Tifo Troubles and Broken Bulls
Charlotte beats NYRB 2-0, we're on the road to Ohio, and the fire department shuts down a tifo.
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A Bear Market for the Bulls
On Saturday, Charlotte FC was back in winning form with a decisive home victory over the New York Red Bulls. The game was a major test for interim coach Christian Lattanzio, and everything went according to plan as Charlotte came away with two goals and a clean sheet. Midfielder Ben Bender picked up his third goal of the campaign, putting him second in goals scored for the team after striker Karol Świderski, who has been on leave from Charlotte FC to play for Poland’s national team.
Derrick Jones scored his first-ever MLS goal in extra time to bring the match to its final score, 2-0, and pick up 3 points that put Charlotte back in playoff contention with the sixth-place spot on the Eastern Conference table (a draw between Orlando City and New England on Wednesday sent Charlotte down to 7th).
It was also a great match for forward McKinze Gaines, who spoke to the press earlier this week: “We look at the table and I think we are sitting 6th in the East right now, and that’s never having won a game away. I think that gives us extra motivation to say, ‘hey, if we keep winning these games at home and we snatch a few on the road there is no reason why we can’t be sitting comfortably in a playoff spot whenever the season ends.’
“I think this team has quickly established itself as a team that is very tough to beat. You saw that on the weekend against the Red Bulls. So yeah, we are fighting for the playoffs, we are pushing forward, and we think it’s very obtainable.”
However, while the team shined bright – even without injured captain Christian Fuchs or its two Polish designated players – not everything went to plan in the stands.
More Tifos, More Problems
The reason this newsletter is a little later in the week than normal is that I’ve been working on a story about the tifo troubles in the Charlotte FC supporters section this past weekend, and finally got the answers I need to go to print today.
Tifos are the creative banners raised by team supporters at the beginning of every match. In fact, Charlotte FC has an entire tifo committee that works on the banners before each game.
This past match against the Red Bulls featured a Ben Bender/Dirty Dancing themed tifo, a prescient choice as Bender scored the first goal and took home man of the match honors.
However, there was another tifo on deck that never saw the light of day due to smoke bombs in the supporters section. The team’s theme for the weekend was “Black Excellence” and the second tifo was a banner meant to highlight Juneteenth, but a Charlotte Fire Department fire marshal prevented the unfurling at the match due to the presence of incendiary devices in the stands.
Fans were not happy:
The Queen’s Firm is one of Charlotte FC’s supporters groups that collaborates with the club and the tifo committee. They continued, “Charlotte FC fans spend hours of their own time own money and CFD is putting our members at risk with dangerous chemicals to make fire proof fabric for a display that last 120 seconds. The future of celebrating Charlotte, NC, and our citizens is in real question.”
Others blamed members of the supporters section:
So what happened? A source at Charlotte FC told me “the fire marshal made the decision for the safety of those in the supporter section. [Smoke] was set off and thus caused a fire hazard.” They also suggested I reach out to Charlotte Fire Department, so I did.
Here is CFD’s unedited response to my questions about the tifo incident:
On Saturday, a number of unapproved smoke bombs were confiscated from individuals before the Charlotte FC match.
Two smoke bombs were set off in the supporter's section inside the stadium during the first half.
The second one shortly before the use of the tifo banner was to take place.
Smoke bombs produce a flame and have proven to be a dangerous ignition source, which could have easily ignited the banner. The banners are intended to envelop and entire section of fans. The combination of the two could have been catastrophic and caused loss of life.
In the past, we have permitted the temporary use of non-flame-retardant, highly combustible tifo banners with the understanding that no smoke bombs or other ignition sources would be present.
Additionally, the Bank of America Stadium staff received information that supporters inside the stadium were passing these smoke bombs out to others throughout their sections.
For these reasons and in the interest of public safety a decision was made to cancel the use of the untreated, combustible tifo for this match.
We have a plan in place to ensure these banners are either flame treated by an approved company or are made with inherently flame-retardant materials moving forward.
Please also note that Bank of America Stadium staff was aware and in agreement with the decisions made by the Charlotte Fire Department.
You can review North Carolina Code - General Statutes § 58-79-20 for a deeper look into dangerous materials.
The persons found with the illegal smoke bombs have been banned from Bank of America stadium.
In March, a tifo banner caught fire during a match in the Netherlands and the outcome could have been deadly.
The safety of our citizens is paramount, and the Charlotte Fire Department will use every means at our disposal to ensure they are protected.
In addition to waiting for that response from the fire marshal, I’ve been waiting for a promised response from the “Royal Family,” the supporter group council for Charlotte FC. Today, Tifo Committee president Brandon Lewis shared the following with me:
While disappointed and frustrated at the time, we learned later of the full situation that was presented.
We were able to execute the Pre-match display as it was away from the crowd, but the overhead display caused a safety concern when partnered with the active smoke use and possible later smoke use. It was a difficult decision, that put CFD and stadium staff in an unfortunate position, that they had to make in the name of supporter safety.
We met with the Fire Marshal and the CFD team this week to discuss a path forward that ensures tifo displays can continue to be displayed in scenarios like this. This will allow CFD, CMPD, security, and stadium staff to deal with any incidents and we can continue with our displays.
We would like to remind fans/supporters that all types of smoke bombs are banned throughout the MLS, so this is not just our stadium. The use of them will result in bans and possibly more, not to mention putting hours of tifo work at risk. What happened Saturday only happened because of those that decided to light the smoke bombs in the stands.
We have worked out a plan with the team to give this Black Excellence display the spotlight it deserves. Be on the lookout for that soon.
A word to the wise: while smoke bombs are a common sight at football games in Europe, they will get you banned from the Bank. I’ll keep you updated as to whether or not there continue to be tifo tensions between the fans and the fire department.
We’re on the road to Ohio
I’m travelling to Ohio for Saturday’s game against the Columbus Crew with tech guru Chase DuBois, so watch this space (and Twitter) for exclusive content.
Charlotte FC players Vinicius Mello (left foot surgery) and Adam Armour (left knee surgery) are still out for the long term, and Pablo Sisniega is unavailable as well due to concussion protocols. Christian Fuchs (left lower leg injury) is still questionable.
An interesting nugget from this week’s press conference with interim coach Lattanzio is that designated players Kamil Jóźwiak and Karol Świderski are available, but may not play. During international play, Świderski earned two caps (appearances) and one go-ahead goal for the Polish national team - a decent performance off the bench. However, that isn’t enough for Lattanzio, who hasn’t had a chance to lead them in practice yet.
Indeed, Lattanzio had a lot to say about the practices and the change in style this week: “The intensity has been good from even first day that we came back to prepare for Red Bulls. This group of guys continue to play and train with intensity, which is what I like. They keep being themselves.
“As I told you in the past, I love this group of guys, it’s really a pleasure to work with them. Obviously after a win, there is always a good mood. But as I’ve said, it’s important to put things into perspective. It’s a marathon not a sprint and we need to stay humble but at the same time focused and ambitious.”
While it’s clear Kamil Jóźwiak and Karol Świderski’s absence from the pitch would be due to their lack of practice with the team since the management change, it would cause some interesting speculation (to say the least) if Lattanzio is able to bring home the club’s first road win this Saturday and neither designated player is part of his plan.
As for the opponent, Columbus’ won their last match on May 28 in Atlanta 1-2, so they’ve had a lot of rest; however, many players on their roster are questionable for Saturday, including:
Artur - R Lower Leg Injury
Luis Diaz - R Hand Injury
Marlon Hairston - R Thigh Injury
Jonathan Mensah - Concussion
Kevin Molino - R Knee Injury
Will Sands - R Knee Injury
Pedro Santos - R Thigh Injury
Yaw Yeboah - L Ankle Injury
Lucas Zelarayan - L Thigh Injury
Finally, if you can’t make it to the game in person, the club is hosting a watch party on Saturday at 7:30 PM at Clutch in Third Ward.
Sound Smart While Talking Soccer
Ever wondered how to pronounce the names you read here? Check out these handy tips, courtesy of Charlotte FC:
Harrison Afful (harrison AW-full)
Jordy Alcivar (yor-dee al-SEE-var)
Adam Armour (adam ar-mer)
Ben Bender (Ben Bender)
Brandt Bronico (brant braw-nih-coh)
Guzman Corujo (gooz-MAWN coh-ROO-ho)
Alan Franco (Alan Franco)
Christian Fuchs (Christian fooks)
McKinze Gaines (mi-kin-zee gains)
Chris Hegardt (Chris hay-gart)
Kamil Jozwiak (kah-meel JOO-zvee-ahk)
Kristijan Kahlina (chris-tee-yawn kah-LEE-nah)
Jaylin Lindsey (Jaylin Lindsey)
Christian Makoun (Christian mah-koon)
George Marks (George Marks)
Joseph Mora (Joseph mor-ah)
Titi Ortiz (tee-tee or-TEEZ)
Yordy Reyna (yor-dee ray-nah)
Daniel Rios (Daniel ree-ohs)
Sergio Ruiz (sair-hee-oh ROO-eez)
Andre Shinyashiki (Andre shin-ee-ya-shee-kee)
Vinicius Mello (vin-EE-see-oos mell-oh)
Koa Santos (koh-ah san-tohs)
Pablo Sisniega (Pablo sees-NEE-ay-guh)
Jan Sobocinski (yawn so-boh-CHIN-skee)
Karol Swiderski (care-uhl SHWEE-dare-skee)
Kerwin Vargas (care-ween vahr-gahs)
Anton Walkes (an-tawn walks)
Adrian Zendejas (ah-dree-AHN zen-deh-hahs)
Not football related, but congratulations to Davidson Men’s Basketball Head Coach Bob McKillop on an amazing career, and Davidson College graduate Stephen Curry on his fourth ring and first finals MVP - not to mention having both his jersey and his number retired at our alma mater. One of the greatest to play the game, and one of the greatest to coach it.