A couple of weeks ago, The Chicago Fire and New England Revolution were a part of one of the oddest MLS matches of the season. It was not because of what was going on the pitch, however, it was because of what was going on in the stands.
This was the match that Sector Latino was banned from attending, and the match where Section 8 was not in attendance as a protest. Instead, Section 8 watched the match from the parking lot of Toyota Park.
I was in attendance for this match, and it was not the same Chicago Fire match that I’ve been to numerous other times. It was quiet, much too quiet. The loud chanting and cheering was gone, and instead, you just heard the sounds of the game and some small chatter from the fans. It reminded me of being at a baseball game, and it seemed like the game was just silent.
Pattrick Stanton, as many of you know, is longtime member of Section 8, and was the chair of the prominent supporters group back in 2014. In Section 8, his chanting around on the CAPO Stand brings an incredible amount of energy for the fans. Without him, the Chicago Fire match experience is not the same.
Pattrick was not in attendance for this one, as he was out in the parking lot for the match against the Revolution. Stanton has some very interesting thoughts to share about all of this issue.
When I first brought up this issue to him, Pattrick wanted to remind me, and everyone else, that this is not the first time the Fire have had problems with a fan group.
“My initial reaction was that, ‘here we go again.'” Stanton Said. “The ISA (Independent Supporters Association) has been fighting for fans rights at times like this since 2002. Sector Latino is not the first ethnically defined fan group to be at odds with the front office. For years it was the Polish Ultras (FU98)[Fire Ultras 98] that we’re consistently in conflict with the front office over their behavior at home and on the road. Often times rightfully so as they would use pyrotechnics in, and out of stands, never back away from a chance to fight, and were known to use offensive or racially charged language.”
When talking about the ban of Sector Latino, Pattrick did not immediately go to the smoke bomb incident that was labeled to be the reason for suspension, when he brought back up Sector Latino, he went back to an incident that happened at the match against Houston, where there was an altercation between the home and away fan sections.
“When I heard that members of Sector [Latino] had been involved in a physical altercation with the traveling members of ‘El Battalion’ & the ‘Texan Army’, post game I was not at all surprised. Neither should the front office have been. These two supporters groups have had issues with each other since Houston came into the league in 2006. This should have been labeled as a high-risk game and meetings with the leaders of SL12 and S8C should have taken place before the match. That is on the front office for not being proactive and invested in their fan’s history’s.”
Stanton bringing up that incident opened my eyes to this being a bigger issue than one single incident. He seems to view that altercation as the main reason that the suspension occurred, rather than the smoke bomb. He clearly believes that this situation was handled wrong and it was to hurt the hard-core Fire fans.
“Yes the front office could have very easily just banned those (particular individuals) who were involved in the physical altercation, instead, they chose to ban an entire sectional of innocent fans and displace them from their home of support. This is a fan gentrification if I ever saw one.”
Stanton went on to talk about much easier ways to prevent this, rather than letting it escalate to the level that it did, resulting in this suspension.
“I am not condoning the violence, but I was in Sector Latino with my wife and Globe Pub FC teammates for the whole first half of that game to sing and support in Spanish with my longtime friends in SL12. Should my ticket be revoked as well? I even said to my wife in the stadium during the Houston game how much these two supporters groups hated each other and that I would be shocked if there wasn’t an altercation on some level. If the front office gave the traveling fans the level of security needed to deter an altercation this may have never happened. Again, I don’t agree with members of SL12 looking for revenge for what happened in Houston last season, but had the front office done something to acknowledge there was a risk then maybe it (the lingering disdain) could have been handled over a conversation pregame.”
When I asked him about how he went about making the decision that a protest of the game was necessary, he had an answer that shows his passion for the club, and its fans.
“I choose to step away for the weekend as a sign of solidarity with the innocent fans that had their ticket revoked,” Stanton Said. “I’ll be back at the next match. I am also traveling away to support the club in Colorado as the team, the badge, deserves the support home and away.” (This quote was taken before the Colorado match.)
This was quite the powerful statement, that a fan as loyal as him stayed away from the match because he believes the fans that he was with were wronged. He shows here both his love for the club, and his love for the fans that are in attendance with him.
I talked to Pattrick about my experiences at the New England game, being that it was such a different environment because he and many others were not in attendance, so I wanted to understand how much of an impact he believes, that he and the many other Fire fans that join him to bring the stadium to life, do for the club.
“I, like all supporters, truly believe in our impact on the field with the players, which then leads to [put] points on the table,” Stanton said. “I am not saying that I have changed the atmosphere at a Fire game so much so that a draw became a win, but I have been told that by others. It makes you feel apart of the club. Like the effort applied can be transferred directly into the players, fueling them to play harder. The team can obviously win, or lose without us, but it sure is more fun for everyone when we are there.”
What Pattrick is saying is absolutely true. I have been to many Chicago Fire games over the years, and my enjoyment of the game skyrockets when the crowd is into it. I have been to matches where the crowd was not very loud, and the game just did not have the same energy.
I have been to plenty of matches where the team isn’t winning, I really started to invest myself into the Fire during the ‘wooden spoon’ days. Those days were very tough to go to, because there was hardly any hope, but men like Pattrick Stanton somehow got us so excited to see a team that was so bad. That New England match was less enjoyable than a match back in the ‘wooden spoon’ days for one reason — the crowd.
The people that attended these Fire games during the dark days of the club were truly the Fire Faithful. These fans would go to matches no matter what, with the exemption of the protest. Now the big question is, how do we get more fans in to see the games, and the answer to that is quite simple according to Stanton, “More fans at games comes directly from results. You can be the most clever at marketing, or create creative ways for your fans to get to the stadium far in the suburbs,” Stanton said. “But at the end of the day … WIN, and the stadium is full. No one will leave a club with tradition and passion, as long as they are successful, or at least showing improvement.”
Last season, when the Chicago Fire were at the top of the standings, Toyota Park always had new and excited fans. Now that the team has been floundering a bit as of late, attendance has dipped as of late, reminiscent of days of yesteryear.
In Stanton’s last opinion, specifically with that last point that he had about fans leaving the club, is that with a new team coming to town in the form of the Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts’ new USL venture on the horizon, — what does that mean to the Fire and its fans?
Will the Fire fans stay faithful? Or will they migrate their intense fandom to the new USL team, which boasts promises of a riverfront stadium in the city? A poll that I ran on Twitter, and other Chicago Fire media sources showed a split between fans that took part in the surveys.
For now, the Chicago Fire must focus on getting into a playoff spot, or attempting to bring home another U.S. Open Cup to Chicago. The Aleksandar Katai decision is also looming, which will also play a big part in both gaining and retaining fans of the Men in Red.
Follow Dan DeYoung on Twitter — Feature Photo Credit: Section 8