This past Saturday I had the good fortune of joining Section 8 Chicago, the Fire’s Independent Supporters Association, on their bus trip to Columbus for the Fire-Crew match. Since arriving in Chicago, this trip had been circled on my calendar, never mind the fact it came during our three-day Fourth of July weekend – it’s a rarity in sports to have three consecutive days off during your season.
I wanted to go to experience the true sense of what an away trip meant to Section 8 – leaving early, driving all day, arriving at a stadium, having it just be you, those around you and the team on the field representing your city away from home.
During the bus ride and tailgate, I had the opportunity to meet a number of Fire fans, all whose love and loyalty for the club were on display. I met some characters, some really fun, down-to-earth people, but all with the same obvious devotion to one cause: supporting the club wherever it goes.
One that has gone above and beyond is “Fire Original Fan”, Andy Braudy, who hit the away trip century mark with his visit to Columbus last Saturday.
You’re almost assuredly asking, “How can he be positive it’s 100 road games?”
The man known in many a photo with his Flag of Chicago bathing cap was audited.
“One of the fans on the Section 8 forums asked how many trips I’d been on a few years ago,” said Braudy. “We got together and with a combination of ticket stubs [Braudy is quite the collector] and memory, we pieced together season-by-season how many road games I’d been to and made a master list. Once we had the list I just kept track from there and today is number 100.”
I like to make my case with numbers to add perspective, so here it is:
The Fire have played 272 away matches in all competitions, including friendlies, since 1998. At 37 percent, the 51-year-old has attended over one-third of all Fire away matches and has averaged roughly eight road trips a year since the club’s inaugural season -- his first coming with the 1998 MLS Cup Final, a 2-0 win over DC United at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA.
Wow, that’s some perspective!
From there, Braudy was part of the first organized road trip to Kansas City in 1999 with the old Barn Burners.
“They did a bus trip to Arrowhead in ’99 and above all it was memorable because it was our first and the start of something that you now see today. I actually still have the brochure that was put together to promote that trip.”
The Aquatics Director at the Chicago Athletic Association, Braudy has been to all stadiums MLS teams have played at with two exceptions: He never made it to Raymond James or old Tampa Stadium to see the Mutiny play and he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to see the Fire play at PPL Park, expansion side Philadelphia Union’s new stadium, though his time for that is coming in September.
Having seen so many Fire games on the road, the obvious question for the club loyalist is, “What’s your most memorable road match?”
“That’s tough. [Pause]… I really have to think about that.”
That’s understandable, let’s come back to it.
What’s your favorite away venue?
“Out of everywhere I’ve been, and this may not be popular because they knocked us out of the playoffs last year, I really enjoyed Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City. It’s an excellent place to watch a match in a nice setting.”
That’s alright Andy. You have way more street cred than pretty much anyone -- you’ve earned the right to speak positively about RSL’s shiny, relatively new stadium. Oh by the way, the Fire happen to be playing the defending MLS Cup champions Thursday night, LIVE on ESPN2 at 8:30pm, go figure. I’m also supposed to mention its World Cup Night presented by Best Buy!
So back to the question, “What’s your most memorable road match?”
“Still tough but I’d have to say the 2003 U.S. Open Cup final against the MetroStars at the Meadowlands. They won in New Jersey against Bob Bradley who’d left us the year before. I left work for lunch that day and hopped on the plane to New York City.
Let me cut him off here…I’m shocked, SHOCKED, to hear someone that’s been to 100 away matches has ever had to ditch work to catch the Fire on the road.
“I figured I wouldn’t get caught because the Cubs were in the National League Championship Series playing Game Seven after the Steve Bartman foul ball incident. The whole city was kind of focused in on that, I figured, ‘Oh I’m not going to get caught’ so I took off.
Good save. At least one person is thankful for that guy’s blunder.
“To be honest, the game should have been in Chicago, I remember we put in a bid that for some reason got turned down by US Soccer. But we had a great group, we got a goal from Damani Ralph around the 70th minute and it was enough. We won our first Open Cup on the road. A great trophy and its all the more memorable because of the story.”
Braudy is proud to see how Section 8 has taken on the organization of bus trips to Columbus, Kansas City and Toronto in recent years.
“They’re much more organized than we were the first few years. The group has become more cohesive as time’s gone on. It’s definitely younger – I wish I’d see more of the old-timers like me out here but with everything there’s turnover and that’s fine.”
More recently, Braudy was married and he and his wife SunJoo Kim have welcomed a daughter, Patricia SeungRi Braudy to the family. He’s quick to point out that “SeungRi” means victory in Korean. His trademark Flag of Chicago cap has seemingly been passed down to his daughter, while he goes with a more sensible solution to fight match day elements, be they heat or cold.
His new family situation hasn’t deterred his support of the Fire on the road, just altered it a bit.
“Until my wife and I had the baby I always did the quick turnaround bus trips, coming back the same night. Now we take a bit more time and stay the night even though once you see a place like Columbus, it’s not a very big attraction, at least for me. I’m sure everyone has a different view.”
As for the actual game, a 2-1 Fire loss, it wasn’t the best performance for either side and of course the Fire came away empty handed. For Braudy it’s still not as upsetting as other matches he’s seen at Crew Stadium.
“Columbus is one of our biggest rivals so it’s always disappointing to lose to them, but even more when you watch them lose away. We used to absolutely own that place, still this one didn’t hurt quite as bad as the Eastern Conference Finals in 2008.”
Maybe that’s true, but from my 24-hour pass as a fan, doing six hours each way on a bus, that result and performance hurt a little bit. At the end of a day of yelling, screaming, singing, feeling emotionally involved and more than a few libations, I felt tired, dejected and had the overwhelming feeling, at least as a fan that I’d earned the three points in Columbus – too bad it doesn’t work that way.
Andy reminded me what’s great about the away trips, even in defeat.
“The main thing is the camaraderie. You really bond with people more than you do at home games. You always want the team to win, but sometimes an away trip is bigger than that. Showing your team support on the road and doing it together is something special and those experiences are the most memorable.”
Congratulations on your 100th Fire away trip Andy! Here’s to 100 more for you and your family!