Chelsea FC grows fans in Northwest sod

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by Adam Lewis

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on July 19, 2012 at 10:30 AM

The dimly lit Irish pub sits nestled on the northwest corner of First and Union just outside Pioneer Square.  Home base this week for an evolving throng of soccer nuts in the Seattle area, Fado serves as the venue for Chelsea FC fans to root on their favorite Premier League team as they were taking on the Seattle Sounders in an international friendly Wednesday night at CenturyLink Field. There was drinking.  There was dancing.  There was no fighting. This is, after all, spring training for European soccer.

Unlike their cohorts overseas, the Ballard-based Chelsea fan club known as the Seattle Shed Enders join together for nothing more than a good time.  A roughhouse soccer firm in the vein of the movie  "Green Street Hooligans," they are not.

"It's a laugh," Shed Enders co-founder Paul Duncan said when asked why he chooses to devote countless hours of his life to a soccer team thousands of miles away.  “The fun of watching a game to me, and a lot of people, is to have your buddies there.  You have a few drinks.  Yes, the playing is important and of course you want to win stuff but you got to have fun with your buddies.  The more the merrier.”

Supporters clubs for international teams figure to grow with the increasing popularity of the game in the U.S. Founded with Duncan's friend, Jason Smith, in 2009, the year of Chelsea's most recent visit, the Shed Enders have nearly doubled their original 40-member club over the past three years while paying tribute to the darlings of West London.

Those numbers don't include the 60 or so Seattle-area hopefuls still waiting for admittance into any one of the numerous Chelsea fan groups stationed around the world.  On Tuesday, Chelsea granted the Shed Enders exclusive access to players before they took to the stadium's pitch for a light workout.

According to Duncan, the increasing national media coverage (Wednesday night's exhibition was on ESPN2) of a sport slow to gain traction in the U.S. is helping spike interest.  In his view, the talent gap between Chelsea, which was No. 46 on Forbes' most recent list of the world's 50 most valuable sports franchise at $761 million, and the MLS is closing.

“I talk to a lot of people back in England and they’ve heard of the Sounders," he said. "They regularly talk about the Sounders.  They had hardly ever heard of Seattle when I moved here.”

Chelsea's four-match tour of North America also presents a chance for its supporters, young and old, to interact.  There is little doubt a generational gap exists between the seasoned supporters and those who recently latched on to the reigning UEFA Champions League winners, according to Duncan.

“If you go to a local pub in London you’ll meet the hard-core Chelsea boys, sort of the 40, 50, 60, 70-year-olds,” he said.  “If you come in with a camera like a tourist, they are going to tell you to F-off.  There is that fine line because they like money coming in.”

Smith said the international interest creates a unique dynamic most Chelsea supporters have embraced.

"You’ve got one of the oldest fan bases of season-ticket holders who go to games at (the home pitch of) Stamford Bridge," he said. "Globally,they have one of the youngest fan bases.”

One needn't look farther than Fado on a Tuesday afternoon to see what Smith was talking about.  Members of the Northwest chapter of "Chelsea in America" inhabited the back of the bar. Meanwhile, Smith's group, which includes members from across the state, enjoyed their Stella's near the entrance before making the short walk for Chelsea's open practice.

"We're kind of like distant cousins," Smith said.

One controversial subject nearly every Chelsea supporter can agree on is their opinion of captain John Terry, who was not with the team in Seattle.  After a career filled with a series of questionable decisions away from the pitch, Terry's brashness caught up to him in December when the Crown Prosecution Service charged him with directing racist slurs at Anton Ferdinand in a heated Premier League match with the Queens Park Rangers.

Terry was recently cleared of the charges and plans to join his Chelsea club this weekend.

“He’s such a hero to them, they know that sometimes when you’re in that position, some things don’t go right all the time,” Duncan said.  “He’s a bit of a bad boy.  People like a bit of a bad boy.”

Ramona Perry, a True Blue member since the 1970s who now lives on Vancouver Island and came to town specifically for the game, echoed Duncan's opinion.

"I have one Chelsea shirt and my favorite player is John Terry," she said.  "What happened was really a microcosm of what really went wrong with the whole match. To be honest, Rio Ferdinand, who I follow on Twitter, said some equally offensive things about Ashley Cole."

Steve Azar, a middle-aged youth league soccer coach from Sacramento, who belongs to Chelsea in America, seemed to think the whole episode was a product created by England's media circus.

"I think a lot of people notice that the English media is pretty divisive," he said.  "They're different than the American media.  JT's no angel.  I think everyone knows that, but I think he has been treated a little unfairly by the press.  I don't think he was the only player who stepped across the line."

Fan allegiances aside, there is no denying the shifting local sports landscape.

"When I told the hotel front desk in 2009 that I was here to see Chelsea," he said, "they said they didn't know Chelsea Clinton was in town."

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