I’m going. It’s time.
The Chicago Fire are and will always be the first club I really supported. In the nascent days of the internet, I was one of those nerds obsessively digging for lineups and scuttlebutt and news about the team. I read that same weird message board run by a dude from Ohio that everyone read, and argued with guys (almost always guys, dudes, bros) about lineups and tactics and transactions, until it became BigSoccer, where all the same things happened in greater profusion. Picture an endless panoply of soccer opinions garnished with boob-jiggle gifs and you’re there. Looking back, there was a whole lot gross about it, but it was honest.
When blogs became a thing, I followed Tom Dunmore at The Offside, writing about the Fire. This was around 2007, the Fire of Young Chris Rolfe and Old CJ Brown. Tom wandered off to briefly make something beautiful at the Pitch Invasion blog (RIP), which led me to Brian Phillips’ Run of Play blog (RIPish), which convinced me that maybe I’d been approaching this whole writing-about-sports thing in entirely too provincial a manner. If you’re ever at a loss for something to read, and you’ve got an internet connection, spend a few hours at runofplay.com. Brian is a genius, and he attracted geniuses. It remains a repository of one of the high points of the pre-monetization Golden Age of Blogging.
The temptation to thunder, one last time, about that decline of this once-proud franchise, The Chicago Fire, is - thankfully - passing quickly, though not because I am reassured. Here’s where I’m at: It’s really not the Fire. It’s the system. It really is just that simple.
MLS replicates the sins of our larger society with vicious simplicity: The owners will never be accountable. Neither the players nor the people will ever have power to affect the change they desire. Soccer is a commodity, like natural gas or bananas - anything people love or need - something to be squatted upon, made costly, and profited from. We are told there is no recourse. We are told that we should get in line. Don’t you remember the NASL? And, uh, the NASL, the new one?
I am here today to tell you that soccer is like sunshine - it’s all around you. Reach out your hand, find a place where it shines in - there, you’ve got it. It’s not a trick. I put my hand out one night and found the club I will die supporting, just down the road in Hamtramck.
I stumbled across Detroit City FC in my duties for Hot Time. FC Adria, a local club, were drawn away to this little amateur team in Detroit who’d gotten some notoriety for being hard, or something. I was expecting Green Street Hooligans cosplay. The game was in Livonia, which even with a car with a wheel-bearing going bad was close enough. I had no idea what I was in for.
Is it possible to summon a memory of falling in love, truly? How it felt to walk up to these vibrant weirdoes, all their flags, follow them in, hit the sidelines and feel the tension in the teams, watch this blood-and-thunder classic of a game, back and forth, enmity and rage and grief, while those same weirdoes did what you now know is their standard thing, making themselves at home, throwing an impromptu party in celebration of their boys, all while standing on sterile aluminum bleachers atop a patch of concrete pitchside?
I am proud of a great deal of the work I did here at Hot Time. I have tried to be honest, even when I didn’t have sources willing to verify the things I was hearing. Covering the Fire is a beat I’ve often compared to the old Kremlin beat all the major networks had in the Cold War - you’ve got a good number of angry sources, but all of them feel so lucky to be working in the field that no one will go on the record about anything. Extending the Soviet metaphor, I got to experience getting blackballed, which really deepened my appreciation for the bravery of the folks who do real journalism in real jeopardy - because passing close to Leviathan, and feeling how easily it could flick you off of any perch you found salutary, is scarring. The ice is thin, and the water is so, so cold, always.
I leave the blog in amazing hands. I wouldn’t step away if it weren’t for the fact that James Bridget is hilariously over-qualified, and I’m frankly hogging the spotlight even sticking around as a figurehead. I am also proud that I’ve been in charge as we leave behind some of the baggage of the past. And the growth of our Red Stars desk - JBG and Sandra and Claire, et al - is like a gift long hoped-for. I leave you in good hands. If you’re in Detroit and want to come to a game, hit me up at the usual spots.
Until then, be brave, and make something better, everybody.
From James Bridget:
Four years ago I was coming out of a deep and pernicious funk. I needed to find a way to make money, but more importantly, I needed to get some structure and meaning in my life back.
I dipped a toe or two into freelance writing. I tried to pitch based on what was solidly in my wheelhouse, but there was one topic I really wanted to dig into: the Chicago Fire. I had started going to games semi-regularly the year before and I fell in love with the team. Warts and all.
I approached Sean with a cold pitch, asking if he was looking for anything on their Fire coverage. He asked what I had in mind. I sent back a few ideas for a one-off editorial, including one that explored who should— or could— take over as team captain should Logan Pause not return or not earn a regular starting spot. Sean picked that one, and the piece evolved into less of a preseason roster speculation and more an argument for why the question of who wears the armband for the Chicago Fire mattered.
It matters for its own sake, but at the time it mattered because Logan Pause mattered. Because, as Ruben pointed out in the comments of that article, Pause was the club. More than anyone else on the roster at the time— or, indeed, since— Pause embodied what it meant to wear that red shirt with the white stripe. Why this team, and this city, was important and worth defending. Pause was the heart and soul of the Fire. Others would step up to perform his role, but no one has been able to replace him.
I can’t help but think back to that piece now, as I take the captain’s armband from Sean and step up as EIC at Hot Time In Old Town.
Sean gave me one of my first opportunities to write about soccer. Without those, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything I’ve done so far, up to and including landing my gig with Howler Magazine. He gave me my first stint regularly covering a team when I became Hot Time’s Red Stars correspondent. He helped me hone my craft. He showed me how to make my pitches sharper. He told me how to listen to an audience and figure out what they want— but also to know when to buck those expectations. Above all, he instilled in me a sense that it’s not enough to just love something. You have to fight for it.
I love the Fire. And the Red Stars. I love them so much it hurts. And it hurts a lot.
Not just when things aren’t going well— I remember writing the recap for the Fire’s win over Montreal on Wednesday night, and while glancing at Twitter I saw pictures and video of Kevin Ellis (who scored the 89th minute gamewinning goal for the Men In Red) picking up his kid and parading her around Toyota Park and just being totally overwhelmed. It’s such a small thing, but seeing the pride beaming from him and the looks from his daughter as a crowd of strangers hails her daddy as a hero... it shows how much this all means to people.
I’m immensely grateful for this opportunity. I’m grateful to have an amazing staff, and to the extent that great work happens under my watch, it’ll be mostly down to this team of Fire and Red Stars contributors. I’m grateful to have some incredible people higher up at SBNation there to support Hot Time whenever we get some wild ideas in our heads. And I’m grateful to have a platform that, if used judiciously, can be leveraged to do some measure of good while I’m here.
But just to be perfectly clear: I can fill Sean’s role here at Hot Time, but I can never replace him.
I love Chicago Soccer. And I’m ready to fight for it.