Capo Corner: Meet Imani Williams

Why Capo Corner?

There are 14 matches played each week.  All of them have 22 men battling on the pitch for the W.  But when that battle takes place in the soccer cathedral that is Q2 Stadium, something special happens. 

This is created by individuals doing their part to encourage Verde boys. The purpose of this recurring series is to tell the stories of the people who create these vibes so that the supporter culture of Austin FC continues to grow deep and wide.

Imani Williams Fast Facts:

  • Capo since: 2013 with the American Outlaws
  • Originally from: Branford, CT
  • Favorite Austin FC Player: Diego & Stuver
  • Favorite USWNT Player: Crystal Dunn
  • Favorite Austin beer: Hopsquad Professor Pleasant
  • Favorite Austin FC match: 6/19/2021 vs SJ Quakes
  • Alter ego: Healthcare Worker

How Imani Became a Capo

Imani and I enjoyed a happy hour around the corner from Q2 at Fairweather Cider, and she told me about her long and winding journey to capoing for U.S. Soccer in the American Outlaws (AO) supporters group initially, and eventually for the Verde and Black. 

(And in case you’re wondering… no, the timing of this article is not a coincidence as the USWNT are honoring Austin this Saturday in a World Cup tune up versus Ireland (Get Tickets Here).  And as usual, Imani will be in the capo stand getting the AO fired up to cheer on the US women).

Imani’s story technically starts with a USMNT friendly versus Greece in the run up to the 1994 world cup, and one of the FIFA Women’s World Cup matches in 1999.  But she doesn’t really count those as the beginning, since she was just along for the ride (someone else bought the tickets and she just piled into the car). 

Imani thinks her capo origin story really started on May 25, 2010 at USMNT friendly in Hartford, CT.  On that day, her tickets were on the wrong side of the stadium.  They were on the side where consumeristic fans shush you and tell you to sit down.  

To make matters worse, across the field she was taking in her first glimpse of the pioneers of American Outlaws. These were the rowdy guys and gals determined to give our country the same kind of soccer culture that other nations have enjoyed for decades.  They were loud and proud and partying throughout the game… that looked like the place where Imani would belong!

The reason she was even at that friendly is a deeper, more beautiful journey. Growing up in Connecticut, she got to enjoy the glory years of UCONN basketball (especially the women’s teams), and take her pick of the nearby pro sports teams, like the Patriots and the Yankees; so she was always surrounded by passionate fandom. 

But as those sports became super expensive and inaccessible, so she started looking for a sports community that felt more like family… one where she could actually participate.

She found that in an Irish pub full of Liverpool supporters.

So on Saturday mornings, her mom would drop her off at the pub to watch games and sing songs with all the other Scousers, years before she was legally able to drink.  Week after week she kept coming back to cheer on the Reds, singing and chanting with her friends. Eventually they felt so much like family that they were the first people she chose to come out to – before she told her parents.  

So when U.S. Soccer games came to Connecticut, it was the inevitable next step that she would be drawn to the rowdiest section of the stadium.

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Q & A Excerpts

Part 1: U.S. Soccer Culture

AR: What did you find in the U.S. Soccer community that you liked, that made you want to get involved to the point of capoing?

IW: I kind of liked that soccer wasn’t commercialized. Players at that point weren’t making gargantuan amounts of money like they are now.

It was more passionate, for better or for worse.

I just wanted a sporting culture that was more personal, and people could feel connected and community based.

So, that’s what really drew me to soccer and with American outlaws, it’s a bunch of like-minded people. We all wanted to bring a proper soccer culture to the United States because… here’s the other big thing…the end goal was to win a World Cup!

I’m not going to score the goal in a World Cup final. You know what I mean? I’m not gonna coach a kid who’s going to play in the national team, you know what I mean? But I can contribute to that by growing the support, growing the atmosphere that kids will go to, and aspire to play in. And that [will give] them that lift and that motivation.

So it sounds really cheesy. But I like that because in life, we need to make room for cheesy. There’s too much chaos in the world. You’ve got to make room for the silly stuff.

AR: You said that the first Austin FC home game versus San Jose in June of 2021 was your favorite game, why?

IW: [It was] our first ever home game, I knew it was the start of something that would change so many people’s lives forever. It was a culmination of a huge amount of growth across the U.S. Soccer landscape.

Part 2: Potentially Awkward Questions

AR: In the early days of American soccer culture, I imagine some people who look like me might have been a bit surprised to meet you…

IW: So in the early days of American soccer culture, we were just so happy to meet other people that cared. It didn’t matter who you were or what you looked like.

I think that was one of the cool things I really liked about the old U.S. Soccer vibe. It was very nerdy/academic. We were minorities.

A lot of people whose families were from other countries… 1st or 2nd generation Americans. Or they had grown up abroad and they were diplomats’ kids or something. Or they studied abroad or they played soccer in college or something or like that, you know.

I think I forgot halfway through the question what I was saying and I wanna make sure I answer it… what was the question again? [LOLing]

AR: [LOLing] I was trying to find out if you experienced any racism (overt or lowkey), like any white clunkiness?

IW: I grew up in a very interesting environment. My parents are divorced and my dad lived in Queens in one of the worst ghettos in America. And then my mom and I lived in one of the whitest Connecticut suburbs in the United States. And so I got used to clunky white people’s comments. So I just try not to let it bother me.

For me it’s about intention.

I think intention is more important than anything else. Not everybody is going to have the right vocabulary. And so I try not to get stuck on semantics. But I think that people trying is the start. I like that.

So I never felt unsafe. I always felt really welcome with American Outlaws. There’s so many chapters of AO… I don’t know what it’s like everywhere but I know that — especially going to games and being part of a community — people were always welcoming to me, and I’m really grateful to my AO family.

There’s some articles about how weirdly sexist AO is, but they were doing things like having women in leadership before it was cool. So their ripple effect of women in sports has trickled all over the soccer sphere in the United States. The whole sphere everywhere from media, front offices, fan culture … That’s something I’m really proud of as well; being part of that movement.

Because the women’s teams are so good, I think it gave us kind of a claim for women to assert themselves in the fan culture in the US, more than in a lot of other countries.

The USWNT being so dominant at a time where the men weren’t even relevant. People could tell you who Mia Hamm was, but they couldn’t tell you who Landon Donovan was.

We had a lot of male advocates. I think that was one of the most special things about American Outlaws was the guys [were] advocating and backing up the women because you’re always going to face someone who says you don’t belong here and you shouldn’t be here. But seeing so many guys kind of embrace the women’s right to soccer culture was huge too. So I’m definitely grateful for that.

AR: Let me just ask before we move off the topic of racism or sexism. Are there any issues that you still face, or areas where you feel like supporters’ culture needs to grow and mature?

IW: Yeah, I still face a lot of issues with racism and sexism and homophobia. In varying degrees. There’s different kinds of racism, but if you’re talking about anti-black racism specifically, I think a lot of people know how to identify the ‘N word’ as wrong; but they don’t know how to deal with racism when it comes to white collar racism, policy issues… the things that are unsaid.  You know, reading between the lines and just a kind of strangeness. Like strange fruit.

So unfortunately, I’ve had some negative experiences, and we’re starting a black soccer supporters group. I think it will be the seventh black soccer supporters group in the United States. We’re going to be partnering with all the other black SGs from around the country.

AR: What’s the name?

IW: So yeah, we’re starting the Heir Jordans, which is gonna be our black supporters group. 

AR: Air Jordans?!

IW: Heir Jordan with an ‘H’ and like Barbara Jordan. So we’re gonna be like Footie Mob! I’m really close to Grego out in Atlanta for Footie Mob. We’re basically kind of modeling what we wanted after that. I think it’s gonna be really cool.

It’s going to be black-centered. So it’s unapologetic about black culture, but everybody’s allowed to come in… we’re not saying people aren’t allowed to join us.

Part 3: The Joy of Capoing

AR: So how did capoing start for you?  Was there a sign up sheet?  Sorry, I’m kind of a newbie about all this.

IW: 2010 I joined American Outlaws.  I was always starting chants in the bar in Harford.  Then we started the AO chapter in New Haven, Connecticut.  We didn’t want to drink and drive from Hartford because it was a very expensive cab [ride] back.

At that point you just had to stand up and do it. There were games and you could just stand up and do it. There really wasn’t a protocol.

USA vs Mexico in 2013 was the very first big game that I capoed (it was the FIFA World Cup Qualifier in Columbus)… Dos a cero!  We broke the bleachers!  That was another bleacher breaker.  We were just bouncing.  We just smashed those things. It was pretty unbelievable!

Capoing and singing in pubs goes intrinsically together, and there’s no separating it for me. I was singing in pubs really early on, and so it was just a natural progression from singing the songs in the pub for Liverpool and the US games to just being in the stadium and doing it. It wasn’t like someone was like, ‘here take a megaphone and go talk to 20,000 people.’

AR: Do you have a favorite memory as a capo?

IW: The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final.  The ‘equal pay’ chant rings out. That was one of my best memories as a capo, to help get that going in the stands, especially at that time before [Equal Pay] happened.  It was great to support the players.

Being part of that whole movement of taking 5000 people to France, to support the women’s team, something that had been kind of unheard of… like people crossing the ocean, in [those] kind of numbers for women’s soccer?! Yeah, it was just incredible fun.

The best game I’ve ever capoed like in terms of electricity, just pure energy, was 2016 Copa America in Philly. That was a must win game for the US team.

One of the best memories I had in that whole game was, at one point this dad who had his daughter (who couldn’t have been more than three or four years old) on his shoulders the whole game comes down.

He’s like, ‘my daughter wants to start a chant.’ I was like, ‘OK!’

I’m a big fan of kids starting chants. If you see me on the capo stand, and your kid wants to start a chant, I will 100% let your kids start a chant.

So I’m like, ‘OK,’ so we kinda boosted her up a little bit.

She’s on his shoulders and I’m like, ‘OK do you know, ‘I Believe?’ And she says, ‘Yeah!, I can do ‘I Believe!’ And this was the Eagles Stadium, right? So we quiet down… She goes through the whole thing, and everyone joins in the whole chant and it’s epic!

AR: Why don’t you just use your ticket, that you paid for, to enjoy the match? Like the rest of us, to just be entertained. That’s the most mystifying thing to me. I watch you guys do your thing, and I’m just too selfish to do that.

IW: I think in Austin FC’s Stadium, it’s great because you’re actually facing the Jumbotron. I’ve capoed in a lot of stadiums where you’re not.

One of the skills I developed was being able to read what’s happening on the pitch and the reactions of the crowd… like when I should turn around. For a few years, I didn’t turn around for goals. Maybe I’d catch them on replay, maybe I wouldn’t see it until I got home that night. And then I finally said, ‘I want to see the goals.’ I’m paying like everybody else. I wanna make sure I turn around and see the goals.

AR: When everything goes well… what does a successful night of capoing look like for you?

IW: A successful night of being a capo is when people leave the stadium and they have a smile on their faces even if we lost.

So if we lost and they’re leaving a stadium, with a nice little glisten sweat, and they got this nice little smile, you know that like a nice glow even after we lose. I know I did my job right. You gotta keep the vibes high.

AR: What does being a good Capo mean to you?

IW: It means creating atmosphere! Yeah, a better atmosphere for players, but also looking out for your fellow supporters. I want to make sure people are safe in my section. Yeah, providing memories, making sure people have a good time. But I want people to have a safe, fun experience. You have one of the best fun experiences that you’ve ever had in your entire life, hands down.

And just getting more people involved, as many people involved as you can, I just want it to be an overall positive experience. For me, soccer is all about joy and experiencing joy. Being a capo helps me channel that.

In Conclusion

Imani’s enthusiasm for the capo lifestyle is infectious! You see her face light up as she describes it, and she makes you want to try and start up a chant!

It was so refreshing to reminisce with Imani, someone who’s been in and around American soccer culture for about as long as I have.  Remembering how this all started, and what it’s become was a real trip (I know it really started before either of us were really aware of it).

It’s been an unbelievable journey, for her even more than for me. And it’s not always for the best: we’re both in agreement that we’re terrified to see how bad the ticket prices will be for the 2026 World Cup. 

Over and over, I kept getting the vibe from Imani that her experience has been like that of a groupie for an indie grunge band that used to play in back-alley dive bars, but then had a Top 40 hit and went mainstream.  And now she has to balance that nostalgia for what it was, with what it’s like now that U.S. Soccer has become cool.  

Even so, we’re both really proud to see how this country, that once had virtually no soccer culture, is now almost all grown up.

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