The roar of the crowd in Columbus Crew Stadium reached a fever pitch — a massive sea of red, white and blue shirts jumping and shouting in unison — as the giant banner unfurled over the north end of the field.
The red banner, featuring a seal of an eagle in blue and the word “home” triumphantly placed at the bottom, was hoisted above the crowd as part of a pregame ritual at the United States Men’s National Team vs. Mexico National Team World Cup Qualifer match Tuesday.
“Pure unprocessed energy (was) just pumping through me, combined with a lot of emotion and an immense sense of pride of what we did as people and as a community,” said Morgan Hughes, one of the organizers of the display.
Organized cheering and other showcases of support from fans, known as tifo — taken from the Italian word “tifosi,” meaning fans or supporters — are a soccer-supporter tradition which originated in Europe and Latin America.
Funded entirely by local soccer supporter groups, the 2013 tifo was an independent project undertaken by a group of soccer-loving volunteers.
The tifo team began preparation following the announcement of Crew Stadium as the host site for the qualifying match in March.
Justin Bell, an independent graphic designer who drew the original design for the banner, said he started thinking of ideas for the tifo around February or March.
“I started thinking, ‘We have to do something big. It has to say something about our city,’” Bell said.
Bell decided to create a banner design that emphasized the importance of continuing to house this match in Columbus.
“I thought that we should say that this is ‘home’ for this game. That was the working idea — that this is home. It’s the fact that this game has been played here in 2001, (2005), 2009 and now 2013. There’s a history here,” Bell said.
Bell found the inspiration for the tifo design from a photograph.
“Being a graphic designer, I look at photographs a lot,” said Bell. “Back in March, I went to the Library of Congress website and searched for Columbus and eagles and the United States. One of the things that I found was this photo essay … of the U.S. federal courthouse in Columbus. One of the photographs was of an eagle.”
The photograph inspired Bell to redraw the bird, adding aspects of soccer to the original design. The result was an art deco-inspired eagle, which Bell intended to print on shirts or soccer scarves.
“I didn’t really know what to do with it … but when it (be)came clear that we were going to have to do this big design, I decided to make that into the centerpiece of this banner,” Bell said.
With the design in mind, Bell, Hughes and other soccer fans — working under the codename #tifosweat — began the arduous process of transferring the design onto a plane of fabric.
The gargantuan dimensions of the proposed tifo initially presented the team with several logistical challenges.
Since the banner was designed to be large, pre-made fabric of that size was unavailable. The #tifosweat team improvised by buying individual rolls of fabric and stitching them together to form a long banner.
“We brought in six to eight rolls (of fabric), cut it to dimension, then sewed the pieces together,” Hughes said.
Working in small teams in order to speed efficiency while ensuring quality, #tifosweat also employed the work of specialized volunteers.
“I would bring in all of my sewing supplies. We would set it out, get it all cut and sew it all together,” said Suzi Eliana, a graphic designer with Thirty One Gifts. “We did three or four work sessions of sewing. We had at least six or seven people (at the sessions).”
Through a two-part communication system, Hughes was able to find a group of dedicated soccer supporters willing to put in valuable time and effort.
“I sent out an update every morning,” Hughes said. “Over 100 people in total worked on this thing in one way or another.”
As the week of the game approached, the team became accustomed to putting in long hours at the warehouse.
“It was five days a week. By the end, it was a 10- to 11-hour-a-day job,” Hughes said.
Caleb Williams, a third-year in finance and president of OSU’s Buckeye Brigade, an official OSU student organization aimed at uniting Columbus soccer fans, attended many of the painting sessions.
“I started working on it two or three weeks ago. I came in to do the painting,” Williams said. “I would go pretty much every day for three weeks and paint for four to eight hours. It was really like a full-time job.”
The #tifosweat team continued to work through the night of the banner’s unveiling at Tuesday’s game.
The crowd reacted enthusiastically to the display.
“It was really awesome hearing the crowd,” Eliana said. “It was great to know that all these people from all four corners of the United States were just as excited as we were and pumped to see these things.”
Sam Hubert, a first-year in biomedical engineering, sat behind the tifo display at the game.
“The place was just going nuts,” Hubert said. “It was great. I have never really seen an atmosphere quite like that anywhere.”
While the months were filled with endless work, Bell describes the experience as a “fun and unique form of expression.”
“The look on all of the people’s faces who had helped with this was amazing. That’s what I wanted to see. I just wanted to see them looking happy,” Bell said. “When we would have meetings, I said (to the #tifosweat team), ‘You know, there are going to be hundreds of millions of people around the world watching this. And there is probably nothing in your life that you’re going to do that more people are going to see. That’s something you can tell people for the rest of your life.’”
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