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Crew Stadium Moment No. 13: The scoreboard fire

It wasn’t exactly the finest of moments for America’s first soccer specific stadium.

Sam Fahmi - Massiver Report

Massive Report continues our countdown of the 15 most memorable moments in Crew Stadium history based on voting from the staff. Join the discussion on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #MRStadium.

The 2013 season turned out to be a crossroads for the Columbus Crew. The last vestiges of the championship team departed that year and a playoff drought continued. The season marked the arrival of new owner Anthony Precourt, changing the course of Crew history.

Nothing, however, captures the general state of weirdness around the team during this time quite like the evening historic Crew Stadium’s scoreboard caught fire just before the Crew was set to face D.C. United on April 27, 2013.

The season opened with a middling 2-3-3 record, with Columbus looking short of playoff caliber once again. Though the heat dissipated between the once spirited rivals, the Crew hoped to climb into the thick of the early season postseason race with a good result against United.

That game was quickly overshadowed by the events prior to the match. With less than 30 minutes until kickoff and as the teams went through warmups on the field, flames started curling out of the south end scoreboard at historic Crew Stadium, sending a growing stream of dark smoke skyward.

Those already in the stadium noticed what was happening, as did those who still remained in the parking lot and even passers-by on Interstate-71 due to the smoke. Fans turned to look at the growing fire. Players stopped their warm-up routines to do a little scoreboard watching. Stadium staff evacuated the lightly filled south stands to keep those in attendance safe.

Within minutes, distant sirens grew louder as the Columbus Fire Department quickly arrived on the scene and made a plan of attack. They rolled a ladder truck into the main plaza, setting up close to the blaze. The firefighters made quick work of what was really a small fire, suppressing the danger just minutes from the original kickoff time.

In the list of stadium malfunctions, the fire is more of a humorous novelty than a possible tragedy. The quick action to move people from the area and the low likelihood of it spreading meant that the danger to those in attendance was low. There weren’t pieces of the stadium that fell or a conflagration that threatened to sweep through the stands.

After a quick inspection, the fire department agreed and determined that a faulty speaker connection started the fire and said that it was safe to host the match. They were applauded on their exit from the stadium grounds.

Columbus firefighters inspect the Crew’s scoreboard after putting out the fire.
Sam Fahmi - Massive Report

Despite a strange start to proceedings, the match was played, just a little delayed. The game kicked off 47 minutes late, at 8:23 p.m. and the home team stormed to a 3-0 win. Dominic Oduro scored one of his 13 Crew goals in the game, Josh Williams added another in the middle of the first half and Federico Higuain scored a penalty kick in first half injury time.

While everything looked normal on the field, the fire did impact the atmosphere. The game was played in eerie quiet as the public address ran through the stadium speakers. The Nordecke led the stadium in singing the national anthem. There were no goal, card or substitution announcements. The atmosphere was truly organic.

The game didn’t change the fortunes of the Black & Gold’s season. The Crew missed the playoffs by eight points. Head coach Robert Warzycha’s long tenure with the team, 17 years in total, came to an end.

The fire’s effects would be longer-lasting. The bare-bones Crew Stadium became a punchline to a few more jokes, an erector set that was faulty. The team had already floated the idea of a new stadium earlier in 2013. Built quickly and thriftily, the stadium was starting to show its age after opening in 1999. It certainly didn’t feel premium when things catch on fire.

This strange event further augmented the belief that then owners, Hunt Sports Group, put a bare minimum effort in running the team in Columbus. They were much more focused on their hometown team in Dallas. It was a belief that was confirmed as HSG sold the team a mere three months later.

Perhaps the whole fire was a misinterpreted warning sign. It was the first game for Anthony Precourt and a game that was a factor in his decision to buy the team. The stadium’s condition would continue to be central to the team’s story during the Precourt years and eventual cover for his scheme to move the team, which would spur other Crew Stadium moments.

Those that were there will never forget, and those that were not present have almost certainly heard the story, of the day the Crew Stadium scoreboard caught on fire.

Read Massive Report’s previous Crew Stadium Moments

No. 14: 2005 MLS All-Star Game

No. 15: The first game after Kirk Urso’s passing