On Saturday, the Columbus Crew took part in the “Soccer for All” MLS initiative to welcome supporters of any race, religion, age or gender identification. Prior to the Black & Gold’s 1-1 draw against Charlotte FC, players warmed up in Pride tops to support the LGBTQIA+ community and kits featured lettering and numbering honoring Juneteenth, the celebration of the emancipation of the enslaved in 1865.
In a larger display of support, the Nordecke’s TIFOSWEAT group outdid themselves with not one but two Tifos honoring Juneteenth and Pride. Behind those artistic displays are two artists who found inspiration in the community and players to bring the celebrations to life.
Pride – Chris Rankin
Up first came a massive three-panel, supporter-inspired Tifo. On a striking yellow panel, a rendering of Lower.com Field shot out with the range of colors stretching across the spectrum of the Pride flag. Each of the three pieces included a familiar line for those in and around the Nordecke, an emphatic “We Love Ya!”, a chant heard throughout matches. Behind the design was local artist and graphic designer Chris Rankin.
Rankin and his family’s connection with the Crew dates back to 1996 when the Black & Gold kickstarted the league at Ohio Stadium. Since then, Rankin attended a match or two a season but didn’t dive into season tickets or Tifo painting until 2021, with the unveiling of Lower.com Field and the stadium’s first Tifo. While Rankin’s career and passion is design and art, it took an introduction from a friend to learn about the supporters’ art.
“When Keith (Naas) invited us to participate in TIFOSWEAT, painting the banner on the home opener leading up to the new stadium, I got my whole family involved. Got dirty, painted and met some really nice people,” Rankin told Massive Report. “That was our first connection to the Tifo and the Nordecke fan base. I didn’t even know what a Tifo was before we got started.”
Now Rankin knows more than he ever anticipated. Brian Klein, the creative director of the Nordecke and head of TIFOSWEAT, solicited artists for the banner. Rankin was selected based on a recommendation from the same friend who got him started in the first place. The design comes from the same supporters’ group that selected Rankin in the first place.
Leaving a Crew match, Rankin and his family made the trek down Nationwide Blvd. and heard supporters singing on their way under the bridge, shouting, “We love ya! We love ya! We love ya! And where you go we’ll follow! We’ll follow! We’ll follow!” Cue the light bulb.
“I repurposed the ‘We love ya,’ chant as a supportive message to the community,” Rankin said. “The hope is that hearing it throughout the year, the pride community remembers and are reminded of the banner and what it represents.”
When it came to getting the idea from a rendering to cloth, Rankin jumped from designer to painter. Over the international break, TIFOSWEAT didn’t get the memo about a break and spent hours a day crafting the design, with Rankin and any and all family members helping paint the Tifo and the multiple smaller banners adjourning the north end of the stadium. Even a graduation party for his son turned into a field trip to paint. Rankin recruiting seven family members from the party to help.
The painting itself surprised Rankin because of the method. Rankin was shocked to see volunteers using four-inch brushes to paint small parts of the banner at a time. When he suggested using rollers to Klein, Rankin learned how much paint is wasted when the excess bleeds through the cloth, often making a mess beneath. That and only working on small pieces at a time and never seeing the final product until matchday grew an appreciation for Rankin. It’s a level of appreciation that now matches Rankin and his family’s love and support of the LGBTQIA+ community.
“We’ve always been very supportive of the pride community,” said Rankin. “When I heard there was an opportunity to design something for Pride, I very much wanted to do something. It aligns with some of our core values as a family and as a member of the Columbus community.”
On Saturday, Rankin met members of Stone Village Church, a Pride-supporting and loving church that Rankin also invited to paint, for brunch followed by the downtown festivities celebrating Pride before they headed to the match. While the Crew’s celebration may be labeled “Soccer is for All,” there aren’t questions around Saturday’s first Tifo.
“They can call it whatever they want but its crystal clear that it’ll be a Pride celebration,” said Rankin. “Fifty flags throughout Nordecke. It’s going to be a party.”
Juneteenth – Hakim Callwood
The party continued at the start of the second half of the Crew match. For the first time in the history of Lower.com Field, the Nordecke rolled out a second Tifo. The design, methodology and inspiration for the two pieces were as diverse as the day’s celebration. Behind the second half Tifo was Hakim Callwood.
In 2020, Callwood painted a mural on the side of Paradise Garage in Columbus’ Short North district, when the city came out to protest the murder of George Floyd and support the Black Lives Matter movement. From that work, Callwood received a phone call from the club. In the summer of 2020, Columbus had a temporary base to build support for the soon-to-be-completed Lower.com Field and hired Callwood to paint a mural on their building too.
Callwood didn’t grow up watching or supporting the Crew and had no interaction with the team until that cold call. Since then, the connection has grown with Callwood touring the then unfinished stadium, attending matches, creating an upcoming video series with video producer Ted Cadillac and designing Saturday’s Tifo. Saturday’s Tifo was much different than any of the work done with the Crew’s front office.
“Anytime you’re doing commercial art, there’s constraints with time, deadlines, revisions and feedback,” Callwood told Massive Report. “This is the first time where it was like, ‘Whatever you want to do, do it.’ Juneteenth is about me. It’s about my culture. For the Juneteenth one, I could work on this fully internally and had free creative range.”
With that free design reign, Callwood’s inspiration was three-fold. First was graffiti styling. Juxtaposed to the Pride Tifo, the Juneteenth Tifo received a base of blue paint but the imagery was all done with spray paint. Callwood and the TIFOSWEAT team began spray painting three days before the match, recreating a style normally seen on murals and buildings across Ohio’s capital city.
Next was the anime look and feel. For the main character of the Tifo, Callwood used Captain Tsubasa, a Japanese anime and manga series about something all soccer supporters can appreciate in striving to compete in and win a World Cup. The player isn’t someone from the show though. Instead, they’re part of the third foundation.
The overarching theme of the Tifo was sharing black culture. Displayed prominently is Juneteenth with a black soccer player striking the ball. That player was modeled after Crew winger and Haitian international Derrick Etienne Jr., who learned about the Tifo after the draw in the locker room.
“Wow, I would think they’d use Darlington (Nagbe) or something,” said Etienne. “I’m honored by that. Juneteenth is something special for me. It’s great.”
For the rest of the people in attendance at Lower.com Field, Callwood wanted to share the positive energy of the Juneteenth celebration. After all, positivity is what Callwood puts into everything that he creates. His goal is to make people’s “eyes smile.” That positivity is focused in an intentional way.
“I want the soccer fandom to accept the black culture as much as we see black and brown people on the field,” said Callwood. “I’m not accusing it of being malicious or anything, but I think a giant banner rolling from the top helps.”
The Nordecke’s main goal is to support the Crew, but the work done by TIFOSWEAT, Callwood and Rankin reaches out to the city of Columbus. On Saturday, while MLS and the Black & Gold support through a designed league-wide initiative, the inspiration and intent behind the Tifos showed what people outside of Columbus don’t always see: a diverse and talented city. From their tireless work, Columbus, the city, can only get better.