In the 1980’s, Hooliganism was rampant throughout the English Football leagues, so much so that it was called the English disease. It was part of what instituted CCTV, which is now easily visible across the country.
It was a dark time in football’s history, one that led to sweeping changes to the way the English now watch their beloved game. Terraces were removed, standing became a punishable offense, and ticket prices skyrocketed. The working class English supporter was eventually pushed out, and the English football atmosphere now resembles little of its former self. However, before and during this period, English football supporters were one of, if not the most, revered supporters in the world for what they did inside the stadiums on match day.
Many of their songs and less nefarious traditions have since spread across the world, including to the streets of our beloved Seattle. What matters here when looking back at those supporters is their ability to come together as individuals and turn a quiet soggy football pitch into a cacophony of sound as they passionately pushed their clubs to stratospheric heights was something to be appreciated. Those supporters of the 70’s and 80’s left an indelible mark (both positively and negatively) on the way people support their football clubs across the world in a number of ways, and it’s important to remember where match day support WAS in England, and how it got to where it stands (or sits, really) today.
Fast forward a couple decades with me.
The Emerald City supporters arrive on the scene (that's you). ECS brings a blend of football culture from around the world, including songs and traditions from clubs like Dortmund, Millwall, and Panathinaikos to the stadium on match day. Those songs and traditions, along with the infusion of its own American style, makes headlines in 2009 as the Seattle Sounders smash through attendance records and expectations…but the story that's told about the Emerald City Supporters isn’t exactly complete. The groundwork for what ECS does was built from the early days of MLS. Supporter groups started popping up in the old soccer mom-friendly MLS.
Even so, groups in Chicago and DC sang songs, displayed choreos, lit flares and smoke bombs to celebrate. ECS, in some small part, was built on the backs of these early adopters of supporter culture in the United States. As groups from cities such as Toronto, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Philadelphia, New York, Orlando, Montreal, and LA grew and shaped themselves into the groups we see today, the MLS has flourished.
The league continues to expand, players never thought obtainable are coming into the league, and attendance continues to grow. Long gone are the soccer mom marketing plans. MLS ads are now heavily inundated with visions and language straight from supporter culture. Impenetrable walls of flags dance in slow motion, drummers are seen beating their tools of the trade, and plumes of colored smoke are seen wafting into the night sky. This is how MLS sells its brand. WE are how MLS continues to grow. YOU are the reason this league and your club continue to become destination points for top tier talent all over the world.
Over the last few seasons we’ve begun to see a change from MLS, though. We saw the “code of conduct” class policy instituted. We’ve seen an uptick in bans, fines, and sanctions against groups and individuals often with little or no evidence and even less recourse for appeal. Supporter groups aren’t without their faults in this country, but compared to other countries, MLS supporters tend to be pretty well-behaved. Many groups appreciate that if they do the crime, they pay the fine despite there really aren’t 100% clear rules and regulation available in every instance. The league still has zero away support protocols, and security theater is the hottest show in town.
Which brings me to the point.
Recently, the DC United Supporter groups had a march to the stadium to help unify the various groups. Over the years, they’ve had their differences and in an act to reunify for the support of their club, they decided to “bury the hatchet,” so to speak.
They marched, they sang, and they popped smoke as they have before on their way TO the stadium. MLS has since brought sanctions on the District Ultras (1 of the 4 groups involved) and banned another prominent member of the District Ultras for 1 calendar year FROM ALL MLS SOCCER MATCHES. They claim the individual’s act was a crime though no charges have been brought up against the individual by the DC Police Department and the District Ultras are also claiming that the device falls within the laws of Washington, D.C. According to our understanding, this was this individual’s 1st MLS offense.
We understand MLS’ fear of the hooliganism of the 1980’s. We understand the desire to keep all fans safe. We fear MLS is hurting the culture and the league they claim to care so much about by treating supporters the way they do. ECS has worked very closely with the Sounders’ FO to allow our supporters to enjoy all the great things being a supporter comes with. While we may not always come to an agreement on how we do things, the Sounders’ FO has always kept an open dialogue with us which is why we rarely have found ourselves in situations like this. We appreciate the Sounders for continuing to keep the working relationship we have, and we hope MLS can look to the Sounders as they have in the past for guidance on how to better communicate with their more passionate fans.
ECS does not support violence or criminal activity in any form, but we also request that individuals and groups be provided evidence of their crime as well as be justly punished. Everyone deserves fair treatment regardless of their offense. MLS routinely markets its brand with images of supporters just like this individual in DC popping smoke and flares. Acts they claim to be against their code of conduct and to be illegal. Their own employee Rachel Bonnetta (who has since left MLS) was proudly displayed popping smoke with OCSC supporters from the MLS’ own YouTube account.
It is hypocritical of the MLS to use the supporters of this league for advertisements and then ban and sanction them for the exact same actions they use in those marketing efforts. Furthermore, a system that does not provide evidence to these individuals / groups of their “crimes” while punishing them is unacceptable. There is a double standard in MLS and it cannot continue.
Historically, ECS has taken a very hands-off approach in dealing with supporter groups from around the league. We do everything we can to not distract our supporters from supporting our club. That said, given the way ECS and its members were treated by the league last season, as well as our understanding that eventually our members could very well be in the same situation as the District Ultras, we have decided to stand with the them, as many other supporter groups have over this past week.
We find the way MLS is treating the supporter groups that have built and funded this league for 20 years to be completely unacceptable. If a crime has been committed, then let the authorities deal with it. We find the double standard MLS shows by marketing individuals and then banning them for the same actions unacceptable. We find the system in which supporters are punished unacceptable. Supporters helped build this league. They deserve more respect, appreciation, and communication then the current MLS management gives them, especially considering their long-term viability has a significant dependence on the environments that we, the suppoorters, help create on matchday.
We, the supporters of the MLS and American soccer are not hooligans and we should not be treated as such.
We stand united with DC.
(NOTE: We're continuing the conversation here)