Commentary

Seattle walkout underscores need for solution to 'Iron Front' dispute

In response to the ejection of an Emerald City Supporters leader during halftime of Sunday's Sounders-Red Bulls match for continuing to display an Iron Front flag in the first half of the match in Seattle, most fans behind the goal at the south end of CenturyLink Field, known as The Brougham End, walked out at the beginning of the second half in a sign of unity.

The protest was the latest incident in MLS this season where fans have challenged the ban on the display of Iron Front flags or banners. It came just four days before MLS officials are slated to meet with the Independent Supporters Council and leaders of club supporters' groups to discuss the controversial ban.

Taylor Graham, the Sounders vice president of business operations and marketing and their point person for the ongoing dialogue with the Emerald City Supporters and other supporters groups, said Thursday's meeting will take place in Las Vegas, where the final of the new Leagues Cup will be played on Wednesday night.

“This is not something that is isolated in Seattle,” said Graham. “As much as we  can have good and productive and honest and direct and sometimes tough conversations with our supporters groups, it’s equally important that the league understands why this is such an important issue and why now of all these times.”

Portland's 107 Independent Supporters Trust have staged several protests, most notably a silent protest for the first 33 minutes of the Timbers' match against their archrival Sounders on Aug. 23. There have also been incidents in Atlanta and Minnesota.

After the Sounders' 4-2 win, head coach Brian Schmetzer, who goes back with the Sounders as a player to 1980 and whose family's soccer shop was critical to the growth of soccer in Seattle, said he understood the conflict and didn't want it to effect the performance of his team. The Sounders recovered from blowing a 2-0 lead to win on two late goals.

"This is an issue that I hope that both sides can find a solution," he said, "because I don’t like to see that end of the stadium empty. I think we have the greatest fans, the best fan support. Maybe not numerically because of Atlanta, but this club is the relationship between the fans and the players. I don’t want that to stop.”



The emblem of the Iron Front, an anti-Nazi paramilitary organization in Germany in the early 1930s, features three arrows pointing downward. Fans consider it an expression of anti-fascism and anti-racism.

MLS's new Fan Code of Conduct bans the display of political flags. The league's position is the Iron Front emblem is political because it has been co-opted by Antifa, the collection of militant protest groups opposed to fascism and other extreme right-wing ideology.

Supporters group want MLS to rescind the ban on flying the Iron Front flags and banners, remove the word “political” from its  Fan Code of Conduct and work with international experts on human rights to craft language in the Fan Code of Conduct that reflects and supports radical inclusion and anti-discrimination.

Graham, who spent six of his nine years as a player with the Sounders in the USL and then MLS, reiterated Schmetzer's desire to find a solution.

“This is a circumstance that is important to solve," he said, "because we want to be able to celebrate our values in a way that is consistent with what this league and what our club and what our fans believe in. But we have to find that solution.”

Photo: Mike Fiechtner / Sounders FC Communications

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14 comments about "Seattle walkout underscores need for solution to 'Iron Front' dispute".
  1. Wallace Wade, September 16, 2019 at 7:45 a.m.

    Keep that end empty until “The League “ aka  Don Garber flinches.

  2. R2 Dad replied, September 16, 2019 at 12:40 p.m.

    Teflon Don will insist this is free advertising, which cannot be free any more than Nike or Bud can fly free logos inside the stadium. He will apply a price to all this, maybe $25,000/game to fly the Iron Thingy logo (and slogans) inside the stadium. These Antifa people are used to steamrolling spineless politicians. DG may not know anything about the game, but he does know how to squeeze blood from a turnip. These Antifa people will have to pay to advertise radical whatnot, if MLS gives an inch at all.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, September 16, 2019 at 8:32 p.m.

    THe problem is that it is political speech. If a place allows any at all, it can't discriminate based on the message.

  4. Wooden Ships, September 16, 2019 at 10:21 a.m.

    Sorry, but these guys have no idea what fascism is. But, continue on wanting to be a part of story and see how you screw up the modern growth of the game here in the States. 

  5. Wallace Wade, September 16, 2019 at 12:44 p.m.

    The fans are screwing up the growth of the game in the US? That’s rich! Maybe you should familiarize yourself with a bit of history of the sport in this Country? You keep up at all with the fractured system currently in place? The Federation aka, MLS, SUM, Gulati, Garber own that story. 

  6. Wooden Ships replied, September 16, 2019 at 1:42 p.m.

    You’re lumping in separate issues Wallace. The history of the game you say. I go back to the 50’s St. Louis soccer, not much RICHER. Before USSF, when we threw together players that had other jobs, before the NASL. Trained and played with many HOFers in this country and others. I know personally of the politicization of the sport in this country. I’m not a rubber stamp at all for how the federation has evolved. However, the growth of the sport has surpassed what most of us believed possible, considering the obstacles put in front of us. Although pro/rel I’m still waiting for. My concern with the modern fan, that knows diddly about most history of any sort, is that bringing the northwest’s view of horrible USA will not accomplish anything other than feeding narcissistic self loathing. Go watch and enjoy the game, don’t become a sideshow during the reason people go to begin with. 

  7. Peter Acel, September 16, 2019 at 1:27 p.m.

    If you are an intelligent football fan, you must be aware that political controversy is detrimental to the growth of the sport in North America. For the sake of the success of the sport, keep ALL politics out of the game!

  8. Eugene Hiigel, September 16, 2019 at 1:56 p.m.

    Are those wanting to allow political messages willing to permit messages that they disagree with?  For some reason (i.e., experience and common sense), I have a feeling that these groups would protest if MLS permitted pro-gun or anti-abortion banners as easy examples.  It is probably another case of advocating freedom for those with "correct" thoughts, not for troglodites with retrograde ideas (not that I include myself in that group).  Hypocrisy and a complete inability to look at the consequences of a policy change seem to be a speciality of these groups.

  9. Peter Acel replied, September 16, 2019 at 2:35 p.m.

    Eugene, I agree with your sentiments.

  10. Eugene Hiigel, September 16, 2019 at 1:56 p.m.

    Are those wanting to allow political messages willing to permit messages that they disagree with?  For some reason (i.e., experience and common sense), I have a feeling that these groups would protest if MLS permitted pro-gun or anti-abortion banners as easy examples.  It is probably another case of advocating freedom for those with "correct" thoughts, not for troglodites with retrograde ideas (not that I include myself in that group).  Hypocrisy and a complete inability to look at the consequences of a policy change seem to be a speciality of these groups.

  11. John Soares, September 16, 2019 at 2:45 p.m.

    To EH's point, if one flag/semble is allowed. Then all must be allowed. Don't even want to think about the  potential chaos that would create.
    Can't  we just enjoy the game and demonstrate after

  12. uffe gustafsson, September 16, 2019 at 5:45 p.m.


    that flag denouncing facists and neo nazist
    and it’s something past and present in soccer.
    remember the English hooligans, they almost destroyed European international soccer.
    english fans was banned from attending games.
    WC in Italy, England played on the island of Sicily so they could stop the fans coming. 
    They even almost sank a ferry going I think holland.
    so I have no issue w those flags.

  13. Orlando Garcia, September 16, 2019 at 9:01 p.m.

    I dislike “hate” in all its ugly forms. Why instead can we not educate and patiently teach? I personally believe that this awesome country has come a long way. I find myself slowly growing into the understanding that our lives, our cultures, our convictions, are all so very different. We are complex people. Let’s learn to respect one another. We may not agree but that doesn’t mean then we must then hate. 

    I love the game of fútbol, or soccer. I love seeing how we have come so far over only a few years. Look at how many means there are to watch, “The Beautiful Game”. 

    I can only hope that as we continue to become more understanding of one another. We don’t short circuit this great stride forward.

    My fear is, the groups who claim to be liberal and speak & bleed “anti-fascism” are reflecting “liberal fascism”. If people are slow to open their understanding they are thrown into being fascist. Those who have been oppressed or discriminated against are now the ones who are becoming the haters. 

  14. Wooden Ships replied, September 16, 2019 at 10:56 p.m.

    Nailed it Orlando. 

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