Sean Kelly wasn’t born in Columbus. He wasn’t even born in the United States. But when he ended up in Ohio’s capital city with his girlfriend, he found Columbus Crew SC.
No, Kelly was not there in 1996 when the team debuted. In fact, his first game was not until the 2015 MLS Cup playoffs, but when he attended the second leg of the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Impact — a thrilling 3-1 overtime victory for the Black & Gold that saw the team advance 4-3 on aggregate — he was hooked.
“I inherited this playoff run,” the England native said.
“It looks like what football should look like to me. It doesn’t look the lazy stereotype of U.S. soccer being played on the gridiron, like Ohio Stadium would have looked now. No, this looks legit. It looks like any European league. It looks like what football’s supposed to look like.”
Kelly and his now fiancé, a Westerville, Ohio native, began attending games regularly after that postseason experience. But nearly two years after his first game, Kelly, like many Crew SC fans, received some terrible news.
On the night of Oct. 16, 2017, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl released an article stating club owner Anthony Precourt was considering relocating the team to Austin, Texas. The next day, Precourt confirmed the report on a teleconference.
“I looked over to my girlfriend, she’s asleep, and I thought, ‘Well, a bombshell’s going to drop when she wakes up,’” Kelly said.
Over the next few weeks, Save the Crew began. It was an organic movement created by the fans to help show that Crew SC was meant to remain in Columbus.
Supporters quickly mobilized with people taking on different roles. Kelly — who worked as a statistician and production assistant covering Formula 1 for NBC Sports, FOX or Sky Sports and is published author — realized he might be able to play a part.
“I became involved in it because I thought, ‘Well, I don’t know this city terribly well. But I do know, from 15 years of working in TV, how to make video.’ That was something I could contribute.” he said.
What was originally supposed to be a 15-minute video that Save the Crew could use as a promotional device turned into something nearly four and a half times longer than that.
In under two months, the movement had a documentary: Save The Crew: The Fans vs. The System.
The documentary, published on YouTube, was a quick success. Kelly’s role could have ended there, but, like with so many aspects of this organic movement, there was more to come.
Less than a month after the documentary was initially released, a Columbus-based independent cinema, Gateway Film Center, located just two miles from Crew SC’s MAPFRE Stadium, reached out to Kelly. They were interested in showing his movie.
“We’re interested in showing the film but we’d like to make an event of it,” they told Kelly. “We don’t want it to just be a film. We’d like it to be something that’s exciting.”
Considering the amount left on the cutting room floor, Kelly agreed. This time though, he would do it different; he would do it right.
After the time constraints setup for the initial documentary — Kelly and the Save the Crew movement wanted it out in time for MLS Cup on Dec. 9 — the director would have the chance to conduct more interviews, specifically with former players and others involved.
“Let’s tell more of the story,” Kelly said.
While still in the process of putting the new documentary together, Kelly and Gateway have set the date of the event for March 9, the day before Crew SC’s home opener, with an after party scheduled at Le Méridien.
Very excited to have a new extended version of the #SaveTheCrew film, entitled "The Battle For Columbus", screening at @GatewayFC on March 9. Looking forward to @AleMorenoESPN leading a list of Crew legends on the red carpet, and afterparty with fans and players at @LMTheJoseph pic.twitter.com/ylJhIA0YO0— Sean Kelly (@virtualstatman) February 5, 2018
Fans who have seen the documentary before do not have to worry about a complete repeat performance. While there will be some elements original viewers will recognize, Kelly says Save The Crew: The Battle For Columbus, as he’s calling version two, will provide a different, longer story with interviews from the likes of MLS Cup-winning Crew SC forward Alejandro Moreno.
“It will be a quite different film in so much you’ll get that first-person perspective,” Kelly said. “The reason the first film is called ‘The Fans v. The System’ is because it was predominately fan stuff. Now we’re going to actually go and talk to the players.”
As well as showing the new version of the documentary, the event will also feature former Black & Gold players such as Moreno in attendance. There will be a Q&A session with the guests, as well as a chance to mingle at the after party.
Tickets for the event will be $10 with half of the proceeds going to Save the Crew and the other half going to Gateway, a non-profit, indy theater. The after party will be free to attend. Fans will be able to purchase tickets to the screening beginning on Friday, Feb. 9 on Gateway’s website.
Like all Crew SC fans, a bomb dropped on Kelly on Oct. 16 when Wahl’s article announced Crew SC’s potential relocation. But since then, the Save the Crew movement has mobilized fans, old and new, and they’ve all offered their services to help keep the Black & Gold where it belongs.
For Kelly, that meant making this documentary, something that’s grown beyond what he ever imagined.
With this new version of the film and the event planned with it, Kelly hopes it continues to grow and sends a clear message.
“What matters is, as a fan movement, you managed to get all these (former players) together, made a film, put it in a movie theater, got all the fans to show up and pay money to watch it and then you had an after party at Le Méridien. Show us any other MLS market that can do that with no help at all from the league and no help at all from the local team.
“It’s designed to show everybody nationally what this fanbase is capable of doing. And furthermore, we want it to be a joyous occasion. We don’t want it to be two hours of people saying, ‘Anthony Precourt is a prick.’ We don’t want it to be that. It has to be the opposite. It has to be, ‘Mr. Precourt, look at what we’re capable of doing in this town. This about what we could do for your business. While you’re battling a city that seems to not want you in Texas, we all want you here and look at what we’re capable of doing… Think about what we could do for your business and think how big it would be if you stayed.’ That’s the point.”