This is only my second post so I hope if you, the audience, doesn't mind if I share something a little more personal than what we usually see on Hot Time In Old Town. I have been in and around Section 8 on gamedays for at least seven years now, but I've always been the seen-not-heard type. I would like everyone reading this to get to know me a little better so as I begin my 25th year in this world today I would like to reflect back upon my Section 8 origin story, the wonderful experience of this past season, give my thanks to the Section and give words of encouragement to those who want to join in with this wonderful madness.
I remember my first time in Section 8. I would think anyone who has stood in the Section for a number of years would. I tw as a hot summer afternoon in 2002 and my father decided to take my cousin and me to a game in Naperville. The Fire were playing the New York/New Jersey Metrostars and we had tickets for the general admission cheap seats. We sat down a few rows behind the goal where big Zach Thornton was warming up. Futilely fanning ourselves from the sweltering heat with the free programs, we sat down excited to see the game from so close. If you don't remember what was then known as Cardinal Stadium or never went to a game in Naperville, the temporary aluminum benches behind the goal were a little closer to the goal than the front rows in Toyota Park.
When the game was ready to kick off everyone around us stood up and began chanting with trumpets blaring and snare drums snapping. We were bewildered. We had never seen or heard anything like it. After a couple minutes of getting accustomed to the new experience my quiet, mild mannered father joined in much to my surprise and soon my cousin and I did too. Suddenly, in the sixth minute Jim Curtin took down a long free kick with his left foot, slotted it past a diving Tim Howard while falling to the ground with his right foot to score his first MLS goal and give the Fire an early lead. The stadium erupted, hugs and high fives swarmed us from all sides from complete strangers and a new Section 8 member was figuratively born. The joy and glory of a goal completely destroyed the heavily fortified personal boundaries so characteristic of my asocial family. Everyone sang louder and so did we. I had never felt anything like it before and I knew instantly I had found something fiercely important to me.
Before that game I watched other Fire games and tried to keep up with the player transactions and statistics. MLS was the only league I could watch in my house and I grew up with the teams, players, coaches and rivalries. In fact, I have seen every MLS Cup game (live and/or recorded) except 2001 and 2011. I tried watching every Fire game I could when I knew it was on, but like most people outside the soccer loop I talk to today, I just never knew when the games would be on. After my first time in Section 8, however, the urgency to stay informed surged and it would never go away. Every year after I went to more and more games culminating in 2009 when I went to every home game except for three because of the opportunity to see my favorite band play life for the first time, a tornado and temporary blindness. I loved the team, I loved our players and I loved the atmosphere. Those three reasons kept me coming back every season, but this year I finally found that final element: a sense of community.
The community of Section 8 has always been strong and welcoming, something I have always observed from an outside perspective, but now I know first hand what it means to be welcomed and guided through the ranks. This season I have been to my first watch party, tailgate, tifo build, away trip outside of Columbus, Monday at The Globe Pub, Section 8 board meeting, holiday party and reserve game and every time I have been warmly welcomed. That's what separates the entire Section 8 experience from other sports; the fans don't just support the team but we support each other and not just on game day, but every day.
Many of you reading this may have already experienced this community from each other so I suppose this article is more to thank you for making me a part of the family. I heartily appreciate the opportunity to make a difference for something I care greatly about.
But this article is also to encourage the new and/or fringe Section 8ers who may want to become more involved to do so. You choose your level of involvement and the more involved you are, the more rewarding the experience will be. I'm glad I have stepped up my involvement this year and I will look to continue that involvement and help the newcomers the way I have been helped.
The start of the season is still two months away. With everyone's help -- experienced members and new -- we can make this the best experience for everyone who comes to Toyota Park to see the Chicago Fire.