By Antonio Unpingco, photo courtesy of David Willoughby
Soccer culture in the Pacific Northwest is growing with professional teams like the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, and Vancouver Whitecaps. In 2012 Bellingham got its own team to root for, the Bellingham United Football Club, known by their fans as the Hammers.
Bellingham United FC kicked off their Evergreen Premier League (EPLWA) season with a 4-2 home win against Wenatchee FC at Civic Stadium on May 1. After a last place 2015 EPLWA outdoor season, the Hammers ended their 2015 indoor season 11-1 with an undefeated home record and a Western Indoor Soccer League (WISL) championship, finishing first in the WISL regular season. In May through July, the Hammers play in the EPLWA outdoor league and in November through February, they play in the Western Indoor Soccer League.
“[Last season] creates an added hunger for the team going into this year” said Calloway. “We had anywhere from seven to nine key players injured with a variety of injuries from ankle issues to one player struggling with a sports hernia particularly in the early season.”
Bellingham United found success in the last month of the 2015 season where they tied the second place South Sound FC 2-2 and won the last two games of the season in a 6-2 contest with Wenatchee FC and a 5-2 victory over the Seattle Stars.
“A consistent lineup was a major issue last season.” Calloway said. “Many of the injuries were of key players such as Nick Cashmere, Tyler Bjork, and Chris Jepsen.”
Cashmere scored twice with one assist in the 2016 home opener for the Hammers and Bjork, who is now playing for the Seattle Stars, scored the only goal for his new team in a 2016 season opening home loss to the Olympic Force.
Calloway hopes to improve the team’s overall record this season not only for the club, but for the fans of Bellingham United FC. The Hammers averaged the most fan attendance in the EPLWA in 2015 with 394, while the entire league averaged 237 fans.
“We have the best fans in the league. They come with passion, come with drums, and come with energy.” said Calloway.
When Calloway says drums, he is referring to the Black and White Army, one of two support groups for the Hammers, who chant and drum as loud as they can all game long.
The Black and White Army was started in 2014 by Hammers fan Alexander Staples when he came to Bellingham from Grimsby, England where he grew up. Grimsby’s local soccer team, Grimsby Town FC, wears black and white vertical stripes just like the Hammers, and supporters of Grimsby Town FC refer to themselves as the Black and White Army. Most of the chants are carried over from Grimsby to Bellingham as well as songs from Premiere League clubs like Crystal Palace and Manchester United.
“I drunkenly taught a few close friends some Grimsby Town FC songs and luckily people joined in when we sang them at the game. We’ve been growing ever since.” said Staples.
The Black and White Army now has anywhere from 15 to 40 people per game singing, drinking, and cheering the Hammers on.
“The people within the Black and White Army family are average folks that go through the daily grind, game day is our way to let go and have a laugh with our friends and foes.” said Daniel Klotzer, Black and White Army affiliate. “We’re trying to spark the soccer movement in Bellingham by our love for the sport, our loyalty towards our community and team, and hopefully create an atmosphere that others will want to be a part of on game day.” said Klotzer.
The Black and White Army attend every Bellingham United FC home game and do what they can to travel with the team as well. They group up behind the goal net in front of the Copper Hog beer garden.
This year’s team is filled with players from Whatcom and Skagit county, Western Washington University, and Whatcom Community College. Returning core players Keith Ferris, Brendan Quilici, Uche Ugwoaba, Mo Marenah, Kurtis Pederson, Leonard Kusina, Mark Pollack, and Riley Liddle hope to improve as they spend their fifth year with the Hammers. Whatcom Community College’s own Jesse Haggen, Hector Gutierrez, Noe Betancourt Cruz, Carlos Tovar, and Kevin Miranda are also on this year’s squad.
Gutierrez wears number 0 as the second team goalkeeper, he started playing for Bellingham United halfway through the 2015 EPLWA season in June.
“I had my Lynden coach ask Lance if I could come workout with them, after a couple weeks Lance asked if I wanted to play for the reserve team.” said Gutierrez. “It’s fun playing good quality football with people that have more experience, Lance is a great coach and everyone keeps each other in check, they will call you out if you mess up, but help you out at the same time.”
The Hammers play their home games at Civic Stadium in Bellingham on Sunday afternoons.
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