12 Years ago today Brandon Kitchens died on a soccer field on the northside of Chicago, playing the game that sustained him through years of military service in combat zones on the other side of the planet. Days later, a wake was held and a large group of his friends gathered at a pub just steps away from where Brandon, Mac, and I attended our first Fire games together and where the club secured their third US Open Cup title as well as their playoff berth in 2003. Fans watched on television as Calen Carr scored a goal and removed his black headband instead of celebrating, acknowledging the profound loss felt by Fire fans. Though Carr was relatively new to the club, he clearly understood that’s Brandon’s life and legacy would be a permanent part of the Chicago Fire tradition.
In the next week, Brandon was buried in his native Georgia at Andersonville National Cemetery where his grandfather also rests. He is still there, under the soil and clay, with his Chicago Fire tattoo as one of the few things he took with him to the next life.
He was tattooed with the Florian cross that makes up the Chicago Fire club crest as an affirmation of his lifelong commitment to honor the traditions of the then young club. He honored the traditions that go far beyond onfield performance, sacrifice, and hard work. He lifted up the intense and passionate relationships among supporters and chosen family and the better ideals of an America he served – inclusivity, diversity, and a common understanding of freedom and equality. To Brandon, these all of traditions were more than skin-deep.
Brandon’s influence has made a permanent mark on the club he loved. He posted ‘Stand & Deliver’ on the Section 8 message board while in a combat zone, aching for home and for some good news to relieve him, if only temporarily, from the horrors of war. Those words, never intended to be permanent, now have become a foundational document for the club and its most fervent supporters.
In June of this year, Brandon’s parents and brother attended the Fire away match in Atlanta. Unbeknownst to them, a new member of the Fire staff had received word of this and, recognizing without prompt the continued impact of their beloved son and brother, coordinated an exceptionally warm welcome for them, arranging for photographs and meetings with the team. So moved by the experience, his family traveled to Chicago a month later to see the return leg of the series. They were filled with joy to see how Brandon is so intensely remembered by his friends but also supporters and club personnel that had never met even met him.
Mutual support, tradition, history, and passion are what makes a club a club. Brandon recognized that and made supporting the Chicago Fire a key component of his life.
When his family was in town and we were speaking during the match the conversation turned to speculation what he’d be like now. After all, that’s hard to tell after 12 years. The consensus we reached at the end of the conversation is that he’d certainly be an ardent, critical, and demanding supporter of the Fire.
Brandon was my best friend. I think about him every day and am often overcome with emotion this time of year. Take this as a personal appeal: we have a special and shared history as Chicago Fire supporters. We have tradition, honor, and passion combined with bonds of affection among this chosen family that cannot be broken. Take a moment to quietly reflect on that today and use your energy to take care of yourself and those around you.
Peace, love, and empathy
Director of Communications, Section 8 Chicago
Co-Founder, Whiskey Brother Aught Five (WB05)