Photo courtesy of Marty Gloark/Section 8 Chicago

Tom Dunmore Blog

Last week at the Fire’s game against New England, you might have noticed a small banner hanging off the Skyway railings on the west side of Toyota Park: it had the Section 8 logo painted on it, and below it read the word “Member”.

That was what you’d call an in-joke. You see, the most common misperception about “Section 8” is that we have “members”.  Because, kind of the whole point is that there isn’t such a thing as “Section 8 membership”, at least not in terms of something you can join by paying for an exclusive members-only card. “Section 8” is not a supporters’ group.

Instead, Section 8 is an open entity: all Fire fans are welcome to be a part of whatever “Section 8” does, from standing in the Harlem End to joining us on road trips to coming out to our tailgate to getting on our beer buses to coming to the town hall meetings we’ve been having over the last year with the Fire’s owner, Andrew Hauptman. There are no special fees for any of this. Every Fire fan is welcome to be a part of any or all of it.

That common misperception – a belief that Section 8 is some kind of an exclusive club you’re not a part of -- is something I hear all the time, and spend hours trying to correct. Some of that misperception comes from some confusion about Section 8 as a physical location in the Harlem End of Toyota Park, about Section 8 Chicago’s role as a formal Independent Supporters’ Association (ISA), and about which Fire fans can be “Section 8” philosphically (everybody!).  Let me explain . . .

 1.     Section 8 as a physical location in the Harlem End of Toyota Park

The  actual physical location of the supporters’ sections at Toyota Park – where supporters stand and sing to support the team – is commonly called “Section 8”. Right now, that area is located in the general admission sections 117/118 in the Harlem End, and if you want to be a part of Section 8 there, all you have to do is buy a ticket, come in, stand and sing along.

That’s also where the name “Section 8” comes from: that numbered section was the original physical location of the standing supporters’ sections at Soldier Field, where two supporters’ groups called the Barn Burners and Fire Ultras came together to unify in their support for the club in its early years.  It’s the primary area the loudest support for the team comes from – yet that doesn’t mean that’s all Section 8 is about.

 2.     Section 8 Chicago is an Illinois-registered not-for-profit

That brings us to the second entity with “Section 8” in the name: Section 8 Chicago, the Independent Supporters’ Assocation (ISA) for the Chicago Fire Soccer Club. Section 8 Chicago was set-up as a non-profit umbrella organization to work on behalf of all Fire supporters, whether they were Barn Burners, Fire Ultras, members of another supporters’ group or just independent fans anywhere around the stadium.

Section 8 Chicago holds an Annual General Meeting (AGM) every year, where we elect a Board of Directors who run our affairs – and this AGM is open to all Fire fans to come and vote at, not just people that stand in Section 8. Our mission is simple: “. . . to unite all Chicago Fire fans, to create a dominant in-stadium force unseen in any American team sport and to establish a home-field advantage whenever the Chicago Fire play.”

We do this with all our activities at home and away that are open to everyone.  For example, at home our big tifo displays are often funded by donations from fans around the stadium, and on road trips, many of the folks who travel with us never stand in Section 8 at home.

We also do all this as volunteers, and we need every Fire fan to pitch in. So come along to our next meeting at Klopas’ bar The Pitch on September 1st, have your say as a Fire fan and become a part of Section 8 Chicago as a formal organization.

 3.     Section 8 is a state of mind

Really, though, more than any of the above, being Section 8 doesn’t mean you have to be in 117/118 or be a volunteer for the Independent Supporters’ Association. Being Section 8 is just about being a passionate Fire fan. About wanting to be a part of the club, and giving what you can to help make the Fire the best it can be, whether that’s just by buying a season ticket, or by making it out to road games to cheer the team on or perhaps by volunteering for the Fire Foundation.

Thinking about that, I know club seat holders who are more “Section 8” philosophically than many of the folks who wander in and out of Section 8 at Toyota Park sporadically. I’m thinking about old time fans who have been there for years at every game, who support the Fire on road trips, and who talk to the ISA and the front office to improve the experience for fans.  They have their own scarves, they have their own strong opinions, they help us make and fund tifo displays, and they do their own thing too. They share the Section 8 ethos, whether or not they stand in 117/118.

You can be part of that Section 8 ethos too – become it by joining us physically in the Harlem End by getting your season ticket for 2011 in Section 8, or by volunteering for Section 8 Chicago and helping us out in supporting the club, or just by being a part of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club and contributing as a fan towards making it the best club in MLS. That’s all being Section 8 really is: sharing in a commitment to supporting the club through thick and thin.