Fun With The Fire
So I went to the first-ever game open to the public in the Fire's new stadium, Toyota Park, on Sunday night. My mama purchased tickets for my old man, two of my brothers, and myself as sort of a soccer family night out for the lads. Moms are great for that sort of thing. This did, however, sort of cramp my style with all the hotties walking around the stadium - and there were some definite hotties walking around. Chicks dig soccer players. Believe it. I've been told they like the muscular and visible legs.
Anyway, although I'm decidedly retarded when it comes to changing technology - disposable cameras are a challenge to me - I borrowed a digital camera for the evening to share some photos on the internet here. Alas, I'm no Annie Leibovitz, and other than the specific instruction of "push this button right here," I had little clue what I was doing. Even worse, about halfway through the game the camera's battery started dying and I was reduced to shutting it off then turning it back on to quickly snap a pic before it went back off. I repeated this annoying, futile routine several times before the battery said goodbye for good. Thus, the photos are far from art. In fact, if they came out even remotely clear, I was satisfied...
Overall, my first impression of the stadium is a resounding thumbs up. I was a bit worried that MLS would run with a bunch of cookie cutter stadiums that lacked personality. The little bit of the new stadium I've seen in Dallas didn't strike me as overly imaginative and I was concerned that once inside the Fire's new digs, I would find it little more than a bunch of seats thrown around a field.
But I was wrong.
The place is fantastic. As soon as stepped from the concourse, down my aisle and into view of the field, I was sold. The sun was shining, almost everyone was wearing red, people were chanting, drums were being beaten, and I knew this would be a place I'll enjoy coming to for years to come.
Home sweet home.
Oh, and most importantly, the Fire won 2-0 in what was surely just the beginning of one of the most dominant, notorious homefield advantages in sports. Book it.
This is the main entrance to the stadium. I like how it's designed to look like the main entrance to an old firehouse.
This was taken from my seat as the Fire and New York Red Bulls lined up for the playing of the first-ever national anthem in the stadium.
The Fire fans have long been underrated. They're lively, loud, devoted and totally into it. Too bad that, in the past, they were largely drowned out in the cavernous Soldier Field. They revealed this giant banner during the pregame ceremonies.
Unlike most stadiums where your ticket stub is vehemently checked by ushers, I was free to roam anywhere. This shot was taken from the front row in the southwest corner of the stadium. As you can see, the fans are extremely close to the field. Extremely. Which is awesome. They're right on top of the acton, about ten feet away all around the field.
This pic isn't me zooming in. No, that's actually how close I was to the corner flag. (Very blurry, I know.)
For this shot, I moved to the upper deck on the west side. I'm looking north.
This is a view of the field from the top row of the upper deck. If you look past the far corner flag and past the top of the stadium you can see the Chicago skyline.
Of course, this is the South Side we're talking about, meaning the factories and smoke stacks are never far away. This shot is taken from the outer concourse looking west.
This is looking south from the north conscourse. All of that stuff you see behind the south goal is actually an area for a stage which can be erected for concerts. More on that later.
For this shot I moved down directly behind the north goal. Again, you can see how close the fans are to the action. Yes, that's the Red Bulls - and American legend - Tony Meola in the net.
This shot is taken from the same spot behind the north goal as the last. It's looking up into the craziest section of fans in the stadium. I believe they call themselves "Section 8" or the "Barn Burners" or something. I'm not sure, but these are the cats I normally sit near during Fire games. While I tend to just watch the action, these people go out of their way to chant endlessly, never sit down (ever!), bang drums, heckle the opponent (which is awesome considering they're within spitting distance of the field), and generally try to make as much boisterous noise as possible. They're totally into it...and most are probably very drunk. To their credit, they make the atmosphere similar to something you'd find in other parts of the world where soccer is taken very, very seriously.
Short story: I didn't see it happen live, but when I got home and watched the replay, there was a point in the game where someone from this section threw a beer bottle on the field. Meola picked it up, tossed it back, and began pointing to someone in the crowd.
Now, on the one hand, this was total garbage from the dickbag fan who tossed the bottle. He was obviously a drunken lowlife and should have been booted, maybe even banned for good. Unacceptable.
On the other hand, a part of me had to laugh. It's good to know that the Fire has fans this crazy and this into it. Take away the part where the guy is a bottle-tossing piece of shit, and we'll be onto something.
This is a large drum that some dude was beating among the "crazy" fans I just mentioned. To be honest, this section was so crowded and packed together, I legitimately wondered how he was able to beat the drum without hitting people around him. It was mayhem in there. Once MLS totally breaks big, this area will be rampant with arrests.
By the way, I think I'd like to bang a drum. I think I could be that guy and have fun with it. Seriously. I may have to purchase a large drum and just show up to a game with it one day.
Looking from the north stands towards the west sideline.
This was taken seconds after Thiago scored for the Fire. He then raced to the crowd beyond the far corner flag. If you look closely, you can see the entire Fire team celebrating with the crowd in the corner. You can also see four Fire substitutes, who were warming up, running to join th fun. (They're the four dudes with the yellow pennies on.) Like I said, great, lively, loud, bositerous atmosphere. At one point, as the Fire subs were warming up behind this north goal, they all looked up at something going on in the crowd behind them and started pointing and laughing. You know you have good fans when they're so crazy that they're cracking up the home team. Awesome.
Another shot showing how close the fans are to the field. That's Thiago lining up to take a corner kick.
Behold what a pristine, clean men's bathroom looks like in a new stadium. It won't be long until drunk dudes are pissing in the sinks to avoid long lines and the floor is little more than one gigantic puddle of urine. (By the way, when that guy taking a leak spotted me and my camera, he screamed "Fag!" and beat the hell out of me.)
A shot from the east concourse looking west.
Chicago's world famous Jesse White Tumblers perform at halftime. That's me just about to land and go directly into a sommersault. I'm kidding, I'm kidding. I'm actually just hitting the trampoline.
As you can see in this shot, the stadium has all of the bare necessities. (Incidentally, I was glad to see that the Patio, a local food establishment from rght down Harlem Avenue, has a spot in the northeast corner. Fantastic grub.)
The west stands.
The south endzone. At first, I was a bit disappointed that an edzone would be compromised by a stage. I figured it would be better if more seats for soccer were in place. But it's not that bad. The large video screen is nice and the small strip of seats are right on the field. Also, those two small buildings you see on the right and left will serve as luxury boxes during Fire games, but during concerts that's where the performers will hang out backstage. I think it's kind of cool that some rock stars will be hanging out where I'll hopefully plant my butt someday. As a rock star myself, of course. Or as Fire fan. Either way.
A shot of my little bros. As you can see, I've taught the young padawans well: Never smile for a photo unless you're drunk or wearing a badass pair of shades. The force is strong with these two. (By the way, check out the blonde, shaggy kid mugging for the camera in the background. I have no idea who he is. Dork.)
Your truly. Ladies, ladies, calm down now. Calm down. My e-mail is at the top of this blog. One at a time. I'll go through each of your love letters one at a time and get back to you. Those of you who send pictures, though, will earn bonus points. Just for the record.