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FBM In Action - My Dad’s First Match (Zach from Seattle)

 

The Free Beer Movement is an idea. The idea that of all the things that will help propel American soccer forward and into the mainstream consciousness of this nation; free beer is the answer.

There can be dollar hot dog night, ladies night, youth club afternoons, but maybe, just maybe it's simpler than that. Maybe it's just a bit sillier than that.

Maybe all it will take is for one person to extend the offer of a free beer or two or three to a friend, family member, or co-worker to take in a soccer match from the comforts of one's home, the familiar surroundings of your favorite bar, or the excitement of seeing it for real at the stadium.

"Build American soccer, one beer it a time." That's our motto. Simple. Silly. Smart? Sure.

But the idea of the Free Beer Movement is only a strong as the people that believe it that idea. We've seen in the last year thousands of people visiting the website, hundreds of "fans" on Facebook, and hundred of other "followers" on Twitter. We've been covered by both local and national media alike. That's all well and good, but it's the people that make the Movement.

An idea is only a strong as the evidence that one has to support it.

The Free Beer Movement is a grassroots movement. The Free Beer Movement is you. We're only as strong as the people that subscribe to the idea that beer is the best way to lure Americans to the sport of soccer.

That's why we're asking you, the backbone of the Free Beer Movement, the people that are doing the work to "build American soccer, one beer at a time" to share your stories (and pictures) of the Movement in action.

You don't have to be a modern-day Hemingway with your words or have the photographer's eye of Ansel Adams to support the idea of the Free Beer Movement.

But without your stories and your photos as the supporting evidence that the Free Beer Movement is "what it will take" to push American soccer to the next level we're just a guy with a website and an a hope.

You've been to U.S. National Team qualifiers, lived and died by the Nats during the World Cup, you've crowded bars and parking lots across the nation to support your local Major League Soccer or other local teams, you've put a few extra beers in the fridge and invited friends over to catch a game. This is where the Free Beer Movement lives.The idea of the Free Beer Movement is in many of us whether you know it or are actively trying or not.

The stories, the places, the people are all incredible elements of the Free Beer Movement in action and we'd love to hear from you. And for your words or pictures we'd like to offer each and every person who submits something one of our Free Beer Movement stickers (just like the crest on the site). It's not much, but it's our way of saying "thank you" to the people that are making the Free Beer Movement apart of this great American soccer world.

If the Free Beer Movement is going to continue the phenomenal growth we seen in it's first year we need those faithful to the idea of it to help.

Please send an e-mail to freebeermovement@gmail(dot)com with your stories (no matter how long or short) and/or pictures of the Free Beer Movement in action.

We thank you all for your efforts no matter if you've brought one or one hundred people closer to soccer in America.

Contributed By Zach Slaton

My mom deserves a lot of credit for fostering my love of playing sports.  She ferried me around to every practice, camp, game, and tournament and cheered me on as I learned how to play baseball and basketball as a kid.  She’s a saint for doing it, especially considering my father was out commanding a submarine for six months of every year until I was eighteen.  She was a single mom in every sense of the word except income.

When it comes to watching live sports, my father deserves all of the credit.  My earliest memories of watching sports with my father were as a four or five year old when every Sunday evening in Westerly, Rhode Island was filled with football on the television and pizza for dinner.  That meal was almost exclusively reserved for Sunday nights, and the wonderful taste of pepperoni or combination pies will forever be tied to watching the NFL.

Around that same time in my life my father took me to my first live sporting event.  It was a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park, and for a little kid like me it was made all the more memorable because we took the train to and from Boston.  As fate would have it we would get to the city early, so my father took me to a science museum to kill time. That day, sometime in the year 1985, I was introduced to the novelty of a mouse and a color computer screen.  Thus, one might say my love for live sports and computers was born on that fateful day in Boston.  I have my father to thank for it.

Dad continued to stoke my love for live sports as we moved south due to his job, driving from Charleston, SC to Atlanta, GA to see an awful Atlanta Falcons team get beaten badly.  It didn’t matter; I loved every minute of it, as it was my first live NFL game. By the early 1990’s we’d move to Orlando, Florida and I got my first true hometown team via the Orlando Magic.  Dad would wait in line for hours when discounted tickets would go on sale at the navy base, but he’d always consult me ahead of time as to the priority of which opposing teams we’d like to see.  He and I would attend several Magic games a year, one Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, go to the 1992 Citrus Bowl to see his alma mater win, and even go to an Arena Football League game.  We’d leave Orlando in 1994 as my dad would be stationed in Bremerton, WA (across Puget Sound from Seattle), a place my parents have now lived for 18 years.  He’s been a Seahawks season ticket holder since 1999 and a Mariner’s quarter season ticket holder through last year, occasionally taking me with him or tossing me both of his tickets to any game he couldn’t attend.  My father has been integral to my love for live sports.

My father leads an unglamorous yet generous life. He volunteers at Rotary or Hospice when he’s not at work.  When not volunteering he’s working on his 40 year deferred gratification (his words) – the boat he and my mom finally purchased a few years ago.  He got his first new car when he was fifty-four years old, and he can’t understand why anyone would pay a premium to wear a piece of clothing with a logo on it. As he says, “You just paid someone for the privilege of advertising their product.”  The concept of buying a replica jersey is anathema to him, especially when it has commercial sponsors on it.  My father has always been in tune with “traditional American sports”, having played American football in high school and softball throughout a good bit of his adult life.  To say he’s a little suspicious of soccer’s rise in the American sports landscape is an understatement, and with his busy schedule he has little time to watch the multitude of domestic and overseas games now available to American fans.  He’s always resisted fads, and to him the sport’s rising popularity may just be another one that will eventually die out.

Nevertheless, the Sounders FC being in their fourth year in MLS and increasing capacity at their stadium to more than 38,000 attendees per match started to turn his skepticism.  As silly as it sounds I am also pretty sure the small success of my work appearing on Forbes.com confirmed some of the sport’s legitimacy to him.  At the beginning of the season I made a deal.  Give us – it really is “us” when it comes to a Sounders match – a chance.  “I will buy the ticket, and I’ll even buy the beer.  One match. If you don’t like it, you never have to go again. But give us one chance.” The Free Beer Movement mantra sealed the deal like it has for so many other sales jobs to American soccer skeptics.  I bought the tickets, dad blocked out his calendar on September 8th, and we then had six months to wait until embarking on the grand experiment of testing dad’s tolerance for soccer.

I came over to my parents’ house with my two daughters the night before the match and then commuted over to Seattle with my father the next day.  I eased him into the match day experience by appealing to his Seahawk game day traditions.  This meant grabbing lunch and a few beers at a downtown bar prior to the match, albeit with a bit of a soccer twist.  We left the house at 8:45, dropped off the girls with a friend, and piled onto a 9:45 AM ferry with other Sounders fans.  The number of rave green clad fans, colors the Sounders share with the Seattle Seahawks, made my dad feel a little bit more at home as this was a scene he was used to seeing prior to every Seahawks game.  Soon the ferry docked in Seattle, and we were off for the short hike to Fado, a local Irish pub that caters to Seattle’s soccer-inclined drinkers.  Warm enough to sit outside, my father and I followed yet another Free Beer Movement maxim (“Local Soccer, Local Beer”) and ordered a few Mac & Jack’s African Ambers.  A shot of Jameson, another African Amber, and a lunch later we were off with another 38,932 fans to Century Link Field.


Cheers to You!

As we got to the stadium we realized that we had been very lucky to get seats in a section that would remain seated during most of the game.  This helped my father enjoy the game day experience given he’s had a hip and knee replaced, and I suspect his experience would have not been nearly as positive if we had been in a standing section. My father surveyed the stadium as we found our seats. Being used to the packed houses at Seahawks games, he made a joke about the tarps that cover the third deck.  He also mentioned how subdued the crowd was during introductions and in the normal run of play, as he was used to the noisy din of football games that had made Century Link Field the home of the most opposition false start penalties in the NFL.  His adjustment to a very different crowd was taking place.

My father paid far more attention to the action on the pitch once the match got going.  Having last played soccer himself as an intramural sport while at UCLA in the mid-1960’s (think pre-Total Football), he was used to a kick-and-rush style of play. The tiki-taka, pass-and-buildup-through-midfield approach now commonly found throughout the modern game was very foreign to him.  Such an approach initially looked like a bunch of wasted movement to him that didn’t result in many attacks on the opposition goal, and the Sounders’ ineffectiveness for the first quarter of the game didn’t help convince my father of the strategy’s wisdom.  The Sounders were down 1-0 by the eighth minute, with my father turning to me and saying, “You can’t score a goal if you don’t put the ball in the opposition’s end of the field!”

Dad would get his wish when the Sounders finally broke through in the twenty-ninth minute.  Attacking our end of the field, they pushed forward and earned a free kick from a foul on Steve Zakuani.  Christian Tiffert lined up a perfect free kick that Eddie Johnson was able to head home.  Century Link Field exploded, my dad and I high-fived, but it felt like it was a lucky goal (later replays would show Johnson’s header was perfectly placed on the turf to bounce under the goal keeper’s arm).  The Sounders attack would build throughout the rest of the first half, with my father picking up on the fact that the Sounders were sending much of their attack down the right hand side of the field via Tiffert and Johnson.  He was picking up on the tactical aspect of the game very quickly and seemed to be enjoying himself.

Soon enough halftime was upon us.  Soccer is first about the play on the pitch, but a close second is its traditions.  The tradition of 100+-year-old clubs, traditions in club colors, traditions in the rivalries, and even tradition in match day rituals.  All of these traditions serve to build stronger bonds amongst the supporters and help make soccer unique in a sea of sports choices.  A simple tradition I maintain with a number of my match day friends is what we call “Tecate Halftime”.  One of those friends started this tradition during the club’s inaugural MLS season in 2009 when a vendor named “Taco Ma’s” sold Tecate.  After that first season they inexplicably replaced the beer with a rotating choice of American beers, yet continued to sell Mexican food.  Out of spite we still call it  “Tecate Halftime”.  With my dad in tow we hiked down the side of the stadium to meet up with my friends, get my father another free beer, and discuss the first half’s action.  First Sounders FC match, and he was immediately introduced to one of our longstanding traditions.

A quick fifteen-minute break for beer and friends saw us return to our seats just after the kickoff of the second half.  The crowd could feel a second goal was inevitable as the Sounders continued to poke and probe their way through the opposition defense.  If Nick Hornby was right in Fever Pitch that one of the best ways to generate a truly memorable soccer experience is to have one’s favorite team win after being behind earlier in the match, then it is doubly true when the winner comes just before the end of the match.  Such a result was in store for us when Eddie Johnson won the game for the Sounders off a header in the 89th minute from an absolutely beautiful Fredy Montero cross.  The stadium erupted, I did a happy dance, and when I spun around my father was on his feet to high five me again.  Looking me in the eye as he nodded, my father’s unspoken words were, “Now that was well deserved!”  His mild enjoyment throughout the match had finally boiled over, with excitement breaking through his normally reserved demeanor.  The Sounders would hold on for the 2-1 win, making my father’s first Sounders FC experience just like mine nearly three years earlier.

The rest of the day was uneventful.  There was the hike back to the ferry, one more beer at the dock for good measure, and an hour-long ferry ride home.  My father stood on the bow of the boat for that entire ride back to Bremerton, looking out over Puget Sound with a sense of contentment on his face.

I spent the rest of the weekend with my parents, with both of them being busy with other things much of Sunday.  After dinner on Sunday night I packed up my car, and got my daughters ready to head back to their mom’s for another week of school while I faced an hour-and-a-half drive back to Seattle.  My dad held me up for a minute and said,

“Hey, Zach, I had fun yesterday.  I could see us doing that again next season.”

He had gently expressed his thanks earlier in the weekend, but that was gratitude for paying for the ticket and beer.  This was more about the experience, and after taking me to so many sporting events earlier in life I felt I had begun to return the favor.

My father has always been supportive of my endeavors, including my more-than-two-year effort to write about this sport I’ve come to love so much.  That Saturday afternoon he was exposed to my writings’ inspirations.  We’ll go to another match again next year and share in the joy that is live soccer.  He will probably insist on paying for his own ticket, but I will continue to insist on picking up the beer.  It’s my way of saying thanks for inspiring a sporting life well lived.

About Zach

Zach Slaton is a freelance soccer writer that focuses on the statistical and analytics side of the game.  He currently writes for Forbes.com. His work has appeared in Howler Magazine, at the Tomkins Times, and he is a regular contributor at the Transfer Price Index.  He’s run his own blog, A Beautiful Numbers Game, for more than two years.  You can follow him on Twitter at @the_number_game.

Tags: Beer, FBM In Action, Major League Soccer

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