In the second installment of the Chicago Fire’s Anniversary Week blog series, Section 8 Chicago Chairman Tom Dunmore explains what October 8th means for Fire supporters.
If Chicago’s Major League Soccer team’s name had been the Chicago Rhythm as originally intended by Nike, playing in turquoise, black and green colors, do you think it would have survived the thirteen years it has in the league, despite having to play in four different stadiums? Would you be a diehard fan of that?
Personally, I’m not so sure the club would be around, or that I would be willing to travel thousands of miles cheering on the Rhythm. We do know that the other MLS expansion team from 1998, the ill-branded Miami Fusion, failed to establish an identity well enough to survive, and contracted from the league in 2001.
Thankfully for us, the far-sighted leadership of Chicago’s nascent MLS team in 1997 convinced then owner Phil Anschutz that Chicago’s MLS team should set its roots in Chicago’s history and to ditch Nike’s Rhythm branding: and so, on October 8th 1997, 126 years to the day that the Great Chicago Fire began in 1871 with Miss O’Leary’s cow tipping over a lantern (as the myth has it), the club was founded as the Chicago Fire and the rest is history.
That history, like that of Chicago itself following the Great Fire, has been one of rebuilding and grand plans laid from leadership to supporters in establishing the club as something to be proud of. The Fire of course began with extraordinary success in 1998, victorious in both the MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup, and then reached the MLS Cup final twice more in the ensuing five years, as well as claiming the Open Cup in 2000, 2003 and 2006, and the Supporters’ Shield in 2003. Meantime, fans set the standard in MLS for passionate support from tifo displays to road trips for the team.
The Fire finally found a permanent home at Toyota Park in 2006, ending a nomadic existence that, had the club not had a kernel of real Chicago pride to succeed despite the odds, could easily have resulted in contraction or a move elsewhere as happened to Miami and San Jose’s MLS teams respectively. Now we have a home and an identity that simply cannot be erased, unlike say, what happened to Fizzy Drink New York.
This season looks like ending in disappointment on the field. Off it, though, the club has made real progress: a supporters’ charter has been agreed by the front office and fans to push the club forward, Section 8 continues to grow and bring a unique atmosphere to Fire games, and fans around the stadium seem more engaged with the club than for some time.
Long-time Fire fan Benny Kumming explained this better than I can yesterday.
But the simplest way of explaining what this club is about remains in its name, and that’s why October 8th is such a seminal date for us. We are not the Chicago Rhythm or Barnum and Bailey FC, as Brandon Kitchens put it in stand and deliver.
Brandon’s call to arms before the 2007 season began is as significant as ever at the end of a difficult season this year. Every fan and every player and every staff member should read it, let it simmer on their brain during the long offseason ahead, and be ready to give all for the club in 2011.
Stand and deliver is in the Chicago Fire Soccer Club charter because it speaks to what this club aspires to represent. The club is not named after a disaster, but after an epic effort to rebuild the city. On October 11th 1871, the Chicago Tribune’s first post-fire issue declared “Cheer Up . . . looking upon the ashes of thirty years' accumulations, the people of this once beautiful city have resolved that CHICAGO SHALL RISE AGAIN.”
And how Chicago rose again: with Midwestern grit and Chicago-sized ambition, a city burned to the ground on October 8th 1871 had the world’s first skyscraper rising from it by 1885, and became the city we love today, surviving as a leading global metropolis more than once against the odds. The Chicago Fire Soccer Club turns thirteen this year, and must seek to reach for the sky in its maturity as the city itself has, overcoming new challenges just as past ones were brushed aside.
So on October 8th this Friday, we will kick-off the Fire’s anniversary game with a tribute to that date in Section 8 with a nod to Miss O’Leary’s cow and its significance for this city and this club in starting the Chicago Fire.
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.