Hot Time in the Old Town was founded by Tweed Thornton as "A Chicago Fire-centric blog about Chicago soccer." The good Mr. Thornton left us that wiggle room to allow for every eventuality: What if management declares its hatred for the fans? What if MLS is revealed as a high-stakes Ponzi scheme, or worse? What if Chicago is cut off from civilization by a series of fresh-water Sharknadoes, and we're left to develop our own style of football in a post-apocalyptic wasteland without reference to the rest of the universe?
Since taking over here a little more than a year ago, I've kept Tweed's lovingly crafted pirate flag in its crate. We've never used it on the blog, but it's some comfort merely to have it sitting there, a silent reminder that we don't have to dutifully swallow 'the news' as it extrudes from the public-relations machines of the owners. Seeing it, we remember that we can, with almost no notice, switch gears; clench a knife in our teeth, run up the jib, hoist the pirate flag and set sail in the great sea of Football, looking for the right throats to slit.
We haven't, but we could, and it makes some difference on weeks like the last one. Lately, I've found myself awake at odd hours, pondering the tides, pulling a corner of that black flag out, quietly humming songs that mostly end in 'lo lo lo lo, lo lo lo lo." In weeks like the last couple, that skull-and-crossbones on a black field starts to look just ... right.
The squamous toad-off for Jones
Let's start with the Jermaine Jones debacle. If you're not up to speed, the always-lovely Guillermo Rivera at Chicago Fire Confidential has the back-and-forth of it nailed. Go ahead and read him - I'll wait.
Ok, fine, I'll try to sum up: The Fire, having had a few targets fall through, approached Jones with a Designated Player deal shortly after the World Cup. The money was very close to what Jones was looking for, and after some initial skirmishing, it seemed like both sides were ready to get a deal done.
MLS, though ... ah, MLS. It's not enough for MLS to own ALL THE FOOTBALL in North America. The squamous toads who built the thing have nightmares about an employee having any say over any aspect of their employment. Jones perhaps awakened those fears by stating publicly that he'd prefer to live and work in Chicago, a city where he'd spent a portion of his childhood. "You wish to decide where you'd prefer to work and live?" the owners ask, incredulous. What's next, cattle politely asking not to become beef?
So Jones' words availed absolutely nothing, but the Fire were apparently the only team willing to pay him the roughly $2.5 million per year he would command; it still seemed likely to happen. Meanwhile, though, Bobby Kraft's least-loved franchise - the Revolution - were sinking fast in the East. Before the World Cup, the Revs seemed safely a playoff team, but as losses mounted, Kraft felt he needed to do something. And here came the Jones deal, finally completed with MLS - meaning, in Kraft's mind, finally completed with Kraft, because FOUNDER.
So Jones goes to New England. Coin flip behind closed doors? Sure, tell me another one.
Let's just go through this again: Jones and Chicago negotiate; it's not simple, and takes a bit, but both sides come to an agreement. Jones is not required to go through allocation, because of the size of the deal (q.v. Dempsey, Bradley). New England declares interest; Jones balks; MLS offers more money; Jones shrugs and says, 'whatever;' sham coin-flip; he's a Rev.
MLS, a league designed to keep teams from bidding against each other for player's services, just paid extra for the privilege of denying Jones the right to choose where to work and live.
Whose interests does this serve? Players? Please. Supporters? Staaaaaahp, I'm dying here.
How about player development? Grass-roots interest? Anything except ownership control, ownership power? When does this 'competition' thing reach the executive suite? We're told, again and again, that competition is what makes America strong - usually during an explanation why we can't have paid sick-leave or something. How is MLS strong, then?
It is taken as a matter of faith that the initial investors in MLS - Bobby Kraft among them - bathed themselves in losses in the league's early years. How much, though? How much loss entitles one to Division One status in perpetuity?
This is like negotiating with one's mother: No matter the argument, she can always go back to "When you were a child, I held you when you cried ..."
We're grown up now, MLS owners. We Americans love football. We don't want you to hold us. We want you to compete with each other; we want you to compete with the world. SIMULTANEOUSLY. Like every other owner in world football. We don't want to hear how much you've lost - we cannot trust you. Break up the cartel, let the clubs compete, and keep the odious SUM money as a comforter when the nights get cold.
If you don't want to do that, then name a number to sell your First Division status and have done. Stop crying about losses. Stop telling us how we'd never have gotten to this point without you.
We've got this pirate flag, see, and we're not afraid to hoist it. You know full well whose throats we'd slit first.
Andy & the memory hole
So here we have, as Fire supporters, the perfect opportunity to actually feel a bit of empathy for Andrew Hauptman. By all reports, he was deeply involved in the negotiations for Jones, talks which would've delivered - at last, at long last - the 'Keane-like money' player he'd boasted he was ready to sign years ago. (Whether Jones is the player CF97 needed is another topic; he'd've been an upgrade regardless, so let's just go along here.)
Or it would have been, had the Fire not treated its most engaged fans like Ritalin-addled middle-schoolers the week prior. Quietly, about 10 days ago, the club sent the infamous Editorial, "What It Means To Be Part of the Fire Family," down the memory hole, pulling it from the club website.
Please tell me you haven't forgotten the Editorial. Deadspin summarized it as "Chicago Fire's Communications Director Is Sick Of Your Bullshit," which captures the tone of the piece nicely. In it, we were informed that "The inclusive and authentic nature of our culture starts from the top down," which is wild, because I could swear Section 8 was inclusive and authentic before 2006. And so on; the message was, overwhelmingly, 'clap louder!' because gee, this stuff is hard, and you guys are just so mean.
Here's the thing: The guy who wrote that piece, Dan Lobring, has been let go after less than a year; his loud-clapping could not save him. A new guy's in that chair - Doug Hicks, former DC United PR apparatchik. Andrew's still the owner. Atul Khosla's still ... well, not President, but whatever he is. Mike Ernst is still not-President-either. And none of them said a word of apology for the Editorial before it was whisked off the Fire website.
We aren't children. We have forgotten neither the Editorial - egregious shibboleth that it was - nor the events around its writing: The owners booed in the box; some fans shouting for investment; foul words exchanged in both directions around the owners' box.
We haven't forgotten that, after all that, the owner sent his PR doyen to chastise us. And we continue to await an apology. We continue to wait for Mr. Hauptman or his assigns to repudiate the idea that inclusivity and authenticity somehow flow from the least-inclusive, least-authentic member of the community. We continue to wait, and watch, and listen, and measure.
And we look with increasing longing at that pirate flag, and wonder, "How much worse could it be?" There's football literally everywhere - NASL, USL Pro, NPSL; EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A.
Maybe I'll just get this out to make sure it's clean and ready to hoist ...