The opening game at the Columbus Crew’s new stadium, Lower.com Field on July 3 was insane. It was packed full of everything a fan would want to experience. If you attended, you probably had no idea something massive was missing.
But something was.
#TIFOSWEAT is the group of Crew supporters who organize the creation of the Tifos, the massive that are often deployed at home matches. Just before kickoff, a massive canvas covers the supporter’s section and displays a message or image clear as days to those on the pitch, in attendance and watching on television.
This group pulled off something amazing just days before that first game, finishing a Tifo that seemed like an impossible task just days earlier. But fans did not see #TIFOSWEAT’s hard work on display because the rigging system at Lower.com Field just wasn’t ready.
To put it simply, “It is not easy to make gigantic art,” said Morgan Hughes, who has been with #TIFOSWEAT since the beginning. “Against all odds, #TIFOSWEAT got the job done. As someone who’s been involved with #TIFOSWEAT from minute one, I truly did not think that was going to happen. But, somehow, Columbus came through, again, like we always do.”
In Columbus, the first major Tifo was at the Dos a Cero USA-Mexico game in September of 2013. It was the first time #TIFOSWEAT came together, and they pulled off something incredible, despite it being the first time doing something of this magnitude.
The Columbus fans aren’t the first to support their team in this way. Tifos are a long-standing tradition that began in Italy in the 1960s or 70s. Tifo is an Italian word that refers to typhus fever, which causes delirium in those infected by it, an appropriate description when comparing to die-hard soccer supporters.
The Nordecke, the Crew’s supporters section, has been covered in some incredible Tifos over the years because #TIFOSWEAT always gets the job done. Since their creation, the group has deployed 28 of the 30 attempted canvases.
So what went wrong this time?
First of all, it was a miracle the Tifo was even available and ready to be deployed. The week of the match, an unexpected rainstorm destroyed a massive amount of the work the team was doing just days before the first match at Lower.com Field.
“Heading into the final week there, we were actually on an amazing pace,” Nordecke communications director Jeff Barger told Massive Report. “And then the rain came out of nowhere. It just wrecked about 20 percent of the work that had been done.”
The team does not have a set place to work, especially now that the projects are at least 15 times the size of anything #TIFOSWEAT has done before. The best place the group could find was an outdoor space, leaving all involved exposed to the weather. After the storm rolled through, they were able to work in Rosemore Middle School in Whitehall. Nordecke creative director Brian Kline called it the group’s saving grace.
“We needed to be able to have that much space and then as the weather began to get nicer we were able to move outside to the parking lot,” Kline said.
After the rain, Barger immediately started reaching out to the Nordecke community through social media and says that he received floods of messages within minutes of putting tweets out. People were taking days off work and staying late into the night to help get the Tifo ready for the opener.
“It was really an incredible moment,” he said. “I think the word we used in our statement was ‘herculean’ and it’s absolutely true.”
When #TIFOSWEAT took the Tifo to Lower.com Field the day before the match, it was clear that they would not be able to deploy the massive display the next day. During the test run, a part of the Tifo started to rip as it was lifted. There were too many safety concerns revolving around the rigging system and the durability of the Tifo to justify deploying it.
At historic Crew Stadium, Tifos were simpler to execute, being pulled from the bottom of the section physically over the supporters by members of the Nordecke. Lower.com Field was built with a more modern rigging system, but not the same as you might see at soccer games around Europe or even across MLS. The fact that the process couldn’t be executed safely was a major disappointment, especially after all the hard work that went into getting the Tifo finished.
“It broke everybody’s heart,” Barger said. “I was first contacted by people at the club who had been working on this that felt horrible. But it was the right thing to do. It’s not the kind of thing they took lightly.”
We want to thank everyone who worked on this week's TIFO, you did an incredible job and things came out wonderfully.— The Nordecke ⭐⭐ (@Nordecke) July 3, 2021
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, we will not be able to display this yet but we love you all and you are true #Nordecke #Crew96 heroes. pic.twitter.com/wDVW9tgbec
Hughes echoed the disappointment felt by the team, but it’s not to say it won’t happen. The Tifo’s design was not specific to the New England Revolution, the opponent for the opener, and it will be deployed whenever the time is right.
Kline says the whole experience is just a big learning curve for everyone involved.
“Now that we’ve had some time to look at the system and really get in there and see how it actually functions, we have a plan,” Kline told Massive Report.
While historic Crew Stadium Tifos were deployed over the crowd instead of rigged up in front of it, doing it the new way comes with its own set of challenges at Lower.com Field. The angle of the Nordecke is now significantly steeper to allow fans to feel closer to the pitch even from higher up. This makes it difficult for runners to pull the Tifo over the crowd.
“The last thing that we want to do is have someone running up the stairs and faceplant,” Kline said.
When it’s ready, the system is going to be exactly what the group hoped for. The engineers who designed the rigging system met with members of the Nordecke and #TIFOSWEAT long before they built it to discuss and get what the group needed.
With the Nordecke now spanning the whole north endline at Lower.com Field, #TIFOSWEAT is facing tasks bigger than ever before. With the first one (almost) under their belts, the group now looks to the future and all that they will be able to accomplish.
“We have every intention of redefining what it means to make giant art for soccer games like we always have,” Hughes told Massive Report. “And that’s what everyone should be looking forward to is we have space to grow, and we have this beautiful canvas on which to work, and we’re just going to fill it with some of the dopest shit you’ve ever seen.”
The people in the Nordecke and #TIFOSWEAT have been with the Black & Gold through it all. A lot of them are a big reason the Crew is still in Columbus. For these people, Tifo or not, opening Lower.com Field was everything.
Hughes said, “It wasn’t a dream; it was the dream. It was the realization of the dream that we’ve all had. It’s a culmination of everything that everyone thought was impossible.”
“We do it for the team, for the players out on the field and for the camaraderie,” said Kline. “You make some great friends and you create family bonds with Crew fans.”
#TIFOSWEAT is funded by Nordecke memberships, which can be found on nordecke.com where fans can also sign up to contribute and volunteer.