Fire fans from abroad miss chance to see home opener

Nobody knows for sure when the home opener will actually come, and how that will come about. The Fire are still looking forward to the opener, but like everybody else, they can’t know when.

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Saturday’s Fire match at Soldier Field would’ve welcomed over 40,000 fans, and some of those supporters were coming in from distant locales.

Courtesy of CONCACAF

Today’s scheduled return to Soldier Field against Atlanta United was supposed to be one of the biggest regular-season games in Fire history. It was expected to draw more than 40,000 fans, and some of those supporters were coming in from distant locales.

But due to concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus, that celebration is on hold. And fans from abroad won’t be able to come to Chicago and be on the lakefront today for what would’ve been a key moment in the Fire rebuild.

“When I knew that MLS postponed the game, I knew the trip wasn’t going to happen, but it honestly took me two days to actually say the words ‘I’m going to cancel the trip,’” said Fire fan Michael Giacometti, who moved to England in 2015 and hasn’t been back to Chicago since. “I told everybody I feel deflated. It feels like a real gut punch. I need some time to get it through my head and come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to be able to make this trip because I’ve been looking forward to it since I booked it in December.”

Because of travel arrangements, Giacometti is instead looking to come back for the Sept. 26 match against Montreal, which for now is scheduled to be the home finale. Nobody knows for sure when the home opener will actually come, and how that will come about.

The Fire are still looking forward to the opener, but like everybody else, they can’t know when.

“There is a lot of excitement about our first match back at Soldier Field,” Fire president Nelson Rodríguez told the Sun-Times. “Fans from 35 states, from as close as Indiana to as far away as Hawaii, and 12 different countries, from the U.K. to New Zealand, purchased tickets for today. Everyone understands that current circumstances will keep us from celebrating this weekend, but our Homecoming will still be held. When that day comes, we will find ways to make it even more special for all Chicago and all Fire fans.”

For Giacometti, his trip indeed would’ve been a homecoming. He would have seen old friends, connected with new ones, and been able to judge firsthand the progress of the Fire. For friends and Craig Broughton of Edinburgh, Scotland, the trip would’ve been a chance to see the team in person, and also pay tribute to Wilson’s late wife.

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Fire fan Tony Wilson was set to travel from Scotland for the March 21 home opener.

Courtesy of Tony Wilson

In August, Wilson’s wife Siobhan died. Wilson said Siobhan always wanted him to see a Fire game in Chicago, so he decided to go with Broughton. Wilson was the best man at Broughton’s wedding, and the two picked the home opener as the game they wanted to see.

“We were buzzing to finally get to see the Fire live,” Broughton wrote via email. “We received personal video messages (from) players saying they were looking forward to meeting us. It was a dream come true.”

The coronavirus temporarily put those plans away, though they hope to rearrange the trip when they can.

“I’m gutted I’m not able to get that chance,” wrote Wilson, who’s been a Fire fan for eight years after reading about the club and its fans. “But health comes first.”

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“I have to give a shout-out to the police. They did an amazing job. There were plenty of police resources,” Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said. “Given the volume of people that were here, they did a great job…I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”