Photo courtesy Heather Stewart
The connection between Seattle Sounders FC and its supporters has been a hallmark of the club’s long history. For Seattle teacher Heather Stewart, that connection has taken on a personalized touch for the players of Seattle Sounders FC 2.
While large supporter club tifos are the main attraction for the cameras prior to games, the two-pole standards produced by individual fans was what caught Stewart’s eye when attending the club’s MLS games. With a nod to her artistic side away from the classroom, and the advent of S2 in 2014, an idea was hatched.
“It happened to be an interview that one of the S2 players did with a local group called SonarFeed,” Stewart said recently. “Duncan McCormick mentioned that his nickname was Captain Crunch, and I thought, ‘wow, that would be a really good first pupil for me.’”
The two-pole was a hit with the young S2 player, and his family – McCormick’s requested a photo of the banner with the midfielder and Stewart after the game. Ever since, Stewart has regularly arrived at her family’s seats at Starfire Stadium with new designs, which might be as anticipated by the players as the fellow supporters at the old stadium.
“I know that they start to look up to my seat to see who I’ve made them for, and we just laugh, because sometimes they’ll look, and sometimes they’ll look and wave,” said Stewart. “Some of them get super-excited about it, so that’s the fun thing just for the family, just to see what they’re going to do.”
With the majority of S2’s squad made up of players who are entering the professional ranks for the first time, and the intimate setting that Starfire provides games on the outskirts of the city, the opportunity for fan interaction is far greater than those at CenturyLink Field. Based on the appreciation players have shown, Stewart has also started making banners for the Sounders’ MLS squad since the start of last season.
Still, there’s nothing quite like the reaction of meeting up with a player after a hard-fought game to exchange pleasantries.
Photo courtesy Heather Stewart
“That’s probably my favorite part, and that’s what really spurs me to keep going,” said Stewart. “At the end of the match, with Starfire they have to walk up and out, so we’ll go and wait for them up against the fence line, and that’s kind of the one thing I like to do at the end is talk to them. They sign their two-pole and then I do a photo. It’s truly is their appreciation, their excitement. That’s what drives me because I know it means something to them.”
The inspiration for the designs can come from a variety of places. With McCormick it was his podcast interview, but for others it can come from an idea seen on social media, or even suggested by a player themselves. Depending on the complexity of the design – some will be simple single-panel pieces, others have more of a collage effect – the process of building the two-stick banner can take anywhere from three hours, to three or four evenings of work.
“This season I’ve actually just started asking players. They know me at this point, and they’re more than happy to give me ideas,” said Stewart. “This season, I haven’t debuted a lot of them yet, but I feel like it’s going to be that much more meaningful for them because the ideas are coming straight from them, and they’re ideas I would never have gotten otherwise.”
Given the appreciation shown for her designs by the players they honor, there certainly appears little chance of Stewart’s project slowing down anytime soon.
“Charlie Lyon, the first one I made for him, he hung it in his apartment, and I guess there are others that do that,” said Stewart. “I think that’s neat. That tells me what I’m doing matters. There are so many fans with the Sounders that do so much for the organization and for the team, and this is the one thing I can do to show them how much it means to me.”