The Cheap Seats: Fire in the hole
The Globe bar is somewhere in Chicago. At least I think it's in Chicago. I'm not really sure because my taxi drove about 47 miles to get to the neighborhood the Globe was supposed to be in. By the time we reached the intersection of Irving Park and Damen, I guessed we were in Iowa.
Luckily, I accosted a friendly fellow in a too-tight Carlos Bocanegra Fulham replica and he set me straight. He assured me I was still in Chicago and that the Globe was just down the street. And, yes, this Boca impersonator continued, they would be showing the U.S. Open Cup Final between the Kansas City Wizards and the Chicago Fire.
I had my doubts, I must admit. How many times have you heard from some chatty smartypants in a replica jersey about "this totally awesome soccer bar" on the corner of X and Y, and you go there early on a Saturday morning to find a couple of toothless old drunkards and an ancient projection TV showing "Tic-Tac-Dough" reruns?
So what a pleasant surprise Wednesday night to walk into the Globe, with my skepticism tattooed on my forehead, and find a wall of flat-screen TVs and an SRO crowd of Old Style-drinking, scarf-wearing, cheering, chanting Chicago Fire fans. Former MLSer and National Team player Janusz Michalik was there. As was some potbellied guy in an Emergency 51 helmet, the kind my brother wore 24-7-365 when he was seven years old. Most of the people at the Globe were members of Section 8, a kind of holding company for the Fire's various supporter groups (Barnstormers 1871, Ultras '98, etc.) Without a doubt and with no apologies: The Section 8ers are the best fans in the league. Period. And if you didn't know that from listening to them cheer and sing at Soldier Field, then go down to the Globe some day (if you can find it) and listen to them cheer, bemoan, analyze, scrutinize, second guess, hope, pray, inhale, exhale, live, breathe, and die for their team.
They did all of that Wednesday night during the 1-0 loss to K.C. The guy in the Emergency 51 helmet wandered aimlessly all night, shouting out "Come on, Fire!" at random intervals that had nothing to do with the actual match. They complained that they could only get the match commentary in Spanish, then realized the other option was Phil Schoen -- "We're better off in Spanish," one guy said to many agreeing nods. There were discussions of whether the returning hero, Zach Thornton, should've started in goal over Henry Ring, though whenever Ring made a save, someone would whoop, "What's his name?" and everyone else would reply "Henry Riiiiiing!!!" When Chris Armas entered the game, the midfielder's first appearance in some time, the entire room resounded with the word, "Chriiiiiissssss!!!" It was all great.
At some point, that guy walked in. You know that guy, the one who didn't realize what he was getting into. He's usually dressed like a modern-day Brian Ralph Johnson: striped Izod, J. Crew khakis with the pre-frayed cuffs, maybe some trendy Puma kicks he read about in "Details." Anyway, you know the type. They suck. And they always say something stupid.
This particular guy walked in and profoundly announced: "Whoa, soccer fans."
Good guess, donkey, as my buddy Big Chief whispered under his breath. It was at this moment that I was very glad we were in the U.S. Midwest in 2004. Think about it: In North London circa 1982, that comment would've started a rumble to resemble the final showdown in "The Outsiders" and someone would've lost an eye. Here, the Fire fans simply told him to move because he was blocking the TV.
The game went well enough, considering the Wizards are terrific and the Fire are anything but. 0-0 at halftime, 0-0 at full time, and it looked like the Fire might squeak out an unexpected extra time victory.
And then ... and then ... disaster: The Wiz scored on an Igor Simutenkov freekick in the 95th minute of overtime, a Golden Goal that gave K.C.'s owner, Lamar Hunt, his very own Lamar Hunt Trophy. (Does that strike anyone else as absurd? I mean, shouldn't there be a rule that you can't name a trophy after someone who might actually win said trophy?)
When Simutenkov's shot broke through the wall and then past Henry Ring, the Globe became eerily quiet. All you could hear was the weak cheers from Arrowhead on the PA system and the heartbreaking shuffling of feet all around in the room. Someone's hand bumped heavily against a tabletop.
Then, as if the loser spell were broken by the collective realization that everyone was still alive and that unfortunately Joey Tribiani wasn't going away quite yet, the vitriol spilled out:
"That was a crap way to lose a game."
"What are you guys doing? Why do you even have a wall?"
And finally, the words that probably sum up all the Section 8ers' anguish over the Fire's disappointing 2004 campaign, an anguish that was on the verge of redemption had the team brought home the hardware Wednesday night: "Excuse me, miss, can I get my check, please?"
Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or clubs.