I am a Fire fan.
That statement gets varied responses from different people. Whenever I say that to an average guy they usually vaguely recognize it as the Chicago soccer team or just flat out don’t know/care. If I say it to a soccer fan, I’m usually greeted with a, “Wow, your team sucks.” But if I meet a Chicago Fire fan on the street and tell them that I’m a fan as well, that person will look me in the eye and say, “I’m so sorry for you.” We Fire fans have been through a lot in these past 19 years. It doesn’t matter where you came in or even where you left off. We have seen the highest highs, but now are experiencing the lowest lows. So why not drop out now? Why do we care so much about this team that’s been holding up the table for the past 3 to 4 years?
To begin to answer that question, we go back to the day this club was built. That was 19 years ago today (October 8th, 1997) when AEG, Peter Wilt, and the league decided there needed to be a team in the third biggest media market in the US. They named it after the Great Chicago Fire (of which this is also the anniversary date, 145 years ago ) that tore through the city back in 1871. They named it, not for the Fire itself, but for the rebuild afterwards that shaped the capital city of the Midwest for years to come. This team was meant to become that same “capital” for the league, putting a major club right in the middle of America to draw more attention to the recently formed league.
They were right to believe that the team would become a major club as the Fire tore out of the gate in their first year, winning the double and becoming the first expansion team to win a title. By 2000 the Fire were officially THE team to beat, which wouldn’t change for a while (except for 2004, but we don’t speak of such things). This gathered a collection of fans who became known in the same way that the team was, a dominant force that was unrivaled in its passion for the game and their team. I wasn’t really much of a part of it seeing as I was less than a year old in 2000, but that’s where I grew up and gained my love the club. I’ve also heard stories from people who say nearly the same thing (except they were much older than I was). They already had a soccer background, but found the Fire and were hooked so well that they still stick around in these dark times.
I can go on about the historical facts about the team, but this is where we should stop and really think about this question. “Why do any of us still care about the Chicago Fire?” That question keeps nagging me every time I see us lose, every time the team makes a bad decision, and every time I get that one Premier League fan who tries to convince me to become an Arsenal fan (he’s too late, I chose Watford this season). I’m sure you’re asking yourself too. It’s something that a fan can never fully grasp and even scientists find difficulty explaining. The sheer love for a team is so strong that we stand by them at tough times.
So then the question shifts to, “how did that love become so strong?” It’s simple: the Fire were able to connect with the community and win. That connection to the community began with the signings of Polish stars (Nowak, Kosecki, Podbrovzny) to connect to the large Polish soccer community. Then later on they furthered that connection to the community with the signing of Cuauhtemoc Blanco, letting the stands grow with the Mexican soccer community. But though it was the signings that caught people’s attention, it was the hospitality of the club and Section 8 that helped them stay and begin to feel the same way we do about the team. Those people are now the collective “us” because of simple moments like the CJ dance or “The Night the Harlem End Burned” (as pictured above). And it didn’t hurt that we were still a formidable force in the league going into 2010, making the Eastern Conference Finals the season before.
That next season, something changed on the field. We kinda stopped winning. Blanco retired and our new Designated Player signings didn’t really do as much as we’d hoped. Little did we know that that would become a recurring theme with our DP’s. As the years went on, we lost games and we lost people. People left, but not quite entirely. Though many say that they have broken all ties from the club, they still remember those good days. They still remember the love they had for this team. It’s hard to let go of something on such tough terms and they know in their mind that if they saw the same heart and community they saw back in ‘98 (or ‘00 or ‘06 for some people) that would jump right back in.
My point is that we are in a bit of a crisis. We are set on a pace to pick up our second straight wooden spoon and whenever it looks like it might get better, it just gets worse. But today we celebrate this club for staying around for 19 years. If you won’t celebrate the team for what it is, then celebrate the team for what it once was. Celebrate your cherished memories of the club, not lament over recent events. Celebrate the trophies that we DID win, not the ones we completely missed out on.
Just for today, let’s forget about the table. Let’s forget about “The Editorial,” Hauptman, and protests. Let’s all come together and remember why we love this club so much and hold onto that. No, I didn’t really answer the big question. I’m letting you answer for yourself. Because everyone has a different answer. Everyone has a different reason for sticking around. Everyone has a different story about how they came to love OUR club, the Chicago Fire. And everyone who’s left has a reason for why they left, but they still have those memories of the good times they had here.
So I want everyone, old or new, man or woman, Nowak fan or Blanco fan, to go down into these comments and tell their story. It can be the moment you fell in love with the team or just an amazing moment involving the club. Because even though we are dwelling in, as beautifully described by John Kass, “the mud-pits of hell,” we still have a storied past. We still have a tradition worth being proud of. And when you are having moments of doubt about this club, when you are trying to answer the great question of “why do we always come here?” you will have your own answer.
My story will be down there. I hope to see yours.