#BlackOutCF97: An Open Letter for Action

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OTF friend Marty Tomszak brings you a soulful message of protest…

Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of being surrounded by a wonderful group of people on a bus ride to Philadelphia for Chicago Fire’s US Open Cup semifinal against the Philadelphia Union. It wasn’t my first S8OT trip (and it won’t be my last), but it was certainly one of the most memorable. The stage was set for a perfect evening. With a win, Chicago would’ve hosted the Cup Final and earned an opportunity to add to its rich history in the competition. As we all know, things played out differently.

In the 74th minute, Union forward Sebastian LeToux picked up the ball just outside of the Fire’s box and I knew instantly the match was over. My heart sank before the shot even left the Frenchman’s foot. There have been very few moments in my life as a Fire supporter when I haven’t felt like singing, and those last sixteen minutes were undoubtedly one of them. For all intents and purposes, the Fire’s season ended with a rippling of the net on LeToux’s shot. Now, the Fire currently sit rooted to the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference standings and need to win at least seven or eight of their remaining eleven league matches to make the playoffs, despite managing just six in their first twenty-three.

Somewhere between the sadness, anger and frustration that was present on the bus ride home to Chicago, I decided I needed to find a constructive way to express my feelings. This club has been a staple in my life for the better part of ten years and I have seen it fall a long way since. The loss in Philly was indicative not only of this season, but of a continuing trend that has seen the Fire string together two seasons that reflect the worst extended run in the Club’s history. What’s worse, no improvement appears on the horizon.

The organization is quickly falling behind its league competitors that are actually owning the soccer conversation in their markets. With bad player investments, the cutting of training staff, sub-par training facilities, the absorption of titles after the removal of their previous holders, terrible marketing and merchandising strategies, a lack of direction for the future, etc. etc. etc. (I could go on and on, but that is not the point here), the fact remains that Chicago Fire is a shadow of its former self.

Facing this hard reality, we can write articles, argue in pubs, laugh in the lot, and shrug our shoulders until we’re blue in the face (trust me, I’ve tried all those things), yet the frustration remains. So, in conjunction with the #90MinuteTailgate this Saturday, I suggest an additional route for airing our grievances to the club directly, through action.

It is undeniable there is a rich history of soccer supporter culture in Chicago. Granted, it has taken a bit of a hit during the last few years of the Fire’s decline. Nevertheless, if you’re holding a match ticket for Saturday, I ask those of you who feel the same level of frustration as I do to join me in reviving that culture for a time inside Toyota Park. My hope is we’ll not only show the front office and ownership how we feel about the current state of affairs surrounding our Chicago Fire, but make them feel it too.

To reflect our current emotional state, I am organizing a display of mourning that will center around the use of black streamers and black table rolls. Whether for you black represents anger, sadness, devastation, or even emptiness and a lack of hope, all apply to the direction this club has taken. The message behind the #BlackOutCF97 tifo display is simple: “This isn’t good enough, fix it.”

The delivery of the message is simple. For those of us who are Season Ticket Holders, the ownership already has our money, so some of us may feel sitting outside in the lot for the entire match while Hauptman counts our money is too much to ask. Certainly, I think having an empty Harlem End will send a powerful message. However, I believe our power will be amplified by entering Toyota Park at 9pm (90 minutes after the scheduled 7:30pm match start time) and sitting in the Harlem End in dead silence for the rest of the match while wearing black. In the 85th minute, we will unfurl our black table rolls, black banners, black flags, etc. (Whatever you have, bring it!). They will remain unfurled, and at the final whistle we will throw our black streamers for extra visual effect.

If you plan to make #BlackOutCF97 part of your #90MinuteTailgate experience, please note the following:

  • This is not an initiative organized by the ISA or Section 8 Board. #BlackOutCF97 originated with me, but has taken hold among supporters from all parts of the stadium. This means the display is directly supporter-funded, so please help. Black table rolls can be found at your local party store for $20-$30, and black streamers at most dollar stores. I’ve got mine, so please be proactive and get yours too! Bring extras for friends.
  • Please make sure to get to Toyota Park early to attend the Rock Against Racism event, and get your black table rolls checked in by match crew by 5:30pm in the North lot of Toyota Park
  • When throwing your streamers after the final whistle of the match, please aim for the concourse. Stadium policy does not allow for aiming the streamers at players, staff, match officials, etc., and also prohibits the streamers from being thrown on the field or disrupting play. Abide by the rules.

As a disclaimer to those who have mixed feelings about Saturday’s protest, my attitude towards Andrew Hauptman is clear: For the club to move forward, he needs to sell – something he should have done years ago. #BlackOutCF97 is not necessarily aimed at players, staff, or front office individuals. Rather, it is an expression of overall sadness and frustration with the current state of the club, which has come to an unfortunate head. But, if you believe Andrew Hauptman is the right man for the job, I appreciate and respect your opinion.

Frank Yallop, Andrew Hauptman and Atul Khosla have expressed their own frustrations about this season, and perhaps the past two years. They have also acknowledged the integral part supporters play in the life of the club, so let’s share with them how we feel and leave it all out there. We supporters have a duty to make our club better, to whatever extent possible. Action for change begins this Saturday. Please join me.

Cheers!

-Marty Party

*Watch this space for an upcoming comprehensive post (with schedule) detailing Saturday’s events: Section 8’s Rock Against Racism concert, the #90MinuteTailgate and #BlackOutCF97

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OTF friend Marty Tomszak can be found on the Toyota Park capo stand and at Chicago Fire Confidential