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Soccer Culture

15 April 3:07 pm

With the growth in popularity of the game in this country comes the higher knowledge of history, both good and bad, that surrounds the game we love.

Twenty-five years ago today, the Hillsborough disaster occurred in Sheffield, England, claiming the lives of 96 Liverpool FC supporters who attended the ground to see their club’s FA Cup semifinal clash with Nottingham Forest.

As has become standard worldwide, supporters of the two clubs were separated to prevent any incident, with Liverpool supporters being given the Leppings Lane Stand at the west side of the ground. 

Access to the stand was only possible through a few ill-repaired turnstiles and led to serious overcrowding outside of the stadium prior to kickoff of the match. Looking to ease pressure on the entry way, officials ordered an exit gate to be opened, the path through which led to a standing section that was already overcrowded. 

Crushing ensued as too many fans were located in the terraces and were pinned up against a barrier meant to keep fans off the pitch. The game actually didn’t even halt until the sixth minute when fans trying to escape the crush walked on to the field along with police who ordered the match to be postponed.

About an hour north of Sheffield, a 25-year-old Frank Yallop came on as a substitute in Ipswich Town’s 2-2 draw at Bradford City. Having led 2-1 at halftime, the result was a disappointing one for the Tractor Boys who dropped points to a Bradford City club below them in the Second Division table.

With the game kicking off at the same time as the cup semifinal though, Yallop and his teammates didn’t find out about the tragedy until after they’d come off the field at Valley Parade.

 “It was terrible,” Yallop recalled to Chicago-Fire.com. “I just remember the images and panic on everyone’s faces. Seeing it on the news, it was really devastating to watch -- all they showed on TV was carrying people on the advertising boards to get care from the paramedics.”

Perhaps the news hit a bit closer to home for those that had just completed the match at Bradford City’s ground as four years earlier, it was the site of a fire that engulfed one entire stand during the final match of the 1984/85 season. That tragedy took the lives of 56, saw over 200 injured and was started by one lit cigarette discarded underneath the all-wooden stand.

The Bradford City fired occurred just weeks before another stadium crush in a match involving Liverpool occurred at the 1985 European Cup final at Heysel Stadium in Belgium. On that day, 39 people, most of which were supporters of Italian side Juventus, lost their lives and resulted in English clubs being banned from European competition indefinitely.

Perhaps in part because of the Heysel incident, many pointed the blame for the crush at Hillsborough on Liverpool supporters. Claims of drunkenness and fans without tickets trying to gain entry into the ground were bothgiven as contributing factors for the incident. In the end, the Taylor Report (published in 1990) found the main factor to Hillsborough to be failure of police control.

More recent inquiries from the Hillsborough Independent Panel exonerated Liverpool supporters of wrong doing in the incident, placing the blame squarely on public safety officials.

“It was sad because people had gotten to the game early to see a semifinal,” Yallop said. “From mistakes made by the police, 96 people lose their lives. It’s a tragic accident.”

The Taylor Report’s main recommendation saw stadiums in the UK made to be all-seater in order to make crowd control easier and safer, which greatly reduced the capacity of many stadiums in the country.

Twenty-five years on from Hillsborough, tributes from clubs and supporters around the world have poured in and tonight ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series tackles the events at Hillsborough (7pm CT on ESPN). ESPN’s Keith Olbermann spoke to Director Daniel Gordon about the film on Monday: 

11 April 7:58 am

Whether you like having just a few libations with some of the club’s most ardent supporters, enjoy the beautiful landscapes of rural Indiana, Michigan and Missouri, or just really like seeing the Chicago Fire play away from home, Section 8 On Tour Bus Trips (#S8OT) have something for everyone.

Returning this year, the Independent Supporters Association is offering all Fire supporters an away season ticket, which guarantees round trip bus fare and match tickets for this season’s Fire away games in Columbus (May 24), Kansas City (July 6) and Toronto (August 23) for just $200.

While the execution of an Away Season Ticket isn’t something new to Section 8 Chicago, it does return for the first time in a number of years because of the way the MLS schedule fell for the club’s three closest away trips according to ISA Chairman Jeff Marinacci. 

“The stars aligned for us,” he told Chicago-Fire.com this week. “When we saw the schedule, having Toronto on a summer weekend makes it an easy sell. Though Columbus or Kansas City are good road games, Toronto just offers so much more, the trip is worth doing outside of just going to watch a match.”

Toronto nightlife no doubt has more to offer than Kansas City or Columbus but what Marinacci is referring to is the fact that the past few seasons, the team has played away in Toronto at midweek in September, making it difficult to coordinate a strong contingent of Fire supporters to travel by bus.

 This year the Columbus and Toronto trips both fall on Saturdays, while the Kansas City trip falls on the Sunday of Independence Day weekend making the travel much easier all around.

As they do on all buses, Section 8 Chicago is subsidizing an additional $35 per person on the 2014 Away Season Ticket on top of the $50 subsidy provided for individual bus travel to these matches.

“Our commitment to spending our money is to support the guys on the field home and away,” he said.

A great deal no doubt, not what if someone buying can only make it on one or two of the trips instead of the full complement of three? Marinacci said that while there is no partial away season ticket (and no refunds), the ISA will accommodate ticket transfers as coordinated through communications@s8c.org.

Now through mid-May (when bus tickets for the Columbus trip will cut off), Section 8 Chicago is in a heavy push to sell the Away Season Ticket for the year. As part of that push, the ISA will be raffling one off during Saturday’s Watch Party at A.J. Hudsons

Next Saturday, the ISA will raffle off a second Away Season Ticket, purchased by the Club, at their tailgate in the north lot prior to the Chicago Fire/New England Revolution match.

If you’d rather just support a great initiative to get more Fire fans out on the road this season, go ahead and buy your Away Season Ticket by clicking here.

04 April 12:26 pm

It was a cold and windy training session on Friday at Toyota Park. After the team went through their final preparations for Saturday's match vs. Philadelphia, they hurried in to join the Fire Front Office staff in wishing head coach Frank Yallop a very happy 50th birthday...

WATCH:

Frank was much obliged by the gesture...

02 April 5:17 pm

From Brandon Marshall to Ron Harper, and Ozzie Guillen to Richard Dent, the new Harry Caray’s Chicago Sports Museum and Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch at Water Tower Place was packed with familiar faces of Chicago sports’ past and present on Tuesday night. You can add Chicago Fire’s Mike Magee to that mix, as well.

Joined by teammates Quincy Amarikwa and Gonzalo Segares at the museum’s VIP grand opening, the 2013 MLS MVP checked out various displays of Chicago sports memorabilia, among which was his own game-worn Fire jersey sitting in a glass case next to other jerseys worn by fellow Chicago professional athletes.

Magee’s jersey wasn’t the only Fire representation in the museum; Brian McBride’s game-worn Fire jersey also sits among an elite group of Chicago sports gear, including Derrick Rose’s Simeon High School jersey.

After exploring and engaging in several interactive sports displays, Magee, Amarikwa and Segares enjoyed an evening of Chicago sports camaraderie, chatting and mingling with a few fellow professional athletes and celebrities from area (such as James Denton and Billy Zane).

Magee even managed to reel in new Fire fans, including Brandon Marshall and Jarrett Payton as well as catching up with Fire fan Ozzie Guillen, who expressed interest in checking out Chicago’s most recent MVP in action soon.

01 April 12:36 pm

Outside a bar at halftime, one team was up a man and four goals. The crowd outside was split, not between teams but between ideals. Who would go back to watch the second half? It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the beginning of spring and a few of us wanted to go sit in a park. The game was all but over. But for some reason, everybody followed one guy back in, back to their seats at the bar. “It’s part of the contract,” he said. “It’s what we do.”

What contract? It’s the contract we sign as fans. The contract to watch and be a part of the sport in America. But what responsibility do we have to the game? What do we owe it? Are we ever allowed our Saturday afternoons?

My annual fan contracts have evolved over the years with regards to the Fire and the sport of soccer in general. Whereas I used to sign up for the atmosphere, or the results themselves, now I sign for the athletics, the ideas, and the story of the competition. Sometimes, I even take my Saturday afternoons soccer-free.

I don’t have to sing or cry anymore. I salute those fans, those who sign the emotional fan contract. They’re stronger than I. They’re the ones singing at Toyota Park against Red Bulls in the cold. They’re the ones proving the word fan comes from fanatic. They’re the ones spending hours upon hours on tifo or travelling all over the country, dealing with airports and buses and Kansas City. Those fans carry the club. They’re as much a part of the team as the players.

But then, I’m not one of them. I’m a different kind of fan. I’m a supporter, in the true sense of that word. I want the team to do well and I want to support it towards its goals. My contract with the team is to be a part of that progression.

Nowadays, that supporter contracts costs me two things: my money and my time. I pay to watch the games and I give my time to watch and read about my team.

But as a supporter, I can’t stand the occasional debates about who the “real” fans are. They’re tiresome. The truth is that it’s simply difficult in MLS to figure out the “right” way to support your team. Young, and comprised of mostly young organizations, it’s a unique league in the world of soccer. Doesn’t it come with a different kind of contract for us to sign now as fans, supporters, consumers, and participants?

In MLS, there is for us American soccer fans the first chance in a generation to support our local team. Our team in our city. Our contract with the league and our team in the league is about something bigger. It’s about the idea of growing something that is ours.

Our participation, now, is the basis of American soccer.

It’s in that umbrella of growth, that fungal tarpaulin, under which we all stand together. Hipster craft beer MLS fans, soccer moms, whatever. We all struggle with our responsibility, caught between fandom and supporterdom, between Saturday afternoons and the bar - but that’s ok. That’s part of the uniqueness of our American soccer contract. We get to carve out our own relationships with the team and the league. Like a cartoon rumble, we define it as it defines us, and we roll together down the hill.

Some of us will go to the stadium once a year for the tailgate while others go every week out of unshakeable loyalty to the badge; some of us will go to see a new tactical development while others want to see a guy they played against in high school - the point is that we’re all there. Supporters and fans, side by side.

In the end all the arguments about MLS fans are pointless because there is only one way to watch the game. It’s the way that makes you want to watch, follow, and maybe buy a shirt or a ticket. That’s the way we build this thing - so go and find your way.

Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.

17 March 2:39 pm

How is it that Quincy Amarikwa doesn’t have a neutral gear? What super power would he like to possess? Also, what exactly is #QuincyTime?

Answers to all these questions in Both Sides of the Badge, presented by Quaker:

09 March 8:18 am

It's MATCHDAY and if you're anything like @ChicagoFire on Twitter, you woke up doing this, this morning:

We here at Chicago-Fire.com want to see how excited you are for today's game. Tweet or Instagram photos and videos of how you're getting ready for the season opener vs. Chivas USA and we'll post some of the best ones here throughout the day. One random submission will also win a brand new primary kit!

Tweet/Instagram your photos and to @ChicagoFire using #cf97 or #cf97Selfies!

09 December 10:32 am

The Chicago Fire is proud to show its ongoing support for the Greater Chicago Food Depository by participating in the organization’s Social Donation Plate campaign. The objective of the campaign is to help raise awareness and collect funds for hunger relief this holiday season.

The campaign features special, customized social donation plates from prominent Chicago figures, institutions and teams. Supporters of the cause will be asked to virtually “sign” their favorite plate and make a modest donation. Once a donation is made, the user experience allows individuals to “pass the plate” to friends via social media.

In support of hunger relief, the Fire has created a social donation plate for fans and supporters to virtually sign and pass along within the community.

“We’re happy to continue our partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and assist them in their efforts to raise awareness and funds for hunger relief,” said Chicago Fire Senior Director of Community Relations Jessica Yavitz. “I think the social donation plate campaign is a great way for our fans to engage in the cause, as well. We’re thrilled to help promote this unique project and collaborate to end hunger in our community.”

To sign the Fire plate, please visit click here.

Chicago Fire join Greater Chicago Food Depository in the Social Plate Donation campaigh

04 December 7:34 pm

Since 2001, the Mock World Cup Draw has been a fixture of sorts in the Crandall Household. Let’s be real though, the scale of it was quite small and usually just consisted of me pulling names out of a hat alone in my room.

Alas, Wednesday I took advantage of the soccer constituency available around the club’s Toyota Park office and welcomed my co-workers to the 2014 Chicago Fire Mock World Cup draw in Conference Room 1...

Chicago Fire 2014 Mock World Cup draw

All of the spelled out procedures for Friday’s draw were followed, such as pulling the odd ninth team out of the European Pot. Fire Season Ticket Services Representative Emily Morris assisted with this and randomly selected England.

We also automatically placed hosts Brazil into Group A…

Chicago Fire 2014 Mock World Cup draw

And then began placing the remaining seven seeds into their groups...

Which ended up looking like this...

Then in order to place England into a group, we put the four South American teams back into a Pot, and drew....

Finally, we drew the mixed South America/Africa pot and came away with this grouping...

Emily then began to draw the mixed CONCACAF/AFC pot...With many in the room holding U.S. and Mexico cheering interests, this proved most dramatic...

 

The European pot was the last to be drawn, adding to the drama and finality of the mock draw. A proud U.S. Men's National Team supporter, Emily was left doing this face after completing the draw...

And this is why...

Suffice to say, no U.S. fan came away from this exercise doing this...

...but thankfully, I'm not Sepp Blatter and this thing was just for fun.

Do your own mock draw ahead of Friday's official event (the spelled out procedures can be found here). Then join us for our World Cup Draw Bracket Brunch Friday from 10am-noon at Fado (100 W. Grand Ave.).

25 November 3:04 pm

One of my favorite days of the year is the day the MLS schedule is released.

For many fans, this announcement means compiling a list of blackout days where the Fire are playing at Toyota Park. For Fire fans not residing in the Chicagoland area, it means finding out when the Men in Red will be visiting your nearest MLS team. But for someone like me who has been on quite a few road trips (over 50 but not as many as this guy), the schedule release day means not only looking at the home fixtures but also the away ones.

Questions I asked myself earlier today: Does Toronto away fall on weekend instead of a Wednesday night? How much does it cost to fly to Portland in March? These important questions get answered on this special day.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five exciting dates in the 2014 Fire calendar:

Week 2 – Portland away – Saturday, March 15 

Ever since Portland came into the league in 2011, the Fire supporters umbrella, Section 8 Chicago, has had a very good relationship with the Timbers Army, Portland’s main supporters group. The relationship is based on mutual respect and a shared “dislike” of all things Seattle.

Fire fans are always treated well in Portland and it’s not uncommon for Fire and Timbers fans to hang out before and after the games, something you would never see Fire fans doing in Columbus or Kansas City.

The atmosphere at JELD-Wen Field is also second to none. Though is certainly isn’t going to be the easiest away trip on the field or the lightest on the wallet, I think we will see quite a few Fire fans making the trip to Portland in Week 2 instead of traveling to LA to watch the Fire face Chivas in the season opener.

Week 6 & 22 – Montreal away – Saturday, April 12 and Sunday, August 16

The Fire were the Montreal Impact’s opponents in the Canadian club’s first home MLS back in 2012 and I was lucky enough to be at the game and had a great time.

That game was played indoors at the Olympic Stadium with a less than favorable playing surface – something many of the Fire fans observed firsthand the day before the game when we were invited to watch the team train (see photo above).

Now the Impact have Saputo Stadium refurbished, which provides another incentive for traveling Fire fans who may not have gotten there earlier this year.

Montreal is also a unique MLS city for a number of reasons. I can’t think of another MLS city where fans can brush up on their French by talking to the locals or take in the spectacular Notre-Dame basilica while eating some amazing poutine!

Montreal can be quite cold in April, but luckily for Fire fans, the April date is only the first time the Men in Red visit The City of Saints. I hear the weather is a lot nicer in mid-August, when the Fire visit for the second time.

Week 11 – Columbus away – Saturday, May 24

Columbus or Fire House East as many Fire fans call it is the closest away trip of the season distance wise. Due to this fact, the number of Fire fans attending this match is exponentially bigger than most other away games.

In 2001, Fire fans went to Crew Stadium in their hundreds, even when the Fire was not playing! The Fire had been knocked out in the Conference Semifinals by the Los Angeles Galaxy and many fans turned up to cheer against LA (and for the then Frank Yallop-led San Jose Earthquakes) at MLS Cup.

There have been many highs experienced in Columbus, such as Paulo Wanchope’s winning goal in a 2007 match after the game was delayed due to a torrential downpour. Fire fans were also 45 minutes away from MLS Cup in 2008 but for a Crew comeback in the second half which left Fire fans, including myself, devastated. There’s also the 2012 invasion which saw 600 Fire supporters make the trek.

The Fire only play once at Fire House East this season and I expect to see a lot of red behind the goal on May 24.

Week 16 & 32 Kansas City away –Sunday, July 6 &  Friday, October 10

Kansas City is another road trip that fans have attended in large numbers throughout the years. My first trip to Kansas City was a disappointing one, with the Fire losing to the Kansas City Wizards in the final of the U.S. Open Cup in 2004.

Since then, the Kansas franchise has a new name and a soccer specific stadium. You can no longer play the count the crowd game that we often did when the Wizards played at Arrowhead Stadium.

Most fans travel to this game by bus thus skipping the “delights” of downtown Kansas City and the bus ride does offer one cool treat – a visit to the world’s largest truck stop in Iowa.

Though SKC are not really a Fire rival (despite efforts made by the KC front office to make it into something bigger) there is certainly a dislike between the players and fans on both sides.

With the October 11 game coming so late in the season, it may be a pivotal one in terms of Playoff positioning.

Week 23 – Toronto away – Saturday, August 23

By far my favorite MLS city to travel to is Toronto. It's roughly the same distance from Chicago as Kansas City and again many fans travel to Canada on supporter’s buses.

Each visit, Fire fans shack up at a great hostel where we run into soccer fans from all over the world. Toronto itself is a great city aside from the prohibitive drinking laws on weekends (who doesn’t want to have a pint at 10am while watching the Premier League the next morning?).

BMO Field is located right on the shores of Lake Ontario and is thus left exposed and is often windy and chilly but the warm pies served at some of the concessions stands are an excellent halftime treat.

On the field, the Fire have had some good success against a TFC team that has languished near the bottom of the MLS table since starting in 2007. Thankfully, this match is on a Saturday in August so I expect a much larger contingent of Fire fans to attend.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.