Since joining the Chicago Fire in February I’ve met a lot of the club’s supporters. Earlier this month I traveled with Section 8 to Columbus and got to know a number of the team’s loyal followers much better.
One of the supporters I will never have the privilege of meeting is Brandon Kitchens. I’m disappointed because I’ve read his Stand and Deliver essay at least 10 times and as a writer, I still get chills.
Apparently that’s not surprising for those that knew him well.
“Brandon had a way with words,” said close friend Karl Schuster, Kitchens’ high school friend. “He knew how to get people fired up.”
Kitchens and Schuster started supporting the Fire together, attending matches regularly while the club played in its temporary home in Naperville. Eventually Kitchens enlisted in the United States Air Force and would go on to serve three tours of duty in the Middle East from 2003-07. Not long after his return to Chicago in early 2007, Kitchens wrote the famous “Stand and Deliver” message that first appeared on the Section 8 forums on March 26.
The essay was a call to arms for both the team and its supporters to recognize the honor and responsibility that existed for all parties in making the Chicago Fire successful.
“As Fire fans we have a responsibility, 110% every game, every minute, every day. If you identify yourself with this club, then ensure the good outweighs the bad. Challenge yourself to never quit, for how can you expect the squad to do the same? You do not sit in the club section, smiling and indifferent to the play on the field; you made a decision, a decision to be more. If you want to drink beers and sing songs on the weekend find a karaoke bar and rot in it -- that is not what we are here for. We provide strength, motivation, and intimidation. We push the players when there is nothing left in the tank, we demand excellence, NOTHING LESS, there is no reason this squad cannot bring us silverware, ever. We must push the players to tackle hard, strike hard, and play smart EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY GAME.”
Brandon unfortunately lost his life on July 25, 2007, almost exactly four months after writing the inspiring piece. The Conyers, GA native collapsed during a soccer match played at Kilbourne Park.
“Stand and Deliver is the most wonderful, passionate and inspiring ode to a sports team I’ve ever read,” said Former Fire President Peter Wilt. “Brandon’s return to Chicago [in 2007] really coincided with a time when the Fire and Section 8 were at a bit of a crossroads, with a transition in the club’s leadership, a few security situations and the team’s overall performance on the field. His message before the season inspired to bring people together and then after he left us, it served as a rallying point for the supporters and brought the individuals of Section 8 together in a way that has allowed it to grow to the unprecedented numbers they’re at now.”
Wilt also remembers the supporters’ game that came during Section 8’s first trip to Toronto in May 2007 where Kitchens came on as a substitute and danced around on the field in a match where the Fire’s supporters defeated Toronto’s.
“That’s the image I always have of him now, just the picture of him dancing, living life to the fullest. It’s a lesson he taught me. Brandon is missed, I think about him all the time and many people do. Obviously we wish he were but maybe more importantly is the impact he did make while he was around.”
While serving overseas, Kitchens would have to follow the team from afar which in turn grew his appreciation for the club. When he would return Stateside on leave, he made sure those around him in Section 8 understood how fortunate they were to be able to have a team to support.
“When Brandon would come back from the military it would all just be a lot of craziness and fun,” said Section 8 veteran Ben Burton. “It was kind of weird because he’d pop up at a game, be here for a weekend and we’d just go into overdrive in the section. Then he’d disappear for a while and then pop back up again at another game. The times when he would come back though, would be some of my best memories of him.”
Schuster recalls one of the last times he saw his friend was the Fire-Real Salt Lake match at Toyota Park on Memorial Day weekend – May 27, 2007.
“That game was special because everyone knew he was a veteran so his drinks were all taken care of. We had a real fun time at the tailgate and a great time at the match itself. I remember he was up on the Capo stand and people just got so fired up while he was up there for that game. Even though he did it sporadically, his time on the Capo stand served as a benchmark. He had a real loud voice and a way of motivating people that set the tone for everyone that came after him.”
That last line seems to be the constant when people speak about Brandon. Though I’ll never meet him, I feel I’ve gotten a pretty good view into what he was all about and that’s why it’s disappointing not to have that opportunity.
My best to you Brandon, I hope I did your memory some service.