On Saturday night, there’s a ten-foot Christmas tree lighting up the lobby of ChiTown Futbol. Packs of teenagers carrying soccer gear pour out of cars and into the stadium, a repurposed industrial building at the end of a quiet block off Cermak Avenue. The street dead-ends just past the parking area, giving way to beached shipping containers and one of the Chicago River’s freightloading channels.
There’s a league game tonight, as well as “a small birthday party, maybe fifty people,” says Noel Perez, the marketing and special events manager.
About three years ago, Benny Hernandez, a cousin of Perez and a member of several crucial Chicago punk bands including No Slogan and Population, began taking advantage of a space opposite the indoor soccer field to hold punk shows. The acoustics aren’t ideal in the large hall, but that didn’t (and still doesn’t) stop Hernandez from booking both local bands and groups on tour from Europe and Latin America.
Pilsen-based hardcore band Los Crudos, who carved out a space for Latinos in the predominantly white world of nineties hardcore, chose ChiTown Futbol for a set of reunion shows in March and September of 2013. Some saw it as an odd choice. They’re a household name in punk in Chicago and beyond, and fans feared the venue would fill up and they would miss their chance to see the band, which has only reunited sporadically for one-off shows since their heyday two decades ago.
Martin Sorrondeguy, lead singer of Los Crudos, gave several reasons why the band selected ChiTown Futbol for their Chicago reunion shows. “Its size and location were two of the main reasons we chose it, also because they rented it to us at a great price,” he said. “It was also really left in our hands how we wanted to run our shows, and that was important to us,” he said over email. Sorrondeguy grew up in Pilsen, and made clear in a 2013 interview with WBEZ that ties to the neighborhood and to community-oriented DIY spaces have always determined where the band performs.
Every so often, children’s birthday parties and punk shows are scheduled at ChiTown Futbol on the same night. It’s easy to imagine some tension arising as the music hits ear-splitting levels, but the influx of punks from across the city into the mostly neighborhood-oriented facility seems to cause more curiosity than anything else. Parents and small children sometimes wander into the show space during a set, but they show no negative response to the deafening volume.
Indeed, there is some crossover between soccer-players and show-goers, one activity often leading to the other. “Sometimes people have never heard of our facility and come for a show, and they’re like, ‘Oh, you have soccer?’ ” Perez says.
At the ticket table, in the offices, and in the large spectating area where food is served and eaten at big cafeteria-style tables, just about every conversation takes place in Spanish. Perez is the son of the stadium’s owner and has worked at ChiTown Futbol for about seven years, though he also spent time there before going away to college.
“At first it was strictly Spanish, but the community is changing. With second-generation people, everybody’s more bilingual now,” he explains. “When I came back from [the University of Illinois], my Spanish was a little rough, but it came right back once I got here.”
The fluid transitions between Spanish and English speak to the complex identity of ChiTown Futbol. It’s not easy to classify it as a stadium, a venue, a stadium-venue, or anything else. “We don’t just have punk shows,” Perez says. “We’ve had EDM shows, rock shows, quinceañeras, baptisms, birthdays…” It’s a unique approach to using space. There’s something to be said for a family-operated space that brings in just as many neighborhood kids as it does internationally famous punks.