The national anthem ends, and as everyone else in the stadium sits down to settle into watching a nice game of soccer, raucous fans piled into the Harlem End spring to life, jumping up and down on benches, clapping and singing to the rumbling beat of a bass drum, hoping that with their sheer volume over the next 90+ minutes, they can will goals, and ultimately the W, out of the 11 men on the field clad in red with a single white stripe.
This is the usual scene at Toyota Park from the (in)famous Section 8 Chicago. But not tonight. Picture instead, this scene:
The national anthem ends, and as everyone else in the stadium sits down to settle into watching a nice game of soccer, absolutely no noise emanates from the Harlem End. In complete silence, 4 black banners unfurl across the two sections, one in English, one in Spanish, but both baring the same message: Fire – Stop The Racism. These banners are soon snatched away by Monterrey Security, the very perpetrators that were the spark that ignited the fuse of this protest, who are bombarded by a hail of “Culero!” (roughly translated from Spanish into “Asshole”) finally, but only briefly, breaking the deafening silence that had enveloped the stadium. For the next 25 minutes, nothing happens. Section 8 remains quietly in their seats, clapping now and then for a good play on the field, but regaining composure quickly and staying true to their word. Anxious fans on either side of the stadium try to start their own chants to fill the void left by the lack of vocal support that has been such a mainstay at these games, but, for better or worse, each attempt fails. At about the 26th minute, a group of supporters seated in section 117 finally stands, exploding into frenzied renditions of spanish songs and chants for their beloved Fire. This is Sector Latino, and they let their presence, and ever growing numbers, be heard. They continue to the half, both teams leave the field, and that seems like that. Until, that is, the whistle is blown to start the second half. At this time Section 8 rises to their former glory. They sing at the top of their lungs, the rage pent up inside them finally being released into the cool Chicago air, each word of ¡Vamos la Maquina Roja! dripping with a venom never before heard, and all is right with the world.
Or so it seemed.
I’m not going to give you the entire history that lead up to this act of defiance. I’m not a journalist, and am far from an impartial observer. For that you can visit the links below:
- What Started It All
- Meeting Between Section 8 Chicago and the Chicago Fire Front Office
- Monterrey Isn’t Who They Seem
- The Incident Gets Its First Press
I am able to give a reasonably accurate (though quite literary, for dramatic effect) account of what happened at the Fire v. D.C. match tonight because I was there. I wore a Sector Latino shirt. I sat with the supporters in silence, biting my lip and sitting on my hands every time Jaime Moreno touched the ball for fear I’d betray my brethren out of habit (and blind rage). I screamed my head off in the second half until my voice was gone. I escorted Sector Latino out of the stadium to the parking lot for fear of retribution from “security” (I use the term very, VERY loosely).
The demand on the banner is a simple one. However, the way the Fire Front Office has chosen to deal with it is not. Instead of a civilized respectful meeting, a promise to look into the events that occurred at the Chivas match, and any kind of (let alone official) apology, instead they have treated us (from here on out I will stop referring to Section 8 as such, and will instead use “us” because I am a part of the collective) as a group of petulant (and apparently drunken, if Blanco has anything to say about it) children. They have taken away what few liberties we have fought over the last 10 years (since the inception of the team itself) for. They have tried to stifle our visual expression of love for our team with one hand, while thrusting our visage on tv and in print every chance they get to lure more potential revenue (make no mistake, all fans are to them are walking dollar signs) to games. They have exploited us, taken us for granted, and called our bluff. But they underestimate our resolve, our dedication, our passion, and most of all, our love of the team.
We are not alone. Similar situations have occurred in stadia all over the country, most notably in D.C. (whose supporters were in contact with Section 8 prior to the match, and from what I understand, were in full support of our efforts) and New York, where fervent supporters come face to face with security personnel who don’t understand them (and most often don’t care to) and conflict is inevitable. La Barra Brava has been lucky enough to have their own personal security in their section, separate from the rest of the stadium, comprised of off-duty police officers, which has worked quite well there, and that we were hoping to emulate (unfortunately during the meeting that took place between the front office and S8 board members, the request to contact officials with United to inquire about this very set up was not even denied, it was flat out ignored).
In England, there are supporters living in Manchester who have been lifelong United fans, since well before they became the multi-billion dollar conglomerate they are today. They have gone from singing on the terraces of Old Trafford, to yelling at the tv from the comfort of their armchairs. These are fans who have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into their clubs, only to have them be bought by owners who don’t understand them, and skyrocket the price of tickets until they can no longer afford them. These are supporters who have had their clubs stolen out from under them and given to people with deep pockets who don’t deserve to smell the pitch the team plays on. No, this is not the EPL. No, the Fire isn’t worth a billion dollars. No, we don’t sell out a 76,000 capacity stadium every game. But we have more in common than meets the eye. We too are supporters who have been cheering on the Red when no one knew what the MLS was. We are fans who have pumped every dollar we could spare, and even some we couldn’t (on more than one occasion I have spent money designated for food/rent/gas on a match ticket or away game trip) to keep the team, and in turn the league, afloat. And our club has been sold to a man who, it becomes more and more apparent as time goes on, does not understand us. A man who seems more occupied with selling club seats to rich soccer moms than by showing appreciation to the very people who have kept his new toy around long enough for it to even be able to be considered a money making venture. We may not be Manchester, but make no mistake… our club is being taken from us all the same.
This was the first battle in a war that will, unfortunately, probably last a long long time before any sort of resolution is achieved. I can’t speak for the rest of my compatriots, but I for one am in this for the long haul. Even if it comes to the point of full monetary boycott, and I never step foot in Toyota Park again as a result, then so be it. I’ll spend the money I had previously spent on season tickets on more away games. I’ll watch all the games I can on TV, and the ones I can’t I’ll spend on the edge of my computer chair glued to the agonizingly slow MLS MatchTracker with baited breath.
In this torrent of ambiguity, one thing is for certain: I am Fire ‘Til I Die. And that fact will never change. If they want to take my club, they’re going to have to pry it from my cold dead hands.
Oh, did I happen to mention that the Fire also happened to lose the $10,000 Megabandera we financed ourselves through personal donations and had to send away to Poland to have made especially for us, and which the Fire F.O. uses in just about every piece of advertising they’ve ever made? Oh, I didn’t? Well they did. Fuckers.