Chicago Fire fans throw 20th anniversary party for team
Twenty years ago, then-Chicago Fire general manager Peter Wilt wasn't looking very far into the future. He just hoped the fledgling club had a future.
"No, at that point you're thinking, what's going to happen tomorrow?" Wilt said Sunday night. "Honestly, that day we were panicking about ticket sales."
On Oct. 8, 1997, Wilt stood at Navy Pier and announced the name of Chicago's new Major League Soccer club. At 10 a.m. the next day, tickets went on sale.
"We were really concerned about whether or not the phones would ring the next day," Wilt said. "We were looking at the phones praying they were going to ring, and sure enough they did, and they didn't stop the entire day. It was just taking orders, taking orders, taking orders, and that was a huge relief for us."
On Sunday night at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Fire's supporters groups celebrated the club's 20th anniversary, throwing a party for fans, current and past staff, and current and past players and coaches. About 450 fans attended.
"The gauntlet was thrown by the 15th (anniversary party), and we think the 20th did hold up," Section 8 Chicago chairman Scott Greene said. "Great turnout former, current, everything. It was really special. Really special."
The party attracted six of the club's eight Ring of Fire hall of fame members: Chris Armas, Bob Bradley, Lubos Kubik, Piotr Nowak, Frank Klopas and Wilt.
Other former players attending included: Hristo Stoichkov, Diego Gutierrez, Chris Rolfe, Gonzalo Segares, Pavel Pardo and Dema Kovalenko.
Current players met their predecessors. Stories were swapped, pictures taken.
"It's important that this not just be a nostalgia show, that we not just remember the good old days," Wilt said. "Of course it's good to celebrate the past, but it's good to link it to what's going on today with the Fire and what will happen in the future."
The future is being built by the current players. About three-quarters of the current roster attended. A long run in the upcoming MLS playoffs can assure their legacy, though they won't be able to match the 1998 expansion team's success. That team won MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup, won this year by Sporting Kansas City.
Many of those players returned to Chicago, not only for Sunday's fan party but for a private event Saturday night thrown by Klopas.
"When they get together, it's as if they left the locker room last week. They kid each other, they tell the stories from the old days, but they make new memories as well," Wilt said of the former players.