In Day 3 of our Anniversary Week Blog series, Section 8 Chicago Communications Director Dan Martin talks about his memories of his first Chicago Fire match...
Do you remember the first time you saw the Fire in person? The players warming up on the field? The people around you speculating about who'd be starting that night? A growing noise and sense of activity from Section 8?
Whether you started watching the Fire at Soldier Field, in Naperville, or at Toyota Park, chances are you remember many special things about the first time you spent 90 minutes watching the Men in Red.
My first Fire match was, frankly, amazing. I had seen the team a couple of times on TV and I knew some of the players from a variety of nation’s past World Cup squads. I had been meaning to go, so when some friends bought tickets for one of those great 2-for-1 weeknight contests, they had an extra that they gave to me.
I was surprised by Toyota Park -- it was very new and it seemed like we were sitting right on top of the field. I couldn't believe how few people were actually there!
When the game started, I was also taken by surprise by the incredible passion displayed by the people in the stands. Though the stands seemed less than half full, those that were there were amazingly raucous. I remember asking who the group of mostly-red-clad people behind the goal to our right were, and being told something akin to "That's Section 8. They're the crazy fans."
Speaking of crazy: my own friends, whose mild manners I thought I knew, screamed at the tops of their lungs, sang along with others in the crowd, and shared in delight when the opposing team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, botched a play and lost the ball.
I nearly lost it when one of my friends shouted, "Landycakes, your talent is receding faster than your hairline,” at Landon Donovan, one of the few names on the field I knew.
It wouldn't be the last time I heard Fire fans yelling at Donovan…
The Fire went up 1-0 early, then 2-0 only a few minutes later. As the game progressed, the volume and pitch of the noise in the stadium seemed to grow exponentially.
In the second half, LA managed to grab a goal back, but in the dying minutes a speedy, slight player put the Fire on top for good. When the whistle blew the place erupted. I stood and applauded, impressed by the scoring display by the home team as well as the joy of their fans.
Then some people on the sidelines brought out a trophy.
It turns out that this was a bigger match than I knew. My friends had neglected to tell me that this Wednesday night game was the U.S. Open Cup Final -- or perhaps it had simply failed to register in my brain.
The players raised the trophy to the stands and danced as the crowd lost its collective mind once again. Then the players carried the trophy, walking as a group, to the people standing behind the goal. They celebrated together in a way I had never seen in any sport. A group of people had gathered in front of our seats, young children, their mother, and an older couple. Just then Ivan Guerrero sprinted across the field and met these people -- his family -- and took them out on the field to continue the celebration. Sitting there in our corner section, I couldn't help but want to be a part of the party.
As we filtered out in to the parking lot and headed home, I couldn't get over the obviously special relationship between team and fans of the Fire. It was something I wanted to experience again. I went to several more matches that year and though there were no more trophy celebrations, I found myself hooked on the games and yearning for the next one.
Since then, I've migrated to Section 8, purchased season tickets, gotten involved in tifo displays, the tailgate, and now the ISA. I've met dozens of wonderful, interesting, and dedicated Fire fans -- if not hundreds. I've followed the team to other cities, celebrated victories and been crushed by defeats. I've come agonizingly close to that trophy celebration feeling, but never quite gotten there. Like the other bloggers this week, the sense of community that the surrounds the Fire is what keeps me coming back.
Remembering that first exhibition of the true ethos of the Fire -- Tradition, Honor, and Passion -- is what drives me. As I searched the internet Tuesday night to halfheartedly watch a stream of this year's US Open Cup final, memories of my first match are what's foremost in my mind. Being a part of the community is why we support the Fire, and that community will continue to grow as more and more people tap into the core of what it is to be Fire.
When the next trophy celebration happens, you can bet we'll all be sharing in it together.