On the afternoon of October 22, 2017, a mere six days after they learned the Columbus Crew may be leaving the city, a group of Crew evangelists stood on the steps of Columbus City Hall, a statue of Christopher Columbus peering over them. In front of them were over 2,000 Crew fanatics, heartbroken and angry. They were looking for hope to replace hopelessness. Looking for light to replace darkness. Longing to hear a sermon to deliver them from despair. The collection of speakers including former Columbus Crew players would preach the words the crowd needed to hear.
As one speaker after another talked about how important the Crew was to the community, and to them individually, the crowd cheered and roared. In between the speakers, they chanted and sang. A passerby may have thought they’d stumbled upon a Crew game if they closed their eyes.
The atmosphere evolved from a tone of uncertainty and restlessness to an increasing sense of belief and resolve. The program built like a day-long music festival, rising in pitch and volume from act to act.
It was Morgan Hughes, who at the end of the service, delivered the final shot. Hughes implored them not to give up. He set the tone for a fight that had just begun.
He shouted into the microphone, “We’re not done yet. We are going to save the Crew. This is not over. If you came here for a funeral, if you thought this was a wake, you’re in the wrong place.” His voice rising, “This is not over. Tell everyone you know. Save the Crew.”
The crowd again broke into cheers and song. As they dispersed, they now saw the light. They were believers and their mission was clear.
They would not lay down and let a single man destroy a community that had become part of the fabric of their lives; to dismantle a treasure of Columbus and move it to a city that had barely expressed interest; to crush a legacy of Columbus soccer history; and, to gut the dreams of families who would be deprived of passing down their love of team to future generations.
How does one describe an emotional attachment to a team so strong that the thought of losing it brings fans to their knees in despair and tears? There is nothing rational about it. No reasonable explanation. But it’s as real as the sky is blue.
The subculture of soccer fandom is unique in sports. It transcends success on the field. It breeds camaraderie with like-minded souls that requires no explanation. No apology. The pomp and circumstance of game day leads to an instinctive ritual from when one puts on their jersey, to their trek to the stadium, to the pre-game party, to the responsibility to sing, chant and cheer, to their post-game revelry. The results of the game a mere formality.
Yes, this is serious business. Described as a religion by some, as sanctification by others.
The Crew transcends sport in Columbus, Ohio. For many, it is as tightly wound into the fabric of the community’s soul as Buster Douglas. As Jack Nicklaus. As Archie Griffin. Ripping the team away would leave a physical and emotional crater nothing could replace. It would destroy the sanctimony so many have depended on for their very air.
The crowd who gathered at City Hall that day had no way of knowing their fate. The one thing they knew was that they would not go down without a fight. Hughes and a team of mates yet to be assembled would ultimately lay down all they had for it. “My internal belief was if there is going to be a funeral for the Columbus Crew, I was going to be too tired from thrashing against it to go to it,” said Hughes.
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