Steve Sirk's new book is required reading for hardcore Crew fans

Steve Sirk has been writing about the Columbus Crew longer than almost anyone — more entertainingly, too. Since taking his first assignment for the Michigan Soccer News in 1997, Sirk has typed an astonishing number of words about the team for a wide range of outlets. Most famously, between stints for now-defunct sites like Matchnight and Soccer Capital News and more recent self-published work, he wrote the playful and irreverent Sirk’s Notebook column for the Crew’s official website.

Sirk is not your average sportswriter. Through careful observation and a warm, ingratiating presence, he collects the sort of fun, humanizing details that usually end up in the margins of a story and brings them to the foreground. His match day reports are built from locker-room inside jokes, personal anecdotes both touching and bizarre, and all manner of you-had-to-be-there ephemera. For devoted Crew supporters, Sirk’s work has always been an essential complement to the more straightforward news coverage provided by more conventional reporters.

But as Sirk realized almost four years ago, due to the impermanent nature of the internet, much of that copy is at risk of vanishing forever. “It seems like, ‘It’s online. It will be there forever,’ but that’s really not the case,” Sirk said in a phone call last weekend. “There’s a million different ways for stuff on the internet to kind of slowly disappear.”

This fact crystallized for Sirk in January 2016. The then-girlfriend, now-wife of former Crew goalkeeper Mark Doughterty had been digging around for old stories about Dougherty’s playing career and happened upon a lengthy interview with Sirk from 1999 on the Internet Archive. She passed it on to the Crew, whose marketing and communications head Arica Kress in turn forwarded it to Sirk.

“It just made me think, like, wow, this is a lot of stuff that, unless you’re going to be a detective, people are never going to see again or stuff that just doesn’t exist anywhere — pieces of Crew history that will kind of just disappear,” Sirk said. To prevent such a fate, he began scouring old hard drives and web servers in the hopes of compiling his greatest hits into a book.

Sirk had already published two such tomes: A Massive Season, an in-depth look at the 2008 MLS Cup championship season, and Kirk Urso: Forever Massive, a biography of the young Crew midfielder who died from a congenital heart defect during the 2012 season. Yet he still had more than enough material for a 277-page volume spanning the team’s full 23-year history. The result is A Massive Collection: Volume 1, which tracks the franchise’s history from the AOL era to the Twitter age, from soccer in the 'Shoe to #SaveTheCrew.

For a project that ostensibly amounts to funneling some old blog posts onto paper, A Massive Collection did not come easy. The book was delayed for reasons both mundane (a fruitless effort to retrieve Sirk’s 2004 and 2005 writings from a crashed hard drive) and melodramatic (a long pause to see how the Save The Crew saga would shake out). Now, at long last, a self-published first run of the book is available to purchase via a special Nordecke pre-order through this Thursday, Oct. 24.

A Massive Collection reflects the full spectrum of Sirk’s canon. There are sentimental stories like the one about the persistence and serendipity that landed Ohio native Josh Williams on the team for which he grew up cheering. There are absurd antics aplenty alongside co-conspirators like Dante Washington and Duncan Oughton. There are detailed accounts of historic occasions at Mapfre Stadium, both the exhilarating (the U.S. men’s national team’s first “Dos a Cero” victory over Mexico in 2001) and embarrassing (the notorious scoreboard fire of 2013). Even a recap of a 2013 team outing to Medieval Times made the cut.

Tales starring the likes of Robert Warzycha, Frankie Hejduk and Jeff Cunningham will be transportive for old-school fans and instructive for newcomers. Sirk’s meticulous footnotes further enhance the experience, whether he’s cracking one-liners, providing context about how Major League Soccer’s short-lived experiment with overtime worked or extolling the virtues of the Mitre balls MLS used in its early years.

In addition to this archival goldmine, the book contains three previously unpublished chapters. One is a series of reflections on the Crew’s first owner, the late Lamar Hunt. Another spotlights longtime Crew equipment manager Tucker Walther, one of Sirk’s favorite recurring characters. The third and most improbable of all is a report on how Biz Markie ended up singing an altered version of “Just A Friend” in support of the Save The Crew movement.

The version of the Biz Markie story that made it into advance copies of A Massive Collection, in which members of Crew defender Alex Crognale’s family happened upon the rapper on a road trip and recruited him to their cause, is fascinating and fun in its own right. It will be even better when the book is officially released next month due to an 11th-hour interview with Biz Markie himself.

After reaching out months ago, Sirk heard back from Markie’s management last Thursday, just a week before he was closing the pre-order and sending the book the print. “I think the thing that really worked in our favor is that he’s a huge Ohio State football fan,” Sirk said. “Even though he grew up in New York, he said he’s been a Buckeye fan since the days of Archie Griffin. So when he was approached about doing this and the person was from Columbus, talking about a Columbus team being taken away, he said something in his heart told him to do it.”

Now that the Crew is saved, Sirk is pleased that A Massive Collection can be the foundation of an ongoing historical record rather than “a wistful remembrance of what once was.” A diehard Tribe fan, he likens it to Franklin Lewis’ 1949 book The Cleveland Indians, a recap of Cleveland baseball history from the 1860s to the 1948 World Series championship, penned by someone who was there for several decades of it.

“Think how much of that stuff would have gone by the wayside,” Sirk said. “I know this in a way sounds ridiculous, but what if 50 years from now there’s someone who loves the Columbus Crew?”

Assuming MLS keeps growing the way Major League Baseball did, A Massive Collection could easily be that kind of treasure trove for soccer fans in 2069 seeking to learn about the nascent days of the league. In the meantime, Crew fans in the present will probably find it illuminating too. As Sirk put it, “These are stories you just don’t want to see lost.”