soccer

Out With The Old: A Farewell to Historic Crew Stadium

“Chapters end.”

That’s what my best friend’s dad told me as we were sitting in the parking lot after the final Crew game at Historic Crew Stadium on June 19th.

I, more than anyone, know that to be true as I thought this chapter of my life had ended when I walked out of then Mapfre Stadium after photographing the USWNT game in 2019. I had decided to leave sports to fully concentrate on my music/concert photography and I was fairly sure it was the last time I’d ever step foot on the stadium grounds for another sporting event.  After about ten years of off-and-on sports journalism/photojournalism, I was ready to pursue what got me into the field in the first place, my love of music.

Fast forward almost two years later, and here I am writing a farewell piece about the stadium. If I’m being completely honest, this has been a rough one to sit down and get on the screen.  I mean where do you even begin to talk about a place that holds so many different memories for so many different people.  It’s hard, and I want to do it justice.

To some, it’s just an old out of date stadium the local MLS team called home since 1999.  To others, it’s a place where they grew up, met the important people in their lives, found a common ground,  started their career, ended their career,  witnessed history, and made some of the most incredible memories of their lives.

For me, it was a place that had occupied my Saturdays in the summer for probably about 12 years of my life. I’ve covered the Crew in some capacity since 2009. During the years I didn’t cover or intern for them, I was often found in Nordecke with my people who made going to the stadium the best part of the whole experience. Even when I felt I no longer wanted to be in the supporters’ section, you could still find me at pre-game tailgates and in my seats over by the players’ tunnel on most home game nights.  Until 2016 that is, when I stopped going to games regularly because my life was going in a different direction and it just didn’t include Columbus Crew Soccer anymore. However, in 2019, I found myself covering the team once again but this time it was with my camera instead of a microphone.

Due to all of that, I  really felt an odd need to give Historic Crew Stadium a proper goodbye because as of next month, the Crew will call Lower.com Field home. A brand spanking new complex in the arena district of downtown Columbus awaits to welcome its new tenants in on July 3rd.  The new building was part of what came after the Save the Crew movement which stopped the planned move of the team by previous ownership to Austin, Texas.

The Crowd for the Last Crew game at Historic Crew Stadium. It was a sell-out of 20,064.

There are tons of memories attached to the stadium not just for Crew fans but for soccer fans alike. 

For example, all the Dos a Cero wins for the USMNT against Mexico and countless other games the US Men’s National Team has held here in Ohio. Or the USWNT as well. It’s the site where Megan Rapinoe was famously photographed kneeling for the national anthem before the 2016 game against Thailand in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick.

It’s hosted some MLS All-Star games and even some MLS cup games too. We won’t talk about the heartbreaking loss to Portland in 2015 I was on hand to witness but instead about the 2020 cup match that saw the Crew become champions for the second time in team history.

With a place that is filled with such incredible memories and moments, I couldn’t help but wonder what these walls would say if they could talk?

I can’t speak for the stadium but I can speak for myself and I always feel like the best memories are the personal ones so allow me to share a few of my favorite personal memories with you all as a goodbye to the stadium, formally known as Mapfre.

The first thing that comes to mind is my best friend. I literally have her and her family because of Crew games at the stadium. That’s how we met.  I met her dad and younger brother first through a supporters group we were all a part of called Yellow Nation Army.  The group was started by two guys in giant yellow spandex suits who called themselves General Juicer and Major Awesomeness and they just wanted to make bad decisions with good people. In the glory days of YNA, there would be huge garbage bags full of confetti that got thrown when the Crew would score. The confetti would go everywhere. It would get in your drink, in your hair, in your food, down your shirt, and days later you’d still be finding pieces of it. It was an epic good time had by all though.

Juicer carries a huge bag of confetti into the Nordecke in 2014 (Sorry for the picture quality)

As the group grew, more people joined and that’s how it happened. Canary and das baby bird were her dad and brother’s names while suited up. I don’t know how the hell it happened but I hit it off with them and the rest is history. 11 years later, they are my second family, and sometimes I wonder what I would do without them. We have had more shenanigan filled adventures than I can count and I’m so beyond grateful for their presence in my life. 

My best friend, myself, and her younger sister at a Crew SC game in 2018

Juicer and Awesome are still an incredible part of my life as well.

Juice’s second-oldest, himself, and I at a game in 2019.

I also gained my “sports wife” aka Scarecrow. She’s the one who would come to games with me when my mom didn’t want to go. That ended up extending over to CBJ games too and years and years of memories made. 

The “sports wife” and I in 2016

Her daughter even joined us in late 2017.

Being an individual who covered the team, I was also lucky to experience some things that most people don’t have the chance to.  It was the night the guys got their championship  rings after the ’08 cup win. I was standing in the hallway that led into the locker room and one of my favorites was walking out. We talked for a few minutes and he ended up taking his ring out of the box and showing me and one of the other media members his ring up close and personal. I remember thinking then it was the coolest thing that I had the opportunity to be a part of.  To this day it still stands as the ONLY championship ring I have had in my hands and probably ever will. 

On game nights when I would have to cover the post-game press conferences,  I would always head down to the players’ tunnel with about 10 minutes or so left in the game. Standing in that tunnel would be the legend known as Steve Sirk. Some of my favorite nights were the ones where he and I would stand in the tunnel, talk, and watch the end of the game. The high fives we would get from the guys after a win was always a bonus too.

Like many others, I had my fair share of favorites on the team over the years too like Andy Gruenebaum, Eddie Gaven, Eric Gehrig, Steven Lenhart, Wil Trapp, and of course the one and only Dom Oduro. 

Dom Oduro and myself

What has to be one of my all  favorite memories includes Dom actually.  Everybody knows about my love for Dom so naturally, when he got traded I was a little upset. He also had become a good friend so I think that made the trade sting that much more. He was with Montreal at the time this next story happened. He wasn’t playing that night and the teams had just come out for pre-game warm-ups.  Next thing I know, here comes Dom out of the tunnel.  He stops at the railing in front of my seats says a few words and then HOPS the railing and sits down next to me.  He sat there a good 45 minutes and we just talked before he headed back into the locker room.  Again, I know not a normal experience but it’s memories like that which add to why this stadium holds a place in a lot of people’s hearts. 

A conversation in the old Mapfre is also why I decided to switch to photojournalism full time so I guess you can kind of say in more than one way, this building has had an impact on my career as well. Not just my career but truly my life.

In the end, I don’t know what else I can say. There were some good times. There were some incredibly heartbreaking times. There have been friends gained and friends lost.  Rain delays and snow.  A scoreboard fire and fireworks. Parties in the parking lot. An MLS cup loss.  The bird flipped at the commissioner that made national headlines.  A team almost lost, a team SAVED. An MLS cup won. Cheers and boos and fallin’ in love with Crew.   

A fan wears a “SAVED” jersey in 2019 after the Save the Crew movement help stop the move of the team.

And I think that is what most will remember from their days at Historic Crew Stadium, the love. Whether it was for a team, the game, a group of humans who became family,  a player, or a moment. Everyone found something they love at that place and that is what life is really about. 

So thank you Crew/Mapfre/ Historic Crew Stadium, for the part you played in ALL of our lives. Rest well knowing you were the home that Lamar built and what a home you’ve been.

If you are looking for an actual summary, here it is. On June 19th, 2021, the Columbus Crew played their last game ever at what is now known as Historic Crew Stadium.  The stadium has been the home for Crew Soccer since it was built in 1999 becoming the very first soccer-specific stadium in the US.  Thanks to Gyasi Zardes, Columbus would go on to win 2-0 over the Chicago Fire. Historic Crew Stadium was named Man Of The Match.  It was an emotional night for everyone.  As a line in the top moments played on the scoreboard stated “no one will remember the scoreline”  and some maybe won’t, but I bet everyone will remember how much they won that night.

It was the end of an era for a lot of us. The night was like any other we’ve had in a while and in my opinion, it was the one all my crew fans deserved after the past few years.

“Chapters end.”   Here’s to starting a new one.

“We love ya, we love ya, we love ya, and where you go we’ll follow, we’ll follow, we’ll follow, cause we support Columbus, Columbus, Columbus, and that’s the way we like it, we like it, we like it.”

You can check out a few photos from the tailgate and the game below:

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