for me to come over more. My experience would be that of those who have never experienced the beauty of such a stadium of such an amazing club.
How do you keep the bonds with the Basque Country from such a distance?
That is a hard question to answer within writing an entire essay for you based just on that question hahah. I would have to say by just simply never forgetting where I came from. I have several friends and relatives in Euskal Herria I keep contact with via internet and phone.
Is there any club which fanbase you particularly like? Have you got bonds with supporters clubs from other teams both American or elsewhere?
Besides Bilbao?….Liverpool from England, Celtic from Scotland(my good mate Tom is a Rangers fan so I hope he reads this) are a few of the other clubs in which i follow both club and fanbase wise….I would have to say one of my favorite fanbases around the world is SUPER 3 ARIS from Greece. I have personal bonds with people from clubs from around the world, not so much on an organized level but I would like to work on that. Americans do not realize that as much as rivalries are a part of football such is friendlies with supporters from other clubs…may take several years for that aspect to carry over properly in America I am working on friendly relationships with those within lower league American clubs such as Atlanta Ultras from Atlanta Silverbacks and Iron Lion Firm from Orlando City.
As for your chants, where do you get the inspiration from? Any particular genre or band?
Many of the chants are revisions of football chants from around the world, which no one has the right to look down on because everyone around the world has been doing that since the original days of English terrace chorus. We have several chants done to the tone of punk songs including Take em All by CockSparrer, Us vs Them by Sick of it All and Guiness Boys by the Business. The majority of real American ultras have roots in punk so that reflects highly on our styles.
How do you see the present and future of football in the US?
I see the present simple as the present, I take it one match at a time and see what I can do to personally influence the growth of culture. The future scares me and for many reasons, I dont know if it is reasonable to believe one day we will light pyro in a stadium, if our quality as a group will ever be equal to our quanity. Many that stand with us in the Brougham End have little understanding of football culture so with that come issues. Many want to sit down, not have flags or people on seats blocking their view, be on their cell phones, or not want to put all their vocals into it for the full 90 and thats unexceptable…as we put PARTICIPATION IS THE EXPECTATION. For everything that scares or worries me about the future of football culture here theres much that excites me, its young, its fresh and plump for the picking. Now is the time to lay the groundwork of influence for the next several decades, even a hundred years of football culture in this country. If I cant be on euro terraces I am going to do everything in my power to influence ours to be a force to be reckoned with. Unfortantely, these things take time and patience and I am a very impatient person hahaa.
Some last words before I go, I would like to see interest in MLS grow thoughout the rest of the world, we are not all how our front offices, the league and the sports networks make us out to be. If any of you ever travel to the US I highly reccommend coming through Seattle for a while, preferably during football season, you have a friend here.
** Special thanks to Alabinbonban’s official translator.