With 12’s from all corners descending on this tiny isle next month, we will continue to build towards it as we take centre stage for the Seahawks as the defacto-hosts of the team and every single fan who lands in London in October.
As part of that, over the summer one of our long-time members Andy Robinson (1.0) from the North West of England undertook the unenviable task of remembering, collating and writing up the history of this chapter from it’s small-fry beginnings in the early part of this millenia to what next month will host a 600+ strong guestlist for the biggest party the UK Seahawkers has ever thrown.
Andy has allowed us to share this on the site, after it was initially circulated via members email.
So here we are:
The Seattle Seahawks were formed on 4th June 1974 and played their first regular season game on 12th September 1976. It is safe to say that both events failed to make a ripple in the UK where the NFL was still virtually unknown apart from occasional highlights shown on the Saturday sports shows, Grandstand or the World of Sports.
It was not until Channel 4 started showing weekly highlights in 1982 that interest in the NFL went from next to nothing to something of a craze almost overnight.
For those not old enough to recall, Channel 4 was a new channel in 1982 (yes before 1982 the UK only had 3 TV channels!) and it had a brief to show more minority sports and pastimes. Despite having no real roots in the UK, the NFL show, with its snorting, colourful, helmeted figure 4 as a lead in, was a huge success. These days we are used to the immediacy of the action but back then the show was on a Sunday teatime and featured highlights from the previous week. The only live game was the Super Bowl but, such was the popularity of the sport, that by 1986 it reached a peak of 4 million viewers despite the start time of 11.30pm which is actually larger than the present day’s viewing figures.
From these Channel 4 highlights people were selecting teams to support for all sorts of reasons and some of us gravitated towards a team in the Pacific North West. Steve Largent, Jim Zorn, Dave Krieg, Curt Warner, Kenny Easley, the Raiderbusters, all have been cited as reasons for the early fans to start a support of a team nearly 5,000 miles away.
As far as organised support goes the story really begins with Pamela and Mike Sheppard who had developed a love for the game and the team whilst working in Seattle in the early 1980’s. They were actually in attendance at the 1983 season AFC Championship game when the Seahawks lost to the LA Raiders at the Rosebowl. Their presence had attracted the attention of the Seattle press and they were featured in the Tacoma News Tribune and pictured in the crowd waving a Union Jack.
The Sheppard’s also ran the first UK fan club from their home in Cornwall which had about reached a peak of 50 members at that time.
This was taken over in approximately 1989 by Nick Drage who produced a newsletter called Hawkeye on an Atari ST word-processor which he sellotaped to A4 paper and had printed. Nick recalls that he stopped producing it in 1992 and although there was a promise from someone to take it over it never materialised and we entered something of a lull in terms of organisation.
The 1990’s were difficult years to be a Seahawks fan let alone one in the UK. Sky Sports used to broadcast one live game per week, it was a rarity for the Seahawks to be shown and if we were it was often for a defeat. It seems strange now but at that time Sky didn’t even produce score updates from the other games. Every week the first job on a Monday morning was to check the result on Ceefax the TV based information service. The alternative was the US Armed Forces radio service which had live commentary but the medium wave channel was notoriously difficult to get a good reception to.
The start of the present organisation dates to around the time of Matt Hasselbeck and his “we want the ball” and “we’re gonna score” comment at the overtime coin toss in the Seahawks wild card play-off game in Green Bay in the 2003 season. The Seahawks were massive underdogs but it had been a brilliant game which resulted in us forcing overtime. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, Matt ended up throwing an interception returned for a TD and the end of the game.
It has been said by many of us at this time that we really thought we were the only Seahawks fans in the UK but the day after the game I was to find out that this wasn’t true. There was an appeal on the Seahawk Sal message board for UK Seahawks fans to get in touch and the rest, as they say, is history.
Becoming a Chapter
The message had been posted by Matt Cheesman and he was not only a Seahawks fan but was looking to set up a UK Chapter of the Seahawkers booster club. We had to get a certain number of people to agree to be members and pay the subscription before they would consider us as an associate chapter hence the reason for the appeal by Matt. Thankfully we did that with the establishment of a Yahoo mail group which remained active through the off season.
In June 2004 we were granted associate satellite booster club status and the organisation was off and running. Matt Cheesman was the first President, Mark Storr was VP, Andy Robinson was treasurer and Dave Bailey was appointed in charge of membership.
The next 2 seasons proved to be extraordinary as the Seahawks continued to improve as a team and we saw a great community develop mainly online but also with occasional meet ups at member’s houses.
A UK website was launched in August 2004 at http://www.seahawksfans.co.uk and became so popular that we quickly had to upgrade to a larger home at http://www.hawksnest.co.uk. This was in the days before the current saturation coverage and for 3 years we produced our own content with articles, game previews and reports. We also had a message board and chat room which were always very lively during a game where we typically listened into the radio commentary of Steve Raible and Warren Moon though with our upturn in fortunes we were also being shown more regularly live on Sky Sports which was required for the meet ups.
The Original Meet
The first organised meet up of UK members took place on 10th October 2004 at the house of Mark Storr at Pershore in Worcestershire and we think had 5 people in attendance to watch the awful overtime loss to the Rams. The next meeting was on 18th September 2005 at the house of Phil Hansen in Cheshire and an increase in attendance with 7 of us. The game even had a happier ending as we narrowly edged past the Falcons with a nail biting 21-18 win.
Bigger and better things were ahead though as the Seahawks made it to Super Bowl XL and the largest meet to date with an event organised by Andy Steele. Approximately 20 members congregated at The Apple Tree pub at Quorn in Leicestershire to watch the game which was to end in disappointment. Also at this time, Sky Sports used to have a feature called Fanzone where a fan of each team would commentate on the game and you could access this interactively if you wished. Paula A’Bear carried out the duties for us in fine style.
Dean Galione had been a notable UK visitor to Seattle in 2005, attending the Redskins play-off game in Seattle, returning to London then flying back to Seattle for the Panthers Championship game the week after! Not only that but he ended up on the front of the UK NFL magazine First Down with a Union Jack and the headline A Brit of Alright.
2007 saw the first regular season NFL game in the UK as Wembley hosted the Dolphins and the Giants on October 28th and of course the UK Seahawks were there again in force. We also had our first overseas visitor as Heidi Lehnemann Stigsen attended from Denmark and she even met Eli Manning at the airport on the way home.
By this time the website was used primarily to act as a link to the booster club, we no longer produced our own content other than news and updates for members. For this reason, a Facebook group was created in 2007 to provide a further link to website and club.
In 2007 Mark Storr took over from Matt Cheesman as President and in 2008 Chris A’Bear took over from him serving until 2014. Paula and Chris had travelled to Seattle for a game in pre – booster club days and were in attendance at the inaugural game at the new Seahawks Stadium, a loss to the Cardinals on 15th September 2002.
The Seahawks themselves were entering a difficult period yet we remained active with a membership of around 50. We also had different types of events planned, with a barbeque at Watlington Cricket Club in Oxfordshire in 2007 and bowling in Nottingham in 2009. Pub meets were in Tonbridge Wells and it was a steady period, with membership remaining constant for a number of years but that was about to change with a certain Ian Robert Smith.
Ol’ Smudge & Motherland
Ian was a member from the start but hadn’t been strongly involved in the website or the booster club, in fact he originally didn’t want to join the committee at all but he joined me in running the Facebook group which was chugging along. With an infectious enthusiasm for the Seahawks Ian set about recruiting new members with a passionate zeal we had been lacking, and he also began to organise trips to the Emerald City.
For most of us a trip to Seattle to see the Seahawks was nothing more than a pipedream but Ian was instrumental, through the Seahawkblue website, in organising trips for members. It was then known as The Motherland when all exiled fans would choose a particular game in September or October to go to. Ian started going in 2008 with we think 6 others from the UK and by 2015 he was leading trips, organised with his own special brand of military precision, for over 30 UK Seahawkers.
It was a fantastic achievement and so successful that ‘once in a lifetime’ trips were to become annual events for many, so much so that we now have fans at most games at home and on the road.
Ian eventually took over from Chris as President in 2014 and carried on with his relentless recruitment drive. He did immeasurable good for the NFL and Seahawks fans in the UK. Tragically Ian died suddenly in January 2016 but he will always be remembered as a friend to all and a driving force of UK Seahawks fans.
Back pedalling slightly, it came to pass that on 2nd February 2014 the Seahawks won Super Bowl XXXLVIII at MetLife Stadium East Rutherford, New Jersey to much late night rejoicing on this side of the Atlantic but you guessed it, we had UK fans there as Dean Galione, Scott Whitelaw and likely others that at this time remain un – named but loud and proud.
Present Day Evolution
Building on the legacy of Ian, Sean Wilson took over the role of President and the group has gone from strength to strength with over 350 signed up members of the booster club and over 2,200 members of the Facebook group which has become the major means of communication. Not only that but we also have a highly regarded podcast (The Pedestrian Podcast) hosted by Stuart Court and Adam Nathan with regular guests from all corners. It is always intelligent, insightful, entertaining and a credit to the guys that produce it. Stuart also runs our twitter account over @SeahawkersUK
Other members began to contribute their own free time, none perhaps moreso than Gordon Currie. We are lucky to call on a graphic designer of a rare talent who won a competition to design the new banner for the whole of the Seahawkers booster organisation a couple of years ago.
On the very day that I write this, the history of the UK Seattle Seahawks fans has achieved an almost perfect pinnacle with the announcement that on October 14th 2018 the Seahawks will play a regular season game in London for the first time ever.
So UK 12’s there we have it. From an Atari word processor to websites, meet ups, invasions of Seattle, podcasts, designing the banner and now the Seahawks are coming to us. I think everyone who has been involved, in even the smallest way, over the years can be very proud of the progression of the UK Seattle Seahawks fans and the respected booster club that we have become.
A HUGE thanks to Andy who sourced all this off of his own back and did a brilliant job with that.
If you want to read Andy’s original work then you can on the link here– it includes some BELTING pictures too.
Follow this site, the Facebook page and Twitter account for all the London-related information as it is announced. It’s going to be quite a weekend.