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Why I’m A Fan: A Special Hot Time Roundtable

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With a fresh new look for Hot Time In Old Town, the squad sits down to talk about why they became Fire and/or Red Stars fans

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the refreshed Hot Time In Old Town! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!

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Celebrating our new look at SB Nation with a look back! Why did you become a fan?

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Every Fire fan, and every Red Stars fan, has a story. Some of them are pretty boring and simple. Some belong in the Poetic Edda. Family is a recurrent theme— plenty of fans came into the community through their parents, and more than a few use Fire games as a means of bonding with their kids. And while there are a number of fans who aren’t local (including our Editor-In-Chief, Fearless Leader, and General Secretary of the Chicago Soccer Revolutionary Party Sean Spence), a deep and abiding love for the Second City permeates everyone’s stories.

With the site refresh live and SBN’s “Why I’m A Fan” campaign in full swing, the Hot Time crew got together to talk about how and why they became Fire and/or Red Stars fans. Here are our stories.


Ruben

I already wrote about it. Here’s an excerpt:

My soccer story starts like most in this country, the 1994 World Cup. My dad was able to acquire tickets to the Bulgaria/Greece match, where ironically, future Fire striker Hristo Stoichkov scored two goals… I guess he must have liked the Soldier Field grass. I don’t remember them though, or the game at all really. I was three.

I then proceeded to forget about soccer for a while, and really who could blame me? The west side and God- otherwise known as Michael Jordan, lured me to ball, and I fell in love with with the game, a love that still burns bright. Of course, the following years, the Fire were formed, and I, my dad being a fan, (though rather oblivious on the day to day) went to games. I had a good time, and I liked the sport. But for some reason, it didn’t stick. I don’t know if it’s because I was too young, or I was concentrating on sports I actually played (basketball, and baseball), but it didn’t really stick.

But then the 2006 season happened. That team was magic. CJ Brown, Chris Armas, and Andy Herron, and my two favorite Fire players of all time- Thiago, and Chris Rolfe. I was there the night they beat LA for the fourth US Open cup. My dad and I were sitting in the south east corner, to the right of Section 8. Every time Landon Donovan missed a shot or flubbed a pass -"Just like Germany", Then the goal song. It was like stepping into Hogwarts for the first time.

They brought me back. I was in for the Fire. I spent the next three years in the back of the section, out of the way, learning the songs as I heard them. And as I was ready to join in, feeling the confidence, and feeling like I was old enough to belong, I got accepted to my dream school, the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. It was a no brainer really, So, I packed up, armed with an apple computer and a bookmark folder full of illegal soccer streaming websites so I could watch from afar, hoping that the new found passion- growing steadily since 06- could somehow cosmically reach the team.

John

I also wrote about it already, but here you go:

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.

Alex

My soccer story has been a weird one to say the least.

My best friend growing up was a massive soccer fan -- he's Colombian, so soccer was obviously a huge part of his heritage. However, I was the "anti-soccer" guy. We'd always have massive debates about why soccer was/wasn't a great sport, but I never really gave it a shot and just dismissed it.

Then came the 2014 World Cup, and I literally submerged myself into all things futbol. From there, I was absolutely obsessed. I decided to follow Newcastle United after the World Cup, and I haven't missed a match since. Trust me, I'm getting to the Fire part of the story.

Last year, I sort of realized there was a better soccer delivery system that didn't include waking up at 6:00am, and a team that wasn't 4,000 miles away. So I looked at my die-hard love of all things Bulls, Cubs and Blackhawks and decided I need to get behind my favorite sport's team in my favorite city.

The first season didn't go as planned, I will admit. But that doesn't take away from the fact that I've finally found a team that I can support locally, that plays a sport I love, with a passionate fan base that I'm proud to be a part of (I'm looking at you, Blackhawks fans).

I love this team because I love this city, I love the history of the team, and when they pull on that shirt, they're representing Chicago. Once I support something, I will die on the front lines supporting it. Too many people in this country don't give soccer a chance. It truly is the beautiful game. We have a team representing Chicago, playing at the highest professional level in the nation, and they deserve our support. And that's why I'm a fan of the Fire.

Sean

I became a fan of the game before MLS - I'd say that I was always soccer-positive but never had much experience with it, growing up in rural Indiana in the 70s and 80s. I was a sportswriter during USA '94, and the volume of information that suddenly exploded onto the standard US AP wire about soccer was ASTONISHING. I got a glimpse of this deep, deep pool of cleverness and motion and tactic and culture and tribe, far deeper than any other I'd even imagined, and was caught. In some ways, I'm still standing by that pool, entranced.

ESPN started carrying UEFA Champions League matches the next season, and I began to piece together an understanding of how club soccer worked. Understand, there was zero mainstream coverage of club football in the United States at this point. When MLS kicked off in '96, I didn't identify with any of the markets they selected - that tribe thing matters. Like a lot of northern Indiana kids my age, we regarded Chicago sports teams as our 'home teams' - I grew up listening to Harry Caray on WGN, and extended-family Sundays were planned around the kickoff to the Bears game.

The Fire, then, checked every box. And then they won everything that first year, and spent most of their first six years astride MLS like Colossus, and the hook was set so deeply that even a decade of malingering and ill temper has left it undisturbed.

Sandra

My introduction to the sport of soccer in general was when I was a little kid by watching Liga MX games in my family home. I was fortunate enough to still be an impressionable kid when the Chicago Fire came to life in MLS, and when they brought Jorge Campos with them for their inaugural season, I bought in. As they won various titles, I remained blessed.

However as you get older and your sports tastes change, I became more much of a casual Fire fan. I have dipped in and out of seasons, but was re-engaged in 07/09 when Blanco was signed for the club. And then I dipped in and out again after he left. In all fairness, that's mainly because my heart belongs to Liga MX and the Women’s side of game...

I consider 07/09 my Chicago soccer heaven because I got to root for a Mexican player like a Blanco and a hometown guy like McBride. When they left, my attention was on the newly formed Chicago Red Stars team in the WPS. Games were sometimes hard to find on tv, but the Internet helped with that. And I was able to get familiar with soon to be U.S. national team staples like Lloyd and Rapinoe. International legends like Formiga and Cristiane. Even during the folding of WPS and rise of NWSL, owner Arnim Whisler didn't let the team fade away. And in 2013 when they brought in Mexican icon Maribel Dominguez for the inaugural season I was fully committed, come what may.

The team had gone through some rough early seasons, and has seen some amazing players come and go. Former Captain Lori Chalupny had her number retired last season. But through solid defense, and some strong drafts, the club has grown tremendously. Just like the arrival of Schweinsteiger has invigorated life into the stands for the Fire, this current Red Stars team has been some kind of special to watch. I hope someday there can be a real union between these two clubs. In the mean time, you can catch me at a Red Stars game.

Jake

A week later after I moved to Chicago, I was at a Fire game. I love 1.FC Köln with all my heart, but seeing those games and keeping up with how the city feels, and feeling the effects of a win or loss is a lot harder than it would be for a Chicago Fire game.

I tried so hard to come in as a neutral. It was during a Chicago Blackhawks game in 2013, which to me was first. I wore a Blackhawks jersey to their game against Sporting Kansas City. I wrote an entire article about it on a blog already, so there’s no point in expounding too much. The too long, didn’t read of it is, the magic of seeing a game for a low price overtook me. Yet, as a pretty broke college student who spent so much of his time in his relationship and journalism, I never found the time to go again.

The Fire wouldn’t enter my life again until later, when I came back from studying abroad in Germany in 2015. I started writing for the Toronto FC blog, Waking the Red. Toronto had gotten Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore at the time, so I was very invested in seeing where the team was going as a soccer fan. They played the Chicago Fire in July, and I again was swept up in the magic of Toyota Park. Far away? Yes. However, it was the joy of getting to see a game and your city come together that kept me going. I didn’t know many of the players on the Fire, but I knew they weren’t very good.

It all disappeared again for me, as my first big boy job out of college required me working nights and on weekends. It was hard to do anything really but watch those Bundesliga games in the wee hours of the morning. I could barely keep up with the MLS at that point, much less the team in my own city. Any extra energy came to keeping up with a relationship that continued to drain me, so whether or not Chris Rolfe was on the team or not didn’t really affect me.

It was that fateful night, this year, that I saw that Bastian Schweinsteiger was coming to the Chicago Fire. The combination of him being a hero to me, as well as the pride in my own German heritage that pushed me to buy season tickets.

I stared at that receipt for a while.

All that money, for what? To see one person? What did these tickets really mean to me? Was it worth the money? I also didn’t have many friends, no outlet for my love of soccer other than those Saturday mornings.

Until I saw how the city came together for Schweinsteiger.

The countless Bayern Munich jerseys blended together in Section 8, it was all red. I had a place where I could join other soccer fans. I had a place where I could be myself, scream my butt off, have a beer, belong. Despite team results, all that time I continued to point my nose up at the Fire for my results, I turned my nose up on a chance to by myself.

And the players. The speed of David Accam, the ability of Dax McCarty, the talent of Nemanja Nikolic. It feels bad to say, but this team was so much more different than those other times. It was something to be excited about, which you could tell from the noise of the games. I could fly my Köln flag, and other German people would come up to me after the game to talk. Where else can I speak German in Chicago really? A few places, but none where you can trash talk a Fortuna Dusseldorf (purposely spelled wrong) fan like you did in Köln?

I felt it in the people I met with Section 8, the people who work for the Fire, the people who write with me here at HTIOT. How could I not be a fan of the team? I felt the energy, I haven’t been a fan of this team for long, but it’s obviously so much more different than last year. How could I not be swept up in the excitement?

Mike

My dad started taking me to Fire games back in 98’ when the team started playing. I was lucky enough to attend the USOC Final as a kid when we won that year. I guess it all started before that though.

Growing up in the burbs I was playing every sport out there. My dad had no idea what soccer was or that it existed really. My Mom and Uncle were kids when their family moved to the states from Croatia and my uncle is the one who introduced me to the sport and originally taught me how to play along with my cousins. I kept playing and have not looked back.

It turned into a family thing from there on. My brother, sister and cousins all played and my dad (who maybe got hooked more than anyone) is still coaching youth club teams to this day.

It was only natural that we start attending Fire games when the team began to see the pro version of the game we were all playing. I have been going to see the men in red since then whether it be Solider Field, Naperville or Bridgeview.

James Bridget

I had been a casual fan of the Fire since their first season, but for various reasons— money, transit accessibility, stupid personal reasons— I never managed to see them in person until 2013.

That first game was early in the season, on a bitterly cold and miserable day. We were up against Chivas USA.

It was really cold and windy. I was wearing a skirt and people thought I was nuts. I got to hang out with a friend from college for most of the game. The Fire were awful and ended up losing 4-1 to one of the worst teams in the league.

And I loved every second of it.

I had been a fan of the team for years, casually, but 2013 is when I fell in love. That difficult, ultimately disappointing season was when it transitioned from interest to love for me. Seeing Mike Magee turn that team around (at least temporarily). Being in the Harlem End with some soccer newbie friends when the Fire came back from 2-0 down against Portland to steal a point. Laughing and singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” when the Fire demolished Orlando City (then still a USL team) in the US Open Cup. Feeling that sense of community and solidarity. It was an incredible year.

I’ve been in love with this team ever since. But, as with human beings, I learned that you can love a team and not like it very much sometimes. Seeing the team mismanaged to the point of malfeasance in recent years has been a tough pill to swallow. And my issues with the fan community have only grown.

But I love the Fire. I love it so much it hurts. (Sometimes it hurts a lot.)

As for the Red Stars, my story’s pretty straightforward. I love women’s soccer and CRS are my local team. Having the likes of Christen Press and Julie Ertz in the team definitely helps. I love this squad of quiet, unassuming badasses. I love how they snuck up on everyone and became one of the best teams in the NWSL before anyone realized what was going on. I love how they’ll win a title one day and everyone will continue sleeping on them. They’re a Chicago team, after all. They don’t go in for glitz and glamour. They just get to work.

Jack

I became a Fire fan about 4 seasons ago. I was in the middle of high school, and was more into Arsenal -- who I had been watching since I was 7-years-old -- than ever before. However, I found myself with nothing to do in June, and unsure of how to fill my weekends. And then I got into MLS and supporting the Fire.

I initially got interested because one of my friend's dad was the academy goalkeeper coach with Chicago. They were driving to Bridgeview all the time, and I wanted to know what it was all about. That season -- in classic fashion -- I attended a game against the Union on my birthday, and the rest was history. I was hooked on Toyota Park. I was hooked on the Fire. And I was hooked on MLS. Since then, I've only gotten more and more into the team.

Watching me be a Fire supporter has gotten some of my other close friends into the team/sport, and now more than ever I enjoy following the team. Being a Chicago fan has helped me get more in touch with American soccer culture, and, well, that's the reason I'm here today.


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