Chicago Fire: Driving away its most loyal fans

It’s one thing to be bad. It’s another to be incompetent. And it’s quite another to be openly antagonistic to the very few who still bother to watch you do the first two. Welcome to the world of the Chicago Fire.

You probably missed it this weekend. You and most of the rest of the Chicago sports scene. The Chicago Fire lost their eight in a row on Saturday night in all competitions, seven in a row in MLS.

The loss rooted them even more to second-bottom in the Eastern Conference, and they can only look down upon DC United because United has played four fewer games than they have. When that gap is made up, the Fire very well may be the wooden spooners of the conference.

But it was who wasn’t there that’s the real story for the Fire. Oh, the box score lists over 18,000 in attendance and I’m sure the Fire believe that.

Given the amount of season ticket holders who no longer bother showing up, my dog will get up and sing the entire score of “Hamilton” if there were actually 18,000 there. And overall, the Fire are second-bottom in average attendance this year. But hey, when you’re that bad on the field, do you really deserve any better?

No, the big deal on Saturday was that the Fire’s most loyal supporters, the foundation of the fandom since the inception of the club, Section 8, was not there. They were banned for one match by the club themselves. That might sound weird to you, so we’ll go through what’s on the ground first.

The Fire’s other organized group of fans, Sector Latino that resided in Section 101 of Toyota Park, was banned from the stadium earlier in the season.

The reasons given were general unruliness, though the details are that in a game against Houston some fans from the section clashed with Houston fans, which Sector Latino admitted was wholly wrong and accepted their punishment.

Then, on June 8th, someone in the section lit a smoke bomb, and the whole group was banned.

In solidarity, Section 8, the ones who sing the songs and do the chants and provide anything resembling an atmosphere at the asylum-like Toyota Park, have boycotted some matches.

Last week, a group of them invaded the vacated Section 101 in protest and got the whole group banned for Saturday night’s match.

Now, to the normal, American fan, this sounds ridiculous. Organized groups and banning and all that. It’s not a thing in other sports. I get it. But soccer is different. This is a part of the culture and a big reason why in places like Orlando, Seattle, and Atlanta the teams do very well in terms of attendance.

There is supposed to be a deeper connection between fans and club, and the organized groups are the conduit to this. They usually get a seat at board meetings, if nothing more than for show, and a representative from the club is present at the fans’ meetings.

This has not been something the Fire have had for a while. The club has been confrontational with their supporters’ groups and media alike, mostly because those two had the audacity to point out the product the Fire have put out under owner Andrew Hauptman has been just south of toddler vomit.

The Fire have made the playoffs once in six seasons, and this is in MLS where they hand out playoff spots like perfume spray on the floor of Macy’s. All you have to do is stand still and one will come to you.

The Fire have no relationship with any of their fans, and their existence mainly takes place in the dark closet of the Chicago sports scene. And this is Chicago, perhaps the most international city in the country, and certainly one of them. The Fire have watched expansion team after expansion team pass them by, and all they seem proactive about is antagonizing their most ardent fans.

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There have been problems with security, though that was Bridgeview’s choice and not the club’s. They easily could have found the individuals who lit that flare or caused the other trouble but instead painted with a broad brush. And they’ve castigated anyone close who has tried to criticize. They are paranoid, dumb, incompetent, and vindictive. Other than that I can’t think of a reason to complain.

I am a soccer fan. I long for a local club I could support on a weekly basis. And it’s been years since I even thought about doing so with the Fire because of all of this. Apparently, they won’t rest until everyone feels like I do.

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