Tom Dunmore, Chairman of Section 8 Chicago for the last three seasons has been a busy guy. Along with his involvement in planning and coordinating the group's activities and charity efforts, he's also authored two books, maintains two websites, and has served as an executive for the MISL's Chicago Riot. His first book, Historical Dictionary of Soccer is exactly what it implies. An attempt to capsulize the sport's long and storied history in a dictionary style format with entries covering the global game. His second effort, The Very Best of Pitch Invasion is a collection of the best essays and posts gathered over the last four years at the website he edits, PitchInvasion.net.
"I started the blog almost five years ago now," said Dunmore after last week's AGM. "Just writing about soccer culture, obviously it's a topic of great interest to me. I'm really interested in how fans organize and interact with the game, it's so different from the traditional American sports. The fans are so active and sort of shape the club rather than just consuming it".
His interest in the sport and supporter's culture led to the website and eventually the basis for the second book. "Soccer fans really take the time to help create what the club is and shape it's identity. For me that's always been a big area of interest. It's one of the core things that made me want to start writing about soccer culture. At the time, outside of a couple of obscure magazines there wasn't really a lot of really interesting writing about soccer. In the US there's such a passion and interest in the sport that really doesn't get covered as much as it should. Being English I have some background and knowledge of the game and that helped me frame looking at the sport here and around the world in a bit of a different way. By chance, moving to Chicago and becoming part of Section 8 has maybe given me a bit of an unusual perspective", he said when asked about the inspiration for TVBOPI. The content on the site led directly to the desire to publish some of the works in book form. "There were so many essays in there that were not typical blog posts that you kind of post and forget about because it's yesterdays news. We had a lot of posts that had lasting meaningful value. They were looking at things like the fan culture in Japan or supporter's organizations in England and they were really looking at it from long term perspectives so I thought those were things that people might like to read about five years from now and it seemed a waste that they were just sitting there in a blog and people would hardly ever stumble upon it so why not put it in a book and if people appreciate it, then awesome. Good writing deserves to be published in my opinion so why not do it".
A familiar name to Fire fans is also a contributor to PitchIvasion, former Fire team president Peter Wilt has accompanied Dunmore on more than one venture. "Right now I've just started a podcast with former Fire president Peter Wilt. We had Jesse Marsch on the first episode and I'm sure we'll have other Fire related characters in the future. Peter is obviously still hugely passionate about the Fire and soccer in the midwest and Chicago," said Dunmore.
They may also collaborate on a future Fire related project. "Peter's been working on a book as well. I've been sort of advising him and helping him with that and that would be really interesting. I'm sure everyone is aware of Peter's unbelievable contribution to the Fire. The badge that we all blaze around in is Peter Wilt essentially creating that identity for the club and then connecting it to the city to make sure it was unlike so many of the other MLS teams of the time, creating an identity that people would adhere to for decades".
That led to me asking the former Chairman about Wilt and his place in Fire history. Dunmore didn't hesitate in expressing his admiration for the effort it took to start the club off on the right path. "Ultimately it was Phil Anschutz backing him to make it the Fire and establishing the identity of the club by connecting it to a stark event in the city. The branding of it was a superb piece of work. Obviously winning the double in the first year is a pretty nice way to cement that. Working with Peter is just awesome, he's tremendously knowledgeable and I hope the Fire find ways to involve him in the future since he obviously still cares so much about the club. Hopefully in time he can be part of the club again".
"A lot of things have happened over the years. His firing, in my opinion was a terrible misstep by the club. Of course it wasn't the current ownership, AEG made the move but at the end of the day Peter never has a bad word about Phil Anschutz because that's why the Fire exist, Anschutz poured millions and millions of dollars into it".
Wilt and Dunmore also worked together in launching the Chicago Riot last winter in an attempt to keep indoor soccer active in this area. The Riot lasted only one season but it wasn't for a lack of effort. "We did the Riot on a short term basis so that the league could exist. The league had to have another club to be viable and they asked Peter to put it together in three weeks. Peter said yes and asked to me help out so without Peter there probably would not have been an MISL last year. We did it without any money. Our marketing budget was about $1,000.00 or something so we knew we couldn't keep doing it on a shoestring because there's no point in that. We knew if we wanted to keep doing it we needed to raise about 1 million dollars to get a three year commitment but we weren't able to get that much. We were close but we didn't get all that commitment and there was no point in doing it half way. It's not fair to the fans or the players or anyone to do things on that kind of shoestring budget. You need to give the fans a good experience and the money wasn't there. Chicago is not perhaps the best market for indoor soccer at this point", explained Dunmore.
Indoor soccer has a bit of a history in Chicago with the late Chicago Sting probably enjoying the most success during a run in the mid 80's but Dunmore feels that a return to professional indoor action has to be done correctly from the start in order to establish a shelf life. "The Sting was successful for a few years indoors but that's when you had the gap in the market when there was no outdoor professional team. In Baltimore it works really well and Milwaukee it works because they don't have the outdoor MLS team so that sponsorship market and that fan base is looking for soccer whereas here we already have the Fire. I think there can be a place for indoor soccer here but it has to been done very sensibly with a good budget and not being too overly ambitious with it. You have to be realistic, which alot of times unfortunately the people investing in soccer are not entirely realistic about the challenges that they face".
Although neither the "Historical Dictionary" or "Best of PI" focus much on Major League Soccer or the Fire, the Brighton native explains his reasoning for keeping both books fairly Fire-free. "I didn't try to stay away from it particularly. I'll probably do something on the Fire eventually in a book but it's difficult when you're actively involved. I don't think I could necessarily take a greatly objective perspective right now because I'm so involved. I can't be a journalist about it because I'm an active participant in it so it would be a bit almost facetious in a way to almost pretend to be able to take this objective perspective on it. I thought it was best avoided in some ways. I'm obviously very passionate about the Fire so I'll cover that a lot more going forward. Since I'm not on the Section 8 board any more I can perhaps do that a little bit more than I could in the past".
Dunmore's latest venture, StadiumPorn.com (it isn't about supporters caught in compromising positions on candid camera in stadia across the globe) takes a look at the construction of brand spanking new soccer specific facilities from all parts of the world. "That's just kind of a fun interesting side line for me. I love stadiums. I love the fact that the Fire have this home after watching them in Naperville and Soldier Field where it felt temporary. Now they have their own stadium and it's special to have your own home. Every stadium should be a special home for it's fans. I'm really interested in how stadiums develop and the roll they play in the fan experience," he said.
Both "Historical Dictionary" and "Best of Pitch Invasion" are works that would make interesting additions to any soccer reading catalog and they can be found at Amazon.com or by hitting the links here.