Before going any farther, I want to give a shout out to the guys that helped make this article possible. A huge round of applause and thanks to Jeff K, Eric K, and Braulio Diaz for their work on this. They have been fabulous in terms of willingness to work with me, and it is much appreciated!
As we all know, the supporters are the very lifeblood of any club. Without them, there cannot be teams, trophies, and Cup finals. Among many things, they are there to carry the team on to victory and pick them up after a tough defeat. Supporter groups take this even farther, offering a sense of family and community in the stands and on the road. I think Ultras Red Side is a great example of a tremendous supporter group.
While many of you no doubt know people in various groups or have seen them around Toyota Park (or are in one yourselves), it seems like many people don't know what particular groups like Ultras Red Side do or how/why they are/were created. In this new series, I aim to work with groups to highlight them and what they do. It is our goal at HTIOT to get their stories out there to give an appreciation of the effort and devotion given by all those involved. And hope fully it will also help grow their numbers as well.
With that being said, please enjoy a look into Ultras Red side, courtesy of the fine gentlemen listed above.
As I walk into a hot and humid room on a June afternoon, I see various members of Ultras Red Side taping up table rolls and sketching a banner along the wall. Everyone seems to be hot and exhausted from the work. "Can we start a fire in here just to get the sprinklers on?" one member quips. Another member is standing in front of a large fan with a piece of scrap table roll attached to him like a cape. "It's the only way to stay cool in here."
While the conditions on this particular day seem to be rough, it's just another normal tifo build for the group. Luckily, a few pitchers of beer show up minutes later, and all is well again.
URS was born in 2003 as an alternative supporter group to the Fire Ultras 98 and the Barn Burners, the two prominent supporter groups in Section 8 Chicago back in the Solider Field era. The new group wanted to create the same style of unwavering support as the Fire Ultras within a more inclusive environment, open to anyone who wanted to be involved in Chicago Fire supporter culture. The group has a simple organizational structure. Members pay yearly dues that help fund various projects from merchandise, tifo displays, or tailgates.
There are currently three leaders that the group refers to as "Elders," but it's a democratic process when it comes to decision making. "I don't like telling people we are going to do this or that. If someone has an idea, we talk about it as a group and make a decision. If we can't come to an agreement, then the Elders will discuss and choose what's best for the group," says current Elder and long time member Eric K. "Everyone that has come on board with us over the years has had a say on how this group operates. We are all here for the same reason and that's to support the Fire. When you have a good group of people around you with the same ideas, the same passions, you tend to create some very cool displays and have some very special memories."
Another thing that stands out to most people about the group is the involvement of female members. "We have always been an open group so it didn't matter if you were male, female, straight, gay, or from Jersey. With that said, I think the women in URS have been some of the biggest motivators and contributors to the group and section over the years. Without their help, I doubt a majority of section tailgates would have happened, or a few displays would have been delayed or canned all together."
There have been member fluctuations over the years since moving from Soldier Field to Toyota Park, with a low point coming in 2007. "After the move it seemed like people and groups were trying to find themselves. Some people left town, and others couldn't make it out to Toyota Park as easily. However, I knew that the section needed solid supporters groups to build the section and step up to help out the overall mission of the ISA (the Section 8 Chicago independent supporters association)." Since then, the group solidified the core members and two new Elders, Omar S. & Rudy G. were added to the roster. "When I decided that URS needed a bit of a revival, I asked both Rudy and Omar to help me take the lead and move our group forward. Rudy was already putting in time and effort in the group which make him a logical choice, and Omar was picked because of his different perspectives especially when it comes to projects, money, and new members."
Over the years, URS has been involved in the creation of the ISA board (with its members serving in several positions), the building up of the section's tailgating culture, the creation of some of Section 8's most memorable displays, and the establishment of the section's Match Crew. The core mission for the group has always been a devotion to tifo. In the early days of URS, the group stepped up and took the lead on introducing the organized concept of tifo, based on a European/Scandinavian model. "The main idea was to show the team support visually, through overheads, banners, flags, two-poles, etc. Other groups at the time were creating, but we felt that if we had the same group of people together we could help get bigger and better displays in the section." For years URS has helped organize diverse displays: from simple cardstock and table rolls to section-wide flags, two-poles and large overheads. Some examples you may remember include the Municipal Flag table roll overhead, Red/White Stripe table roll overhead, Flag Jersey overhead, CF97 laurel overhead, temporary flag and two-pole displays, and a playoff Tetris display.
However, the best creation to date has been the "Rise Above" (picture right) according to Eric. "I don't always think people realize the work, time, money, and dedication that go into these displays. I went into the 2012 off-season thinking "what we can do next"? I wanted a challenge and I wanted to challenge those who wanted to put in the time. From the initial sketch, to designing it in Illustrator, to sewing up the fabric, to drawing it out, and then painting, it was a good 3 month process, and that was for one overhead. The overall size covered roughly three sections and our work area only covered a quarter of that. It was a lot of maneuvering in a tight space. While the overall job was stressful at times, to finally complete it successfully and have the team see it when they walk onto the field is a proud moment for everyone." The total cost of the display was around $1,600, including the fabric and paint supplies.
Eric was involved with the creation of the Tifo Crew and is the current Director of Operations for the ISA. However, he believes there have been misconceptions about tifo over the years. "For some reason people seemed to think URS were the only ones working on displays, or the only ones allowed to, which was pretty silly to hear. While URS has always been a tifo-first group, we have always supported displays from other groups, and help out when we can. That was one of the reasons the Tifo Crew came about. It was about getting people together, regardless if you were from another supporters group or an independent, to create the biggest and best displays for the team. I believe in the past few years we have seen the effects from that with better displays coming out each time. I believe with a bit more help, we can get bigger and better. I would much rather see our own supporters creating more and more displays and banners rather than shell out money to get them made overseas. There is much more pride in something you've put time and effort into creating."
All of URS' members were introduced to the supporter group in different ways, joining at varied periods over the group's history. During a recent URS outing to Michigan, several members discussed why they joined and the response was eerily similar. Omar S. stated, "There were a lot of social groups within Section 8, but I wanted more than just a social group. During those times match crew was a large responsibility, and I was very involved with that, as was URS. It was a natural progression to join with a group who took their support for the club seriously." Omar continued, "We are a supporter group, but we are also more than that. We are a family that will always be there for one another whether it's for the Fire or for a friend." Eric K. continued,: "[Ultras Red Side] is made up of good people who support the Fire and want to contribute to the Section. This has always been a second family to me. We might not always agree or get along, but when it comes to supporting the Fire, we can always see eye to eye on that. If you have a drive or passion to go above and beyond, we welcome that with open arms. "