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.