On Saturday, the Columbus Crew took part in “Soccer for All” MLS initiative to welcome supporters of any race, religion, age or gender. Ahead of Black & Gold’s 1-1 draw against Charlotte FC, players warmed up in Pride tops to support the LGBTQIA+ community and the kits featured lettering and numbers honoring Juneteenth, the celebration of slave emancipation in 1865.
In a bigger show of support, Nordecke’s TIFOSWEAT group went above and beyond with not one but two Tifos honoring Juneteenth and Pride. Behind these art exhibits are two artists who have found inspiration in the community and players to bring the celebrations to life.
Pride – Chris Rankin
First up, a massive three-panel Tifo, inspired by the fans. On a striking yellow sign, a rendering of Lower.com Field was projected with the color range spanning the full spectrum of the Pride flag. Each of the three pieces included a line familiar to those in and around the Nordecke, a “We Love Ya!” emphatic, a chant heard throughout the games. Behind the design was local artist and graphic designer Chris Rankin.
Rankin and his family’s connection to the Crew dates back to 1996 when the Black & Gold launched the league at Ohio Stadium. Since then, Rankin has attended a game or two a season, but hasn’t dipped into season tickets or Tifo paint 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 more about fan art.
“When Keith (Naas) invited us to participate in TIFOSWEAT, painting the banner on the opening game leading up to the new stadium, I got my whole family involved. I got dirty, painted and met some really nice people,” Rankin told Massive Report “It was our first connection with the Tifo and Nordecke fanbase. I didn’t even know what a Tifo was until we started.”
Now Rankin knows more than he ever imagined. Brian Klein, 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 pitched him in the first place. The design comes from the same group of supporters who selected Rankin in the first place.
Leaving a crew game, Rankin and his family drove down Nationwide Blvd. and heard supporters chanting as they passed under the bridge shouting, “We love you! We love you ! We love you ! And wherever you go, we’ll follow you! We will follow! We will follow! Cue the bulb.
“I repurposed the ‘We Love You’ chant as a message of community support,” Rankin said. “The hope is that by hearing it throughout the year, the Pride community will remember and remember the banner and what it stands for.”
When it came to turning the idea of a rendering into fabric, Rankin went from designer to painter. During the international hiatus, TIFOSWEAT didn’t get the memo on a hiatus and spent hours a day conceiving the design, with Rankin and all the family members helping to paint the Tifo and the multiple smaller banners adjourning the l north end of the stadium. Even a graduation party for her son turned into a painting excursion. Rankin recruiting seven party family members to help him.
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 Klein use rollers, Rankin learned about the amount of paint wasted when excess bleeds through the fabric, often causing damage underneath. That and only working on small pieces at a time and never seeing the final product until game day sparked an appreciation for Rankin. It’s a level of appreciation that now matches the love and support Rankin and his family have for the LGBTQIA+ community.
“We’ve always been very supportive of the Pride community,” Rankin said. “When I heard there was an opportunity to design something for Pride, I really wanted to do something. It aligns with some of our core values as a family and as part of the Columbus community. .
On Saturday, Rankin met with members of Stone Village Church, a Pride-supporting and loving church that Rankin has also invited to paint, for a brunch followed by downtown festivities celebrating Pride before heading to the game. While the Crew’s celebration can be labeled ‘Football is for everyone’, there are no questions surrounding Saturday’s first Tifo.
“They can call it whatever they want, but it’s definitely going to be a celebration of pride,” Rankin said. “Fifty flags all over Nordecke. It’s gonna be a party.
Juneteenth – Hakim Callwood
The party continued as the second half of the Crew match began. For the first time in Lower.com Field history, the Nordecke deployed a second Tifo. The design, methodology and inspiration of the two plays were as diverse as the celebration of the day. Behind the second half, Tifo was Hakim Callwood.
In 2020, Callwood painted a mural on the side of Paradise Garage in the Short North neighborhood of Columbus, when the city came out to protest the murder of George Floyd and support the Black Lives Matter movement. From this work, Callwood received a phone call from the club. In the summer of 2020, Columbus had a temporary base to bolster support for the soon to be completed Lower.com field and also hired Callwood to paint a mural on their building.
Callwood did not grow up watching or supporting the crew and had no interaction with the crew until that cold call. Since then, the connection has grown with Callwood touring the then-unfinished stadium, attending games, creating an upcoming video series with video producer Ted Cadillac, and designing Saturday’s Tifo. Saturday’s Tifo was very different from all the work done with the Crew front office.
“Any time you do commercial art, there are constraints of time, deadlines, revisions and feedback,” Callwood told Massive Report. “It’s the first time it was like, ‘Whatever you want to do, do it.’ Juneteenth is about me. It’s about my culture. For Juneteenth, I could work on it completely in-house and I had a free creative range.
With this reign of free design, Callwood’s inspiration was threefold. The first was the graffiti style. Juxtaposed with the Pride Tifo, the Juneteenth Tifo was given a blue paint base but the images were all done with spray paint. Callwood and the TIFOSWEAT crew began spraypainting three days before the game, recreating a style normally seen on murals and buildings in Ohio’s capital.
Next is the look and feel of the anime. For the Tifo main character, Callwood used Captain Tsubasa, a Japanese anime and manga series about something all football fans can enjoy as they strive to compete and win a World Cup. The player, however, is not someone from the series. Instead, they are part of the third foundation.
The overall theme of the Tifo was sharing black culture. Juneteenth is highlighted with a black soccer player kicking the ball. This player was modeled after Crew winger and Haitian international Derrick Etienne Jr., who learned of Tifo’s existence after the draw in the locker room.
“Wow, I think they would use Darlington (Nagbe) or something like that,” Etienne said. “I’m honored. Juneteenth is something special for me. It’s good.”
For the rest of those in attendance at Lower.com Field, Callwood wanted to share the positive energy of the June 19th celebration. After all, positivity is what Callwood puts into everything he creates. His goal is to make people’s “eyes” smile. This positivity is intentionally focused.
“I want the football fandom to accept black culture as much as we see black and brown people on the pitch,” Callwood said. “I’m not accusing him of being malicious or anything, but I think a giant banner rolling down from the top helps.”
The main purpose of the Nordecke is to support the crew, but the work done by TIFOSWEAT, Callwood and Rankin reaches the city of Columbus. On Saturday, as MLS and Black & Gold support through a 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.