Supporter culture in New England announced its presence in the big leagues two weeks ago with a massive MLS Cup banner for the Revolution's final regular-season home game against Toronto. The display was publicized around the country and, according to Cathal Conlon on a recent edition of the Far Post Podcast (somewhere around the 43:30-44:00 mark), it had a very real and positive effect on the team's motivation.
While many publications (including this one) assigned credit equally to both the Rebellion and the Midnight Riders, it was the former who led the effort and brought about its execution. Volunteers came from all over. The theme, based on the song "Toto" by Africa, was the brainchild of Rebel and sometime TBM contributor Brendan Schimmel,while the design was the product of Steven Erickson, one of the Rebellion's Executive Directors.
In order to give credit where credit is due, we talked to Mr. Erickson about the design, construction, and implementation of the banner, and future tifo plans for the Rebels.
TBM: What was the inspiration for the image and message?
SE: The song "Africa" from Toto has been an unofficial rally song for the Revs in the second half of the season. One game it began to play at halftime...oddly enough it appeared everyone knew the lyrics and belted it out. It kept playing every game and we kept winning. For us, it was an obvious choice to take a popular line in the song and turn it into a banner. It's a great line, motivating, but it also was an inside joke that we knew would mean more to our fans and players here.
We wanted something simple, big and bold; with a a clear message. The cup, it's waiting there for you. Go and get it.
TBM: Who came up with them?
SE: Brendan and I had a quick design session for this banner. It happened pretty quick, he had the idea of using the lines from the song and I put those three lines of text and the cup in the Revs colors beneath it. We had gone back after to make one change...replacing the star on the cup with the flag of New England tree to make the cup "ours".
TBM: How much work did it take to create the banner itself?
We are looking at well over 100 combined hours to create this banner. Eleven hours of sewing (1 person), about 4 hours of tracing (9 people), 5 hours of painting (14 people painting), and 4 hours of installation of grommets ( 3 people). This doesn't include the time it takes to fold, transport and store it.
There's literally blood, sweat and most likely tears on that banner somewhere.
TBM: How difficult was it to organize the deployment?
SE: This was our first piece of tifo at this scale so we had a lot of logistical hurdles. We knew it'd be our most costly piece as a group as well. We've always wanted the counter the thinking that what other SG's do in MLS can't be done here. It definitely can, it just takes some time and dedication. We knew if we just got that first one done, got more people involved, they'd see the process isn't too hard and it can be done.
The Toto Tifo was roughly 30' x 40' and the size becomes overwhelming when you start to work with it. , we figured out the best ways to trace and paint. As far as gathering support to help with this banner, we put a request to all Revs fans who wanted to help and we got a great response on short notice for volunteers. Credit goes to Revs FO, specifically Cathal Conlon for spending extra time and effort to coordinate a location at the stadium lot where we could paint it. The most difficult part was figuring how we would actually hoist it, how we would attach it and engineering some kind of method to do it safely and quickly. Revs fans joke about the constant winds in the parking lots at Gillette, dubbing it the "Kraft Weather Machine," no joke we hoisted that banner up as a test earlier on game day and due to the size of it and the constant wind we could have sailed The Fort to Newport. We modified to include several (more) wind holes to alleviate it. It's a little nerve wracking because it's on live TV, if we mess it up, there's no hiding it.
TBM: Who did the work, who did the actual designing, who was involved in the planning process?
SE: I was the lead on this project and focused on coordinating the moving parts throughput. Again credit goes to our members who answered the call, as this stuff reminds you how much of a family it is.
TBM: What's next on the tifo agenda?
SE: The Rebellion has something already in the works for (hopefully) the next home playoff game. It will be about the same scale. I think the next step in the progression is to get the crowd involved. It's easy to hoist a large banner up but we want to take it to the next level. The response we got on social media and from the team was tremendous. We know what it means to the players when they break the huddle and they turn around see a massive banner raised motivating them.
Check out the behind the scenes video below and be on the look out for a coordinated tifo effort from the Midnight Riders on Sunday against the Crew.