Flags of Our Bothers

Jonathan Daniel

Last Saturday against Portland, the Timbers had a significant contingent of followers that traveled to the east side corner and the Harlem End was motivated to out cheer the opposition. An impressive display of banners, cheering and waving flags opened the match in Section 8 to counter the road team’s best efforts

As kickoff began there was a moment of tension between a group of fans in the higher rows of Section 8 and the flag wavers who continued to wave a giant Section 8 flag. The giant flag was positioned in the middle of the section and it proudly waved back and forth while obstructing the view of a significant portion of the field for many in the section. Unable to see any of the early Timbers attacks on goal several fans began to yell for the flag to be put down. For a short period of time a counter cheer to the one the capo was leading rang through the section of "Put-the-flag-down".

The debate about when and how supporter's flags should be waved and used is not a new topic of debate and is one that has been argued by fans sitting in the section for some time. The topic is one that brings with it a lot of passion and differences of opinions among good and committed fans of the Fire on both sides of the issue. Some fans in Section 8 come down on the side that the reason for watching a match from the Harlem End is to experience and to be part of the crowd and to help use the crowd’s energy to give home field advantage to the Fire. If someone wants to just watch the match they can sit in any other section, some would argue. Others agree that the goal should be to create home field advantage by singing and cheering but they argue that it is difficult to enjoy a match and be a passionate member of the crowd if you can not see the results on the field because of an obstructed view.

It should be noted that Section 8 clearly posts outside the Harlem End that a fan’s view might be obstructed when sitting in the section. People are aware coming into the section that there will be flags and banners all around them. Claiming otherwise is simply not true. But does that notification excuse a flag so large that it doesn't just obstruct the view a little; it obliterates the view of 30 to 40 fans behind it? The flag that led to the counter cheer in Section 8 on Saturday was close to the middle of the section about 12 rows up from the bottom and created a significant blind spot. Should that many fans be asked to move, leave the section or just bear watching the match without being able to see any of the action?

As a passionate and relatively new fan of the Fire myself, I believe in bringing as many new participants into the Chicago Fire community as possible. The flags and singing is what attracted me to Section 8 to begin with. It is my opinion that filling up the Harlem End with fans singing and cheering in support of the club they love should always be the goal. I would hate to see fans turned away from8 because they simply want a better view.

Chicago is fortunate to have such an active supporters section. As fans who truly want to impact results we can not afford to send people packing. I believe there is room for both types of fans in the section but it is important for the most passionate of us to remember, Section 8 does not end after the first 12 rows. I realize this point of view is likely to not be a popular one but I think a difference of opinion in this area does not make someone a worse supporter.

To be completely fair to both sides, the giant flags are not waved throughout the match and usually get put down after the first 5 to 10 minutes of a half so the obstructed view is not permanent. A counter cheer and yelling at the flag bearer is an overreaction. Ten minutes of blocked vision is not missing the whole match and should not be treated as such. During the match my view was significantly obstructed by the same flag as well so I moved to a different area of Section 8 where I could see most of the field while I continued to sing and cheer. I understand the desire to question the integrity of those complaining because they seem less committed or a Johnny-come-lately. I think there needs to be sensitivity to both opinions and a respectful dialogue if each side wants to focus on what is most important which is cheering on the Fire.

I e-mailed Joel Biden, Chairperson of Section 8 Chicago, and asked him if he would like to make a statement on Section 8’s official stance on flags. Joel declined to answer before the article was complete but Section 8 Chicago has recently tackled this issue. On May 1st, after a Section 8 meeting, s8c tweeted " #S8C big flags WILL continue to be waved in the section. #feartheflag #cf97". This tweet makes the s8c official stance known, although I am positive there are differences of opinions in the section. Clearly the s8c tweet represents the more popular sentiment by fans in the section, as can be seen in a couple of section 8 forums that have popped up in recent years on the Section 8 website. A couple of posts can be checked out here and here.

Perhaps the Harlem End can come together for an equitable compromise. After all, both sides agree that what we really want is an active and passionate supporters section at Toyota Park. I realize that this is an issue that brings out a lot of strong feelings but there might be a few options worth trying, many of which have probably been discussed before.

Perhaps the giant flags could be moved backwards an additional 10 rows after kickoff begins so that they can still wave while impacting less views. Perhaps flag bearers could switch to a more modest sized flag after kickoff in order to be less intrusive to the fans behind them in the section. The flags could be moved to the edges of Section 8 to be less obstructive to fans sitting in the section, although that might impact neighboring fans more. There are many options worth considering and I do not think anyone wants to see flags go away entirely.

Opponents of the giant flags can make concessions as well. Instead of yelling out complaints at the flag bearers, first try to shift seating to find a location not as obstructed. Counter cheering is not productive and doesn't do anything to support the Fire. Let’s cut that out. Why not go to a meeting to argue your point-of-view instead?

I am proud that I support a club that even allows flags this size, making this debate even possible. Many MLS clubs have rules about flags on poles, rules on size of poles and rules on obstructing the view of other fans. FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids have rules in place just to name a couple. Sporting KC had a pretty publicized flag debate recently too. Even FC Barcelona has rules in place about flag pole size though these rules seem to be most aggressively directed to the opposing club’s supporters. Toyota Park is pretty permissive in what is allowed in comparison.

I could not imagine a match without flags waving at all so finding a way to remain respectful of one and other while bringing as many people as possible into the mix is essential. Politics aside, in order to increase the impact that Section 8 has on the outcome of the match and to make a more significant home field advantage possible, the Section may want to take another look at the flag issue. By opening up arms to all committed fans and resolving differences, Section 8 can continue to grow and flourish.

One last thing to add is that we would like to hear your feedback on this issue. We hope that we can help get a good dialogue going between people on both sides of the issue, so feel free to speak your thoughts below. One of the best remedies for issues like this is good, open, honest dialogue.

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