Why Meet La Murga?
Any great cathedral – soccer or otherwise – exists to bring the vibes, and music is a huge part of them. The Q2 cathedral is no different, and its gameday soundtrack has become integral to Austin FC’s growing “legend.” La Murga de Austin is 100% responsible for all music you hear/feel on matchday. Their sounds reflect the global traditions of the sport, while keeping it quintessentially Austin.
This soundscape comes from individuals pouring their hearts into the music, and putting their bodies on the line to do it. This recurring series will tell their stories.
Ralph’s Quick hits:
- With La Murga since: 2019
- Originally from: Dallas, TX
- Favorite La Murga Song: “Alright” Because it fills the whole stadium.
- Favorite Austin FC Player: Sebastian Driussi
- Favorite Austin beer: “Whichever one I’m drinking at the time” or Celis White
- Favorite Austin FC match: 10/16/2022 Playoff Match vs RSL
- Favorite Soccer Match He’s attended: Brazil vs. Netherlands in the ‘94 WC
- Alter ego: Carpenter and Artist
The term OG gets tossed around by millennials and Gen-Zers quite frequently when talking about anyone who’s made it in their craft after putting in about 10 years on the grind. Ralph was a hardcore soccer supporter before most OGs were born, or their parents were even eligible to conceive them. He has probably forgotten more about soccer than I will ever remember.
He’s definitely La Murga’s oldest member in terms of age, but he’s also been participating in the group since it was practicing in Mueller park back in 2019.
To give you a sense of what it feels like to sit down at Hopsquad and have a beer with Ralph Fulton, the words that come to mind are “the Willie Nelson-ish OG of American Soccer.”
Ralph is so chill, unassuming and approachable that I was almost tricked into thinking he was just a La Murga member for the fun of it; but once I heard the words, “I tried out and made the practice squad of the Houston Hurricane in 1980, but the NASL folded the next year…” I knew I was dealing with a soccer guy like few others in Austin. For a club as shiny/new as Austin FC, soccer stories like Ralph’s are quite rare, which makes Ralph’s journey a real gem.
So I promise we will get to the Murga-specific stuff in Ralph’s story, but his soccer journey goes back way further, and it’s pretty cool.
How He Fell in Love with the Game
As a kid, Ralph fell in love with the game by playing it on the sand lots around Oak Cliff, but his early fandom took root thanks to a PBS show called Soccer Made in Germany and by going to the Cotton Bowl to watch the Dundee United players that Lamar Hunt hired to form the first ever Dallas Tornado squad. Those Scotsmen couldn’t handle the heat, and went back to the UK after just one season; but Ralph was hooked, and he would try to be in and around the game of soccer – no matter where he’d have to go to find it – for the rest of his life.
His love of the game is so inspirational – infectious even – that it’s been passed down the the next generations of Fultons – even his grandaughter Naia plays college soccer. All four of his kids grew up loving the game. Jamilla and Rosanna are still fans of the game, and the other two are heavily involved.
His son, Julian, still plays for the Austin Thunder Premiere amateur club (which is still in contention to make the next edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup). [Quick aside: not surprisingly, Ralph actually met the Lamar Hunt once.] Angela, his daughter, is so passionate about the sport that it’s her fulltime job. She’s a teacher and a trainer in the Sonny G Academy, which will be traveling to London for a youth tournament versus Manchester City, Leicester City and Leeds United.
One of the biggest challenges of writing up this interview is that Ralph’s soccer journey is too long and too sprawling for most readers’ attention spans, so I’m just going to list out a few of the most fun highlights, and just encourage you to buy Ralph a beer the next time you see him at Circle or Hopsquad before or after a game, and ask him to tell you a story or two.
Here’s some of Ralph’s wildest soccer moments:
- Drinking warm Bohemians in bars along the border in Laredo to watch 1978 World Cup games, since it wasn’t being televised in the U.S.
- Being the only gringo on an all-Iranian amateur squad in Austin before it disbanded when they all went into hiding because of the hostage crisis in 1979.
- Marking 1973 NASL golden boot winner Kyle Rote Jr. (now a hall of famer) while playing on the Houston Hurricane practice squad in 1980.
- Being pitchside for all of the ‘94 World Cup games at the Cotton Bowl (Ralph was guarding Gillette’s advertisement from being defaced, while actually watching the games).
- Specifically, witnessing the Argentine fans weeping and screaming when the news broke minutes before kickoff that Maradona failed a drug test and would not be allowed to play vs. Bulgaria (this wound up being the end of his playing career).
- Running into Pelé in the Cotton Bowl after Brazil eliminated the Netherlands in the ‘94 WC Quarterfinals. He got to introduce his children to Pelé and thank him for inspiring him as a coach and a player. (I think it’s hilarious that this was a late edition – he forgot to mention it when I asked him what was the best match he ever attended).
- Taking his 10 year old son to Estadio Azteca for a WC qualifier vs the USMNT in 1997. In front of 115,000 fans, the Red White & Blue boys got the first result ever in the Azteca – a nil/nil draw that had the home fans booing El Tri. Ralph was advised by security to hide his flag, and the subway ride back from the stadium got so rowdy/scary that they had to quickly get off and find another way home.
- Being in Germany to Witness 9 USMNT players dramatically tie eventual champion Italy in the 2006 World Cup (Italy won every other match in the tournament). This was the first match that came to mind when I asked him about his favorite soccer match. Click here to see why! (Little did Ralph know that sitting on the bench that night was the first coach of his future favorite soccer club).
- Being at the opening match of every soccer-specific stadium in Texas! (this one really blows my mind, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the only human to have done this one).
- Getting to go on to the pitch with Stuver to celebrate Austin FC’s first ever playoff victory! Stuver was the YETI Man-of-the-Match for his performance and the dramatic penalty shootout.
I’ve had some fun soccer experiences over the years, but none of it compares to what Ralph has gotten to witness.
What Ralph thinks about Austin FC
By now you can see why I had to pivot from La Murga related questions to get his considerable perspective about Austin FC. Here’s some excerpts of that Q&A:
AR: You’ve seen the game played all over the place, spent countless hours driving all over Texas to catch games, how surreal is it to see it here?
RF: I love this place over here [motions to Q2 Stadium]. It’s fantastic. It’s one of the coolest stadiums I’ve ever [been to]. Right in my town?! Yeah. Yeah, they did it right! To have this here in my neighborhood, man, it’s just a dream come true, you know?
AR: How do you feel about the fanbase of Austin FC being so young, and sometimes new to the game?
RF: It’s cool to walk into [the stadium] and start hearing conversations…One thing I do… I try to meet someone at the game and find out kind of where they’re coming from, and what their experience is with it and chat it up a little bit. Especially, I want to get to know this guy, this guy and those and those [pointing to the people next to his seat] so we can celebrate, you know, during the game. I’m high fiving and with people I’ve never seen before, you know, and like that’s a lot of fun.
AR: Had you been a part of a supporters group before this team?
RF: Yeah, with Austin Bold. We had a group, and I played some drums with them. It was pretty lame but it was cool, you know? There was about seven or eight of us, and we were able to act like soccer fans… that’s what’s so cool about the game. You can go there and act like an idiot and, [bleep] everybody.
AR: Hey, that’s what I tell my people that come to the game with me: “this is cheaper than therapy!”
RF: That’s a good way to put it.
AR: I don’t think I’d get to scream as much at therapy. …
RF: That’s what’s so great about the game. It’s so emotional!
AR: This year’s results aren’t going so great… but you’ve seen it all in the sport… what would you say to the younger fans?
RF: We’re gonna have our ups and downs with this team, but it doesn’t matter to me if we win or lose right now. We’ll get there. We’ll win our share, we’ll lose our share. But it’s just a kind of a learning experience for these guys to get it together,
[Pauses to reflect]
It takes a long time to build a team … a foundation. And it takes good leadership, and I think we have good leadership… from the owners [down] to everything, the organization, how it’s done.
But I saw a lot of good players leave last year – you know, they were real helpful players off the bench and starters too.
But I think it’ll happen. I think we’ll get there. But, you know, what can we do? All I can do is go there and play trumpet, watch soccer and cheer them on!
Ralph & La Murga de Austin Q&A Excerpts
Honestly, this conversation was kind of all over the place and rambling (my ADHD may have been in overdrive that night too). There was way too much to pack into this one article, but here’s the highlights of what I learned about his experience in La Murga de Austin.
AR: It seems like [based on what he told me off the record] that this is pretty physically difficult for you, how long do you plan on playing with La Murga?
RF: I’m gonna stay as long as Driussi does. Hopefully… that’s my goal to be here till ‘26.
AR: Why is “Alright” your favorite La Murga Song?
RF: Pretty much everybody, I think, participates in that one. You know, not only La Murga, but people around the stadium. I think they really identify with it- it’s simple. I also love it becaue it’s the first we sing each match, AND we sing after we celebrate each goal.
AR: Have you noticed how the number of lights increases around the stadium during “McKalla” when the team’s winning?
RF: I miss a lot of the game because I don’t read music. I’m watching the other trumpeters fingering. I know most of the songs, but a lot of them – I don’t know them all the way through. So I’m watching someone’s fingers and that’s how I play. I wouldn’t trade it. I go home and I’ve got AppleTV, so I can watch when we get home.
AR: So you didn’t know how to play trumpet before joining La Murga? How does it feel to be a part of a band that’s so much younger than you?
RF: I’m still on a team! I’ve always been on teams, and I’m still on a team and these young guys are really, really helpful! They’re good musicians. The brass players especially, MAN they’re incredible… good teachers and professionals.
I’m like this guy … and they must have been where I was at one time, but they weren’t 73 years old?! [LOLing] They were like 10 or 12, you know? But… they’re real helpful and they’re real comfortable to [ask for help].
They go out of their way, and make a video of their hand, and that’s how I learned. They record their fingering…I’d like to learn how to read music, but…
AR: Is that all it took for you to learn the trumpet?
RF: Man, Zol is my maestro! Yeah. Yeah, he zoomed me during COVID every Tuesday, man: “Ok, Ralph. You play this?” And he really got me into it. He showed me a lot. He’s a musician professionally, and he’s just a teacher. He loved me, you know, and his wife too. She’s really nice. She’s a good teacher, a voice teacher. Yeah, he’s a great guy!
This got me thinking about Ralph’s impact on the rest of the group, which I felt might be a weird thing to get his take on, so I reached out to them, and here’s what they had to say about him:
Here’s another quote from one of La Murga members most responsible for turning Ralph into a trumpet player:
Mateo nailed it! That was totally my experience of Ralph. I’ve only had the one conversation with Ralph, but I’m so grateful that Marc Tost put me in contact with him for this article. Spending time picking his brain, talking soccer tactics and creating space to share our favorite soccer memories was so much fun!
It was also inspiring. I don’t think he’d like me making a big deal about it, so I didn’t go into all the details, but Ralph’s played a lot of soccer – and he’s done a lot of carpentry – so being in the supporters section for the full 90 is pretty tough on him. But the way he talks about it so joyfully lets you know that he thinks it’s all worth it to cheer and push the Verde to victory!
I wrote it once at the top, but I’ll say it again since this article is so long: if you come across Ralph at Q2, or one of the breweries he hangs out at before or after the game, don’t be shy! If you love soccer, buy him a beer and make some time to really listen to some of his stories, you won’t regret it!