Seattle is home to some great names in North American sport: the Mariners, Seahawks, and Sounders. With the soon to be added NHL team, the Seattle Kraken, it is a dream city for sports fans. Fitting in nicely to the scene is a thriving Aston Villa Lions Club, chaired by Chris Fetters and more than ably assisted by Mark Kenny.
To help calculate the distance from Seattle to Birmingham, think in time zones. The last time Villa played the Blues (March 10th, 2019) and fans in the United Kingdom were complaining about getting themselves pumped up for a noon kick-off, Mark spent the night in a hotel in his adopted hometown just so he could roll out of bed to be at the Seattle Villans’ downtown pub for the 4am kick-off.
Apart from being the birthplace of a hockey team named after a mythical sea creature in a nod to Seattle’s connection to the ocean, the city can also claim to be the place where this wonderful website came to life. Founder Kristen Schlewitz is still a proud Seattle Lion and is hoping her seat at the George and Dragon Pub is reserved for her return.
Hopefully, someone will tell her that the Lions have recently moved to their new home at the Chieftain Irish Pub & Restaurant. When it comes to hockey teams and Irish bars, Seattle has a way with names.
Chris and Mark are great contrasting examples of the prototypical Villa fan in North America. Their journey from becoming a fan, building a true love for Villa, and maintaining it start at fairly opposite ends of the spectrum (and at great physical distance), but merge together as part of a vibrant group in Seattle.
How it all began
Chris: A cousin, an Everton fan, moved from Wisconsin to Seattle and asked to go to the pub to watch football with him; enjoyed a return to watching football and grew to like the look and feel of Villa.
Mark: Villa fan from birth, grew up in a Villa family in blue nose territory in Chelmsley Wood (10 miles east of Villa Park); SOTC was happily in his vocabulary from very early on!
How’s it going now?
Chris: “Not only do we host Villa fans when they come to visit on holidays and such, but there’s also a pretty good-sized expat contingent that want to keep supporting the Villa”. And with the numerous meet-ups and Villa friendlies over the years, including Dean Smith and John Terry dropping into the Villans’ host pub in Minneapolis in 2018: “My experience of being a Villa fan in North America has been second to none.”
Mark: “When we won our promotion at Wembley I was unfortunately not there, but being with my fellow Seattle Villans and our own celebrations makes me have no regrets about being at Wembley because after going through relegation and the hard battle to get back to being were we deserve, being with those same people that shared disappointment and anger during early mornings made it just as much a perfect day than being at Wembley in my mind. We have our Seattle Villa family and then there is the wider extended Villa family all around North America.”
It was in 2007 that Chris was watching Everton at the George and Dragon pub. With his interest piqued, he was going to watch matches without his cousin and Villa happened to become a bit of a constant on TV. The signing of Brad Friedel added to the intrigue for this American sports fan and there was an excitement about the team:
“Milner, Petrov, Barry, and Ashley Young in the midfield, with Gabby and big John Carew up front. They were fun to watch.”
But as he deliberated on making his final commitment to a Premier League team, he noticed that Acorns was the shirt sponsor for that season and that association with the charity settled the debate for him:
“Aston Villa were going to be my club. I picked them, but in some strange way I feel like they picked me too. And I’ve never looked back!”
Chris was determined to visit Villa Park before setting up the Seattle Lions club. That opportunity came as part of a family trip won in a silent auction to the Manchester derby in 2013. With that match on a Monday, Chris was free to go to Stoke City versus Aston Villa on the Saturday. That match has been mentioned many times for the incredible Matt Lowton goal, but there was a lot more for the first-timer.
As with many visiting North American Villans, the Kidderminster Lions played a huge part in welcoming Chris and giving him the full away day experience — from meeting on the Wolverhampton train station platform to the obligatory pre-match pub festivities and the police escort to the stadium. He’s been following Villa for many years now, but he proved he could do it on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Stoke:
“For an American sportswriter, that was a trip! The only time police escort anyone to a stadium in the States is when you’re on the bus with the team!”
The following weekend Chris saw his first home Villa match; the excitement of the experience heightened by the opportunity to meet Peter Withe and connect with him over his experiences playing football in Portland.
It was a memorable trip, complete with the experience of getting lost around Snow Hill, unable to locate his city centre hotel after a night of popping into the Witton Arms for the fateful “one drink”. Chris insists it was the fault of “a man from Chesterfield who was hiding from his in-laws for the night”. Despite the clouded memories, the Seattle Lions were officially born and the rest is a wonderful history that Mark Kenny later became a part of.
Mark’s childhood memories of standing on a milk crate in the Holte End were a treasured luxury as finances did not allow for it to happen very often . When he looks back at his adult days in England, the memories are of the drinks in the pub before and after home matches, the magic of an evening at Villa Park, and the electric atmosphere under the lights. He happily and proudly shares his story of rolling down three rows “over people’s heads” in the Holte End after a Juan Pablo Angel screamer in a League Cup match against Chelsea.
So, what exactly happens when he goes back now?
“There is a sense of, wow, I miss this place, but in general the feeling is there is no change; like I was there yesterday. The only additional kick I get out of it now is taking my American wife and stepson and them feeling and hearing that atmosphere and them understanding why I am the way I am about Aston Villa,” said Mark.
As an example of “the way he is about Villa”, Mark is the fan, who while accompanying his wife on a work trip to India, faced the dilemma of how to watch the 2018 Championship final — there was only one solution.
“I had no choice but to act appropriately and book flights from India to Dubai just in time for kick-off,” making the commitment to take it all in with the Dubai Lions.
It is because of those happy days at Villa Park and his unending passion for the club, that he is part of the welcoming committee at the pub, “always armed with a bag of Seattle Supporters Club pins and getting to know everyone.” He also uses his United Kingdom connections to make sure that any Seattle Lions’ visit to Villa Park is memorable, as he “wants everyone’s first time to be as magical as it should be.”
He became a Seattle Lion in 2014, happy to have discovered the group and to know that there were more than just a few Villa fans spread out across North America. Now the greater Villa fans’ network across North America has become a part of his life, joyfully mentioning the many friends from around the United States and Canada and the great fun and times he’s had across many meet-ups.
Mark remembers his early days in Seattle where the fans would keep off social media in order to watch recordings of matches together at a more sane hour without knowing the result. Thankfully, this ended when Mark helped secure Fado Irish Pub as their regular spot. The strength in numbers of the Seattle Lions was evident over the course of the season as they edged the Manchester United fans out of the pub and got a Villa shirt hung in the window.
Unfortunately, Fado Irish Pub fell victim to Covid-19, but the story has a happy epilogue; demonstrating the loyalty of the Villa fans. After a couple of seasons of trying, the Lions finally convinced April, their main server at Fado, that becoming a Villa fan was a pretty good idea. In recognition of her commitment to the Villa group, including the numerous early morning openings, the group have followed April to her new managerial position at the Chieftain.
Chris and Mark have worked tirelessly to build the group, both for the existing members and for any visitors and potential new members. Chris senses that as Villa’s stature in the Premier League increases, “I fully expect we’ll see more Americans become Villa curious, so it’s our job to get them excited about the club.”
Furthermore, in keeping with the great sense of camaraderie at all the Lions clubs across North America highlighted in this series thus far, Chris feels “we have something special with our supporters club”. Mark agrees and as an expat coming into a new city, he may feel a stronger connection.
Helping run the club has become a pleasure and a privilege and helping other fans out, building week-by-week and season-by-season, a sense of community — I do believe in the passion we share and that being an avenue for being there for each other when needed and helping one another in any situation.
Social media has replaced texting members to ask who is going to turn up for matches. Chris runs the Twitter page and Mark gets the message across on Facebook. In addition, they thank Darrell Bulmer, who is regarded as their genius in many areas, for helping with designs, merchandise, and memberships.
There is added value to being a member of such a great community, not just amongst Villa fans as a whole, but within the greater football family. Chris recounts a story of a group of Sheffield Wednesday and United fans in town to watch the Seahawks, dropping into Fado during a Villa game. As they chatted over a few beers, the curiosity went both ways in regards to how do English people become NFL fans and how do Americans become Villa fans. That meeting led them to becoming good friends ever since:
“It’s those kinds of connections that really make it all worthwhile and so much fun.”
Mark thinks back to his early days of worrying about being able to watch Villa or even football in the United States.
[It’s] surprising how many different friends and connections I now have who support different teams; expats and Americans, who at once I wouldn’t have mustered a breath to say hello too. Now, it is exciting and friendly banter, good conversation between all groups. It says something when our Championship promotion had fans from several teams in the pub cheering on the Villa — it’s great to know how much we are given the approved nod from so many different supporters from various teams.
As international travel opens up again, do not miss the opportunity to contact the Seattle Lions if you are in that part of the world. You will definitely feel like you are a part of the family, as Mark always has.
If I was in Birmingham, you bump into Villa fans everyday, but in America it’s a friendship happening. Since living here, I have been privileged to have made so many great friends and I can’t wait for the years to come and the fun to be had. Being an expat so far from home can take its toll sometimes, but being a Villa fan is that one thing I get to keep. It was born with me and no one can ever take that away.
Connect with the Seattle Lions!
- Twitter: @AVSCSeattleLion
- Facebook: Aston Villa Supporter Club, Seattle