The Independent Supporter Association (ISA) is a nonprofit group committed to support and promotion of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club. The ISA exists to support fan efforts and act as a liaison between independent fans, supporters groups and the Chicago Fire. The ISA's mission statement is ". . . to unite all Chicago Fire fans, to create a dominant in-stadium force unseen in any American team sport and to establish a home-field advantage whenever the Chicago Fire play." Better known as Section 8 Chicago (S8C), the ISA is committed to impassioned support for the Fire on and off the pitch.
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to interview with the Chair and Vice-Chair of the ISA. Their very frank answers to my questions below provide a lot of insight into what the ISA is about and what fans can do to get more involved. I am very grateful to Jeffrey Marinacci and Patrick Stanton for taking their valuable time out to shoot the breeze with me a bit.
Jeffrey Marinacci is the ISA's current Chair. Jeff has been a long time Fan of the Fire but became involved with S8C in 2010 when he returned the Chicago from Houston following his divorce. Despite his time away from Chicago Jeff always kept his hometown club close to his heat and prior to the MLS Jeff had been a fan of the Sting. Marinacci joined the board of S8C in 2012 as Vice-Chair and held the position again in 2013. Jeff previously flirted with forming supporters group along with his friend Gregg Mixdorf but later found a home with Whiskey Brothers '05 (WB05). Jeff is starting early at getting his nieces and nephews into soccer, all of whom are under 6 years of age.
Patrick Stanton is the ISA's current Vice Chair. He has been a full-time fan of the Fire since 2002. He became captivated by the excitement of the beautiful game during the World Cup in 2002 and his first Fire matches were the US Open Cup (USOC) run in 2002 and 2003. beginning in 2005 he made nearly every home match and traveled to 5 away matches. 2014 is Patrick's first year as Vice-Chair but has also served the board as Director of Finance in2006. He helped Matt Bono get the Ultras Red-Side (URS) off the ground in 2005, later created a more casual gentleman's club with his friend Chuck in Ladder 97 and is currently affiliated with his close friends in WB05. Patrick has turned his girlfriend Susan into a loyal fan of the Fire who has bought a 2014 season ticket and has begun attending Fire away matches.
Hot Time: Thank you both very much for taking time out to answer some questions on behalf of Hot Time in the Old Town. Can you begin by telling me a little bit about the mission of Section 8 Chicago as an Independent Supporters’ Association for the Chicago Fire? What are your goals and aspirations as an organization?
Jeff Marinacci: One of the goals for this year is to reach out and connect with folks who don’t sit in the Harlem End. Our mission statement says that we represent all Fire fans. I believe it is time to make good on that promise. The 15th anniversary party was a huge success and showed the entire community just what the ISA and the folks who volunteer their time, board member or not, can pull off.
Patrick Stanton: Our main goal is to organize this mass of energy and emotion, and channel it in to the most creative and productive way of supporting the Chicago Fire. The ISA also works as a governing body to keep racism, homophobia, and other hate from rearing it's unwelcome ugly face within the Harlem End. One of our main goals to make sure the Fire are supported in mass both home and away. When traveling en masse, the ISA functions as a liaison between the host club and traveling supporters. Throughout the season we also donate a substantial amount to the Fire foundation through season long fundraising efforts.
HT: What, if anything, would you most like fans who are not affiliated with Section 8 Chicago to know about your organization? Do you have any messages you would like to share with new fans of the Chicago Fire?
JM: Well, that Section 8 is here for all Fire fans as we support the team. We need their input, support, talent, etc. If someone has an idea about how to support our Men in Red or to develop supporter culture, we’re here to help her realize that.
PS: TIFO is not free! Sending buses to away games is very time consuming and expensive! If you enjoy the home game atmosphere and would like to see more expansive TIFOs then please donate at S8c.org, all proceeds will help create match day displays or help fans travel to away games at a much more reasonable price.
HT: Beginning last season and into this season I have noticed a lot more negativity with fans at Toyota Park. When a match is not going well for the Fire, how do you keep fans in the Harlem End motivated to sing and cheer?
JM: Me personally, by singing as loud as I can, trying to make eye contact and small talk with others in way that is encouraging.
PS: As a capo since 2006 this has been the one sole thing I have dedicated my life to. I jump until my ankle swells, I scream the words until I have no voice for 2-3 days post match, I make eye contact and encourage everyone I can interact more. Winning is always the greatest motivator, and in its absence, I normally give my body 90 minutes worth of abuse to help encourage people not to give up and to keep singing!
HT: What is your current marketing strategy to draw in new fans to the section?
PS: This year we are focusing on the Jr. supporters more than ever. We have started "build your own two poles" and "learn the songs" with the kids in the fire fest. The plan is to help them grow up thinking that supporting the way Section 8 does is not just normal but natural! We have already seen some very positive results at the match vs. Philly.
HT: Following the January the Independent Supporters Association elections there was a lot of controversy regarding the election itself, the results and the election procedure in general. How is Section 8 moving forward from this controversy? What steps are being put into place to avoid future election issues?
PS: An independent election review committee has been formed and it will share their results with the community when they are finished. In the future when a current Vice-Chair is running for Chair in the next season they will not be responsible for the absentee ballets.
JM: I will make sure that the board follows through every step of the election cycle. It sounds pedantic but that is what is necessary to ensure that the community has confidence in the process. Also, the board will facilitate the process of discussing whatever recommendations that the committee has for the community and incorporate those that make the process better.
HT: Sector Latino has been a huge topic of discussion this past off season, with the threatened loss of the section by the Chicago Fire front office. What steps has the Independent Supporter Association taken to help save sector Latino?
JM: Following on what Pat said, it was sprung on us just a few days after we started. Despite serving on the board, I had no sense that the Club and Sector were where they were. Things moved really fast but, for the most part, we focused our efforts toward a solution that looks to be achievable: getting Sector to a 100 season tickets. In terms of support, Pat and I were talking with Walter and the Club to see what could be done and how to get that to happen. Once the 100 ticket goal was agreed to, we supported Sector with fundraising and raising awareness among folks in the broader community about their situation. And now, Pat and I stay in touch with Walter and the other leaders in the group to see what else the ISA can help them on game day and to sustain their growth.
PS: From the moment it was brought to our attention - a week after our election - I greatly elaborated on all the problematic outcomes that would come from moving SL12, even with full cooperation on their behalf. From that day on, I was in daily communication with Walter (the founder of Sector) while Jeff organized a meeting between the leaders of SL12, the ISA, Mike Ernst and Atul Khosla at the stadium. The resolution of that meeting was the season long goal of reaching 100 season tickets in order to keep section 101 for the Future. In other words we brought the players to the table and helped keep the piece.
HT: There is a lot of debate among fans about what the Chicago Fire can do to improve their position in the Chicago sports market such as improved marketing, addressing the stadium location, the need for a star impact designated player etc… I believe strongly that the fans need to play an active part in drawing in new fans (and not just expect the club to spread the word). What part do you think the fan base can play in addressing these issues?
JM: By preaching that "live" is better than on the TV. As a proud Chicagoan and soccer fanatic, I always talk about the experience of match day and the need to support your local club whenever I am with skeptics who watch European football only. I challenge their assumptions about the quality of play. I remind them that a "flesh & blood" experience is always than one mediated through a satellite dish. So I am always disappointed when people who live here and say that they are football fans don’t follow their local side without giving it a chance. Seems hollow.
PS: Bringing a friend to the game would fill the stadium every match. The team has done a great job with working the kinks out of the Pub to PITCH program making affordable travel available to the whole north side, now we just need to increase the demand on the south side and suburbs for more busses to the games. We all want a new stadium in the city, but that's about as likely as the orange line extension, so let's focus on more tangible ways to increase home crowds.
HT: As a relatively recent fan, this is a question close to my heart. What steps can S8C do to make new fans feel as welcome as old fans?
JM: Everyone who cares about the community of supporters should try to be a role model, an "influencer" of new fans and let them know some simple things: this is what’s going on at the TG, this is what we do in the Harlem End, this is why road trips are a great experience to connect deeply, etc. Everyone had their first Fire game. See it through those eyes and reach out with that perspective.
PS: This board is working hard on this front. The Capos are being more interactive with the new fans and approaching the most active ones after the matches with new custom (can't buy) swag to say thanks for the new energetic support.
HT: What is your favorite moment all time as a Chicago Fire Fan?
JM: Favorite moment, sadly not a big moment like a Cup final win…that DC game from a question ago was a great one, I was at The Globe but stayed. Unbelievable crazy finish. Others. Serenading Jon Conway in KC two seasons with Chariots of Fire theme in "lo lo lo" style. March through downtown Seattle for USOC final 2011. Hoping to get a "team" memory this year, not just ones of being with friends and other supporters.
PS: Tony Sanneh with acres of space on the left side with a perfect ball to Thiago on the back post 3-1 and the feeling WE ARE GUNNA WIN THE CUP!!!! 2006 USOC.
HT: What, if any, changes you would like to see the Fire make in strategy, player use or through acquisition to improve their performance in 2014?
JM: Here we are 2 months in and the changes I’d have made are in place: kids, real competition for PT and a more confident and varied attacking style. Love it!
PS: As I said on twitter (@Pattrick11) a week before the season #letthekidsplay and before we even made it home to play NY Shipp and Joya had both made an impact. Then Finally, Victor got the chance he deserved to play in the first team.
HT: Probably because the first match I ever attended was against the Red Bulls, I look forward to going to stadium every time New York comes to town. What match-up do you most look forward to throughout the year, and why?
JM: The next one. I get why some folks have favorite match-ups, but for me, I don’t care who’s coming. I only want to go and see a win.
PS: it's always been New England for me, having grown up in section 8 during our 7 straight seasons of ending each other's years it's impossible to view anyone else as our main rival. All 3 times I have traveled to Foxborrow.... It has been for play off losses, so I have to savor every victory at home.
HT: Are there any other questions you wished I would asked? What were they and how would you answer?
PS: How do you run for the board and who should run? Any one who has the time and energy to dedicate to the betterment of the community and is willing to commit for the whole year. We need all the help we can get and hope for more contested elections every year.
JM: I’ll second Pat’s and extend to not just board service: How can someone get involved in the community? Aside from being the steward of community "assets" (for lack of a better word), the board is here to facilitate supporters getting involved. Come with an idea, or, better yet, a plan that supports the team on the pitch or helps grow our community and we’ll do all we can to see it come to life. It is our community, together, and it is only as vibrant as each of us want to make it.
HT: Is it just me, or are there fewer portable toilets in the parking lot at Toyota Park every year?
PS: There also seems to be less gravel and less fans as well. I would think that once we create a winning attitude amongst the club and the fans things like more port-a-potties and a paved lot will be soon to follow.
Hot Time would like to thank Jeff and Patrick for their time, and their frank answers!