Woody Guthrie famously carried a guitar with a message scrawled on its face, “This Machine Kills Fascists.” A new Supporters Group on the Pittsburgh soccer scene aims to channel the spirit of Guthrie by taking a firm and public stance against racism, homophobia, and fascism in the Paul Child Stand at Highmark Stadium next year.
Meet the Iron City Front.
And a two sided. pic.twitter.com/XecQ69heDs
— ⚒IronCityFront🌾 (@IronCityFront) January 14, 2020
ICF follows a proud and century-old tradition of soccer Supporters Groups that take on some manner of political alignment. Throughout soccer history, SGs from Scotland to Israel to Argentina have been affiliated with labor movements, political independence movements, and right-wing politics. And as fascist and white supremacists groups have grown in number in recent years in America, more and more soccer supporters have adopted a decidedly political and anti-fascist ideology, and have adopted the accompanying ‘three-arrows’ logo that goes with that ideology.
PSN swapped questions with representatives of Iron City Front over email to understand who they are and what to expect from them. The group chose to answer the questions through a representative, and for reasons of collective representation, privacy, and security, ICF requested that their representative not be specifically identified by name.
PSN: What made you want to start a Supporters Group for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds? What’s you ‘superhero origin story’?
ICF: The most basic motivation for forming Iron City Front was that a bunch left-leaning folks kept bumping into each other at games or discovering outside of games that they were Riverhounds fans or followers. So a few of us decided to come together to form a supporters club and go to games together.
In some of the initial conversations, a couple things came up as big motivators for us. One was the fact that Hounds games are the most affordable pro sporting events in Pittsburgh and that makes them such an accessible space for working-class folks, which we love and want to highlight and do what we can to promote. Also, soccer is such a global sport that we see a lot of immigrants in the stands and we want to make sure games continue to always feel like welcome and accepting places for them. All-in-all, we want to have fun watching games with relatively like-minded folks, make it loud and clear that those stands are for everyone no matter who you are, who you love, or where you’re from, and raise a little money for organizations in the area doing work that aligns with our values.
Do you see yourself as a new supporters group? Or a subgroup of Steel Army?
Entirely new group. We absolutely respect Steel Army, several of our organizers have friends in the group, and we messaged them a heads up when we first went public that we weren’t trying to compete with them for membership or anything. We formed a separate club because we wanted to carve out an explicitly anti-racist and working-class place in the supporter section—not to compete with other supporters, but to add our voices to theirs.
What is the mission statement of ICF?
The Iron City Front exists to promote an anti-fascist, anti-racist, and anti-patriarchal culture and camaraderie among working and poor people in Pittsburgh, particularly among soccer supporters.
Our goals are to:
1. Provide a network of support for our members and supporters
2. Ensure a safe and fun environment, wherever we gather, for poor and working people, no matter their skin color, nation of origin, citizenship status, gender, religious or spiritual affiliation, sexuality, age, primary language, or physical ability.
3. Encourage and support individuals and organizations whose mission or work is deemed by our membership to align with our values.
Your crest features the three arrows often associated with anti-fascist groups from Europe in the pre-WWII era. Can you explain the meaning of the three arrows to your group?
The three arrows symbol was used by the original Iron Front, a paramilitary group in Germany made up of members from the Social Democratic Party of Germany and others, with each arrow representing a different enemy: Nazism, Monarchism, and Authoritarian Communism. For us, it’s a banner for poor and working-class anti-capitalists, union members, progressives, and just genuinely decent people to rally together behind and say “we will love and protect each other against bigoted and oppressive forces, here and anywhere we are.”
Good to see Pgh'ers giving Nazis the boot.
Don't let fash co-opt or join in on your rally, your discourse, or your movements! https://t.co/dLaYKKOFXP
— ⚒IronCityFront🌾 (@IronCityFront) January 4, 2020
I am sure you are aware that Major League Soccer, the first division league in the US, had some clashes with clubs in Colorado, Portland, and Seattle about the three-arrows logo being displayed at games. Have you spoken at all with the Riverhounds about their banner policies? Do you anticipate any trouble?
We have not spoken to the Riverhounds and we are not concerned. We’ll be there to support our Hounds, fly our colors, and have a good time with the other supporters and clubs.
Worldwide and throughout history, Supporters Groups have been known for being on the forefront of important social movements. How do you see yourselves in this context, and what important messages do you think you might have for Pittsburgh and the USL?
It’s a history and tradition that several of us have done a lot of reading on and definitely one we’ve drawn inspiration from. Most of us are already involved in various social or political efforts in the Pittsburgh area. The work of organizing for justice can be tiresome, stressful, and occasionally isolating so we wanted to help bring folks like us together for something joyful and fun. A big part of what we’re hoping to accomplish through the Iron City Front is creating opportunities to build solidarity and affection across our movements and communities. Through something simple but impassioned like soccer, we think that we can do that and encourage others to do the same. Whether it’s within the realm of sports, gaming, dancing, music, you name it, we want to see anti-fascists and poor and working-class people building together and taking care of one another.