Anny Week Blog 4.2

Mario Ortega's Fire love affair

When you are at a Fire match, in
the midst of the various chants that “those crazy fans” do during the course of
the game is a brief, seemingly simple verse.

Fire til I die,

Fire til I die,

I know I am,

I’m sure I am,

I’m Fire til I die.

Having stood in Section 8 since
2006, I’ve come to realize that it’s one that people pick up very quickly.  It’s direct, to the point and doesn’t
require the memorization of say an Urbs in Horto Magico.  Watching other soccer matches, both MLS
and European, I also realized it was one that is easily adaptable by even the
most hated of rivals.  Given these
facts, one might come to the simple conclusion that these are just words to a
simple cadence.  It’s something
that can get the crowd and the team going.  And if you’re not a long time soccer fan it might seem like
the rallying cry of people that have watched Green Street Hooligans one too
many times. (Hint, once is too many.)

However, based on my experience
watching the Fire, the sentiment behind this chant and how one arrives at such
a feeling is something that you realize can be both unique and sincere.

Now I have met Fire fans that
have been fortunate enough to not only support the Fire since day one, but
soccer fans long before that.  You
get to hear stories about the first Capos and the formation of the first
supporters groups.  How they were
disappointed when the Chicago Sting along with the original NASL came and
went.  How they had to beg their
local bartenders to open up before 9am to turn on a match from England and the
realization of how fortunate they were to finally get back those feelings of
cheering for a home side when the Fire was established 13 years ago.

Not everyone is that lucky.  Having not been born in Chicago, my
allegiances lay elsewhere. To not only other teams but other sports.  Thanks to my dad, my first love was
baseball.  Walking into a 80
year-old stadium and experiencing that tradition at such a young age has a
lasting effect on a young kid. 
Then, living in one of the only U.S. cities that is north of Canada,
hockey soon followed.  Ice time in
the state of Michigan is about as rare as jobs are these days.  Finally, attending college made sure I
bled Blue and hated almost anything from the state that is Ohio. 

Like many people that stand in
Section 8 or are die-hard Fire fans know, we came from somewhere else -- not
being blessed to have been born in the greatest city in the U.S. -- for
whatever reason, we chose to move to the City by the Lake.

This isn’t to say that I was
oblivious to soccer.  The 1994
World Cup peaked my curiosity enough that by the time of the 2002 World Cup I
wanted a side to cheer for.  When a
job opportunity called in 2003 I moved to Chicago as any smart person
would.  I took that opportunity to
start attending Fire games at new Soldier Field.  Dragging co-workers to matches wasn’t the best experience
for first games.  Sitting in a
half-empty NFL stadium didn’t help matters either.  But I did notice some people behind the goal having what looked
like a great time.

Like most people, when I learned
about these groups that sat in Section 8, I was curious, confused and
encouraged by what they did. 
Standing the whole game and singing the entire time didn’t quite fit
into my past stadium experiences. 
I chose to admire from afar or stand in the adjoining section, not
exactly sure of what to make of the whole thing, all the while knowing I
admired their dedication.  
Having found their website, I started to eavesdrop in their forums.  Reading the discussions, laughing at
the banter, curious about what I assumed were inside jokes and almost ready to
respond but holding back, not ready for what seemed like the vitriol that could
happen if I misspoke.  At the time,
I didn’t know that it was just the normal consequences that befall anyone
posting on any internet discussion.

Then I found The Globe.  It was like finding the physical
manifestation of all the discussions on the internet mixed in with your
favorite adult beverage.  It wasn’t
long before watching an away game turned into meeting new people. That turned
into taking bus rides to the new stadium in Bridgeview.  Suddenly going to a Fire match wasn’t
about convincing friends to go but arguing on the bus about the latest result
and how we would get out of this hole and into the playoffs.  Following the Fire meant celebrating a
win late into the night, commiserating a loss
later into the night and listening to everyone’s hope for the next
match. 

It helped that one of the first
people I met was a lovely young girl decked out in Fire gear but who was
originally from Cleveland. 
Listening to her love for the team and then meeting others who shared
that passion while also having ties to Michigan or other parts of the country
made me not have such an “outsider looking-in” feeling.  I wasn’t choosing to watch another
city’s team, I was supporting my team.

That support inevitably leads one
to wearing your dedication around your neck, literally.  When you get your first scarf you know
why people are wearing them even in a humid Chicago July.  Whether it is the skill of the players,
the flow of the game, the passion of your friends or the anticipation for the
next match, you want people to at least see that you know something that they
need to know about.  Suddenly you
are having conversations with people on the ‘L’ about the latest game.  Sure they are from Green Bay, but you
find yourself inviting them to the bar, watching the next match and many years
later talking trash about American football but always waiting in anticipation for
the next Fire match.

Over the years these experiences
just build and build. There’s the next great Thorrington goal to beat LA, the
next road trip where in the rain you out-chant a tin can stadium full of fake
fans, or the next TIFO party where you ask yourself who the hell knew that
making banners would actually not be work.  They all add up. 

So I can’t point to one goal or
one late night that made me understand this is my Club.  I just know that walking through a
tailgate and seeing person after person that you want to spend an hour catching
up with makes you sure.  Walking
into a Section and screaming at the top of your lungs makes you sure.  Watching the back of the net struggle
to keep the ball from going through it makes you sure. 

I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m Fire til I die.

All Fire
fans are invited to join in the fun at Section 8 Chicago's Fire
Anniversary events this week, including a special pig and lamb roast
tailgate presented by Frank Klopas at Toyota Park before the Fire-Crew
game. For more information, visit
www.section8chicago.com.