OPINION | Punishing Sector Latino for the actions of the minority is both wrong and unacceptable

One of Chicago Fire’s main supporters’ groups, Sector Latino, are currently in battle with the club’s Front Office and president, Nelson Rodriguez, after he made the decision to revoke 200+ season tickets from those situated in Section 101. Fellow supporters’ group, Section 8, have shown solidarity with Sector Latino, supporting their efforts to get reinstated.

It’s hard to find the actual facts about this story, unless you’re following the right people. There are simply no reports to see and it seems to have hardly been covered, especially by MLS who seem to ignore these types of situations – Just like they have with the #SaveTheCrew movement in Columbus, and other ‘fans versus front office’ issues across the league. It’s sad that these issues are left to the oldest and most-dearest clubs in Major League Soccer; such as the likes of Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, DC United as well as others.

Sector Latino are a Barra-style group of primarily-Hispanic supporters who have been a dedicated and passionate presence at Toyota Park since its inception in 2005. The first notable run-in between Sector Latino and Chicago Fire’s Front Office came last year after fans from the supporters’ section were attacked in Houston. Sector warned the club that trouble could repeat itself when Houston visited Chicago this year – And that’s exactly what happened.

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Despite being warned, the Fire’s Front Office ignored Sector Latino and proceeded to film the inevitable violence as it occurred. As a result, the club took away supporters’ privileges for two months, despite only ten or so people being involved. Sector Latino accepted the punishment anyway.

Another incident took place at the start of June, which led to the ban, when an individual ignited a smoke bomb in Section 101. Due to this, Section 8 decided to suspend organised support as the ban was unfair on those who weren’t involved. During the appeal, the club didn’t want to know. They just stated that Sector Latino is dangerous and had repeatedly violated conduct. The Fire released a statement saying Sector Latino is no longer a recognised supporters’ group. Section 8, in solidarity, continued to stop organised support. Since this decision, the atmosphere inside Toyota Park has been labelled as ‘dead’.

Nicole Hack (@NikHak), Vice-Chair of the Section 8 supporters’ group, told me that the ban is unjust:

“The collective punishment of all supporters, who previously stood in section 101 of the stadium is unjust. As a supporter of the Chicago Fire since 2004, it’s heartbreaking to witness the decline of not only our supporters’ culture, but also, the team’s play on the field over the years. To think that it’s possible that a ban like this could happen to any of us is distressing. I couldn’t imagine a life without my Fire family.”

It’s fairly obvious, but a whole supporters’ section should not be punished for the actions of one individual. That is wrong. Those involved in the supporters’ section extinguished the device, responding immediately. They also attempted to work alongside Monterrey Security in helping identify the perpetrator(s), but security was unable to.

That’s not the only time Monterrey Security haven’t excelled at the job they have been employed to do. After a month-long boycott, fans returned to Toyota Park last Saturday for the game against Toronto, although they were situated in the North end. During the match, a Fire fan was reportedly punched in the face by a member of the security firm, breaking the fan’s glasses in the process… It would be nice to see some consistency from the Front Office. You know – Violence isn’t acceptable. It is suggested that the supporter was on his way to his seat in Section 102, but security believed he was trying to access 101.

I spoke with two members of Sector Latino, Edith Lopez and Julio Lopez. Edith informed me that this isn’t the first time a Front Office has tried to remove the supporters’ group from 101:

“I joined Sector Latino in 2014, when a previous Front Office attempted to remove SL from Section 101 claiming that the group did not sell enough season tickets. SL joined forces with Section 8 Chicago, the larger Fire supporters group (the one I’d previously belonged to) and, through fundraising and resistance, we were able to keep 101. I switched my season tickets from S8 to SL-101 and knew, instantly, that I was home. What followed between 2014-2016 were years of miserable, historically poor performance from the Fire. Stadium attendance was also very poor. Still, SL endured and in 2017 the team seemed to take a turn for the better with the arrival of GM Nelson Rodriguez.”

Both Edith and Julio have been left frustrated by the Front Office’s silence and lack of cooperation during meetings between club officials and the supporters’ group:

 Edith Lopez: “I wonder if there was truly anything SL (Sector Latino) could’ve done to save 101; to save innocent supporters from being labelled as violent. At the appeal and hearing, we pleaded and offered to collaborate in identifying perpetrators but were ignored. We sent in a lawyer willing to give names accepting responsibility for the Houston scrap, leadership structure changes, and travel bans. But it was not even acknowledged by the Front Office. 

 Julio Lopez: “I tell myself that this will be resolved to the benefit of every party involved. Everyone will get what they want. However, the Club’s silence and contradictions in their statements and actual actions tell me otherwise. That leads to dismal speculation: are we, Sector Latino that expendable, was the plan to dissolve us all along, did the racial makeup of our Supporters Group, majority Latino, play a part, on and on. Are the answers all yes? There’s no one to say otherwise. Essentially this has all engendered a deep distrust with the current administration of the Club.

Chicago Fire have given themselves the opportunity to host the Open Cup final on the 3rd of October, should they get past Philadelphia Union in the semi-finals. If they advance, ALL Chicago Fire fans should be allowed to celebrate it. After all, it’s not everyday that your soccer team reaches a cup final.

The late Jock Stein once said: “Football [soccer] is nothing without the fans.” And that is something that should be remembered by Major League Soccer and club presidents. Players come and go, fans are loyal and always will be. These people provide the gate money and the atmosphere. But most importantly, they stick by the team through thick and thin. Sector Latino were present during all of the last place finishes in MLS, therefore they deserve the opportunity to be a part of the special day, should Chicago Fire reach the final.

As I was saying before, there has been little reporting regarding this ongoing situation. Jeff, from Fire Confidential tweeted in support of #Free101 and as a result, Chicago Fire revoked his press credentials – A sad and disappointing move as he had been reporting on his team for seven-and-a-half years. The Fire can do as they please, but shutting down those who write anything critical about the club does seem extremely petty.

I have personal aspirations of moving to the United States and working within the American soccer media. I believe that building a relationship and communicating with fans is vitally important and ingredients for success. Issues like this should not be brushed under the carpet and left ignored. It’s not fair, and ultimately, it’s not right.

As a keen follower of Major League Soccer, I had to cover this story. My website is by no means a legitimate or recognised media organisation, but a few people like it and I must make use of the audience I have and make sure these things are heard. There has been little or next to no coverage, so writing this article has been truly worthwhile.

#Free101 and ¡Vamos, Chicago!

 

Written by Luke Beaumont – (@_LukeBeaumont)

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