In just a few short minutes on an afternoon in 2007, a Real Salt Lake game completely changed the course of Branden Steineckert’s life. High in the stands at Rice-Eccles Stadium -- the team’s venue before Rio Tinto – Steineckert watched as just seconds into the game, someone managed a close shot on goal. His pulse quickened; adrenaline coursed through him.
Just weeks before, the Salt Lake City native hadn’t even known Real Salt Lake existed, nor had he ever attended an MLS game. Yet as Lars Frederiksen – his famously mohawked, metal-stud-bedecked colleague in the punk band Rancid – narrated Kyle Beckerman’s on-field moves to him, a switch flipped.
“You would think it was a cup game because of how we got into it, but it was just a regular game, and I was hooked,” he said. “I’ve been to pretty much every single possible Real Salt Lake game since that point.” Never mind the fact that, up to that day, he hadn’t so much as kicked a recreational soccer ball.
Thus began a love affair with MLS and Real Salt Lake, specifically, resulting in a 180 for Steineckert. He would eventually go on to pen “Believe,” at first an unofficial, punk-influenced, chanted anthem for the team. It proved so popular with fans it now appears on the RSL site as the team’s official anthem.
Finally, last year, “Believe” inspired a Steineckert-designed capsule collection of official merchandise for the team, too, with an aesthetic that’s equally grassroots, a little rough and ready.
But none of this might have happened, Steineckert admits, if he didn’t join Rancid as drummer in 2006. “I started skateboarding at age 11, and sports were just completely absent from my life,” he says. “When I was growing up, the ‘jocks’ and rich kids wanted to beat up me and my friends because we were the poor skaters and punks. So you can grow up with this bad taste in your mouth, and associate that with all sports.”
But Rancid – and Fredericksen in particular – quickly turned that around, particularly on a 2006 tour through England. There, Steineckert soon noticed a heavy contingent of soccer fans – and particularly of the London-based League One team Millwall FC – among the band’s audiences.
Bandmate Frederiksen, too, was a Millwall fan – and a soccer fanatic who, in MLS, supports the San Jose Earthquakes. And when they returned to the states, he suggested that he and Steineckert go to a RSL game in Steineckert’s hometown.
“As bad as it sounds, I didn’t know what he was talking about,” he says now, laughing. “So I bought us all tickets and looked into it all.” Then came that fateful game – and the birth of one of Real Salt Lake’s most visible fans.
Almost instantly, Steineckert says he cast aside his previous notions about sports, recognizing that the spirit of MLS, and Real Salt Lake in particular, shared more in common with his punk rock roots than he first thought.
“Unfortunately I was being the judgmental kid, like the inverse of what happened to me when I was growing up,” he says. “So for me it was like, wait a minute—first of all, soccer is the punk rock sport, especially here in the US. It’s the underdog sport.”
Steineckert also says he found the stripped-down purity of the sport similar to punk rock’s chord simplicity. “The game that day just had this kind of roots, simple feel. It’s just the ball, some shin guards, and some cleats. I loved it,” he recalls. “It was just instantly something I found appealing, and I loved the battle of it all, you know, and how much intensity the guys would have.”
His fandom newly minted, it makes sense, of course, that a musician would quickly notice a major thing missing for the team – a real anthem. “I’ve been to all these games around the world, and these clubs always have anthems. You just get goosebumps – the sense of camaraderie and unity, like you’re all going to battle together,” he says. “We start with the games with the national anthem, so why wouldn’t we have a team anthem as well?”
Voila, “Believe,” and its accompanying, grassroots-produced music video. “I just wrote what I felt it needed to be. It needed to be something that you could picture guys holding a stein of beer, singing it in a pub,” says Steineckert. “It needed that feel – but also it had to be something you could also see little kids singing while growing up, and still be singing it when they’re in their 30s and 40s.”
The song’s inclusive feel sparked a flame among Real Salt Lake’s diverse cast of fans, Steineckert says.
“Utah gets so stereotyped; it’s a really diverse place but people really don’t know that,” he says. “So when you get this subculture of people from that diverse of a place, and you get them all together to support this subculture sport, the passion and diversity you get is amazing. You’ve got everything from the cliché soccer mom to the gutter punks, and everything else in between.”
Based on the popularity of “Believe” – and the inclusive, welcoming feel Steineckert’s worked to create among the RSL fan community – last year he even designed a range of official pieces of “Believe”-themed merchandise.
“I think some of the fan-made merchandise ends up being some of the coolest stuff, because it reflects where we’re coming from. So I thought it needed to capture that vibe and be more fan-friendly,” he says. “It’s something that’s specific to us and where we’re all from.”
Meanwhile, if you make it out to the RioT -- unless Rancid is on tour -- you can Steineckert in his section in the stands, where all are most certainly welcome to hang out.
“If it’s your first name, you have every right to be there just as much as the people who have been there every game of this entire team’s existence. We’re all there for the same reason so we all belong there just as much,” he says. “I want everyone to feel welcome and a part of that.”