FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It started innocuously enough back in late July.
Dave Campopiano, Marketing Manager for the New England Revolution, was told by Gillette Stadium’s Director of Game Operations, Abbey Thelin, that he could pick one song to be played at halftime of the Revs’ home game against the Colorado Rapids.
Campopiano didn’t spend much time deliberating. He just wanted something fun – something a few fans might recognize and sing along. After all, his selection would only play once. That was the plan.
His choice: Toto’s 1982 hit, “Africa.”
Three months later, “Africa” has become the unofficial anthem of the Revolution. When it blares throughout Gillette Stadium – now ritualistically – as the final song before the second half kicks off, supporters and staff alike join in to sing along at full volume. It’s an event unto itself.
But the phenomenon has spread well beyond four minutes and 55 seconds of halftime sing-along. Supporters now listen to Toto – an 80s soft rock band from southern California known for hits like “Hold the Line” and “Rosanna” – as pregame pump-up music. “BlessTheRains,” used as a hashtag, has become a rallying cry on Twitter. “Africa” even played a prominent role in a massive tifo display (more on that later).
So, how did this happen?
The simple answer – it just did. And that’s what makes it so special. It wasn’t planned, because how could it have been? It was just a fun song supporters latched on to and made their own. It was, more than anything, blind luck that the Revolution had been searching for something to make such a connection.
“The subject of a club anthem is something that has been discussed for several years among the supporters and the club,” said Director of Marketing Cathal Conlon. “My feeling on it has always been that it wasn’t something the front office could dictate. It had to happen organically and resonate with the supporters.
“For whatever reason, ‘Africa’ did just that. We certainly encouraged it from the front office, making sure we played it for the first couple of games, and slowly but surely it took on a life of its own.”
Originally, the song kept playing because the Revs kept winning. “Africa” first played on July 30, the night the Revolution snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 3-0 win over the Rapids. Superstition dictated that it should play again at the next home game.
Nine games later, the Revs are 8-0-1 when “Africa” plays at halftime.
“This kind of organic reaction to something we do in-game is what people in my job pray for, but rarely ever accomplish,” said Thelin. “When it happens, it’s always the most random thing that ends up taking off. We could have planned 20 other Revolution-specific things that no one would’ve reacted to, but for some reason Toto resonates and boom, we have a tradition.”
Even the supporters themselves can’t fully explain why they latched on to “Africa,” a song written more than 30 years ago by Toto band members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, with literally no connection whatsoever to soccer or New England. It is, as you would assume, a song about Africa.
“It’s a great song and it’s really fun to sing out loud with hundreds of other people,” said the Rebellion’s Brendan Schimmel, noting that the song takes on special meaning when it’s belted out in the rain. “I remember hearing it at halftime and being so surprised at how many people knew the song and the lyrics. We started winning and the song kept playing.”
Because of the song’s increasing association with the Revs and their supporters, it was only natural that “Africa” served as the inspiration for the Rebellion-driven tifo which was hoisted in front of The Fort just before kickoff of the regular-season finale against Toronto FC.
It was a simple design – a massive MLS Cup and the lyrics, “Hurry boys, it’s waiting there for you” – but it struck all the right chords as a rallying cry ahead of a postseason run.
“We wanted something that’d be special and have a different meaning to the players and Revs fans,” said Schimmel, whose idea sparked the banner. “To the rest of the league, ‘Hurry boys, it’s waiting there for you,’ may just seem like us willing the team to MLS Cup. But it means more, and only we know that.”
“When they unveiled the tifo at the last regular-season game with the lyrics from the song and MLS Cup on it, I thought, ‘this was meant to be,’” said Thelin. “It was too perfect.”
There is, without question, an element of serendipity when it comes to the Revs and their unofficial anthem. Both Conlon and Campopiano admit that “Africa” by Toto wouldn’t have been their first – or millionth – guess for a Revolution anthem just a few short months ago.
But here we are, all because a Revs staffer thought it would be fun to play a popular 80s tune at halftime. And in retrospect, Campopiano couldn’t be more thrilled with his choice.
“To me, the most enjoyable part has been seeing the fans embrace the song,” he said. “The only thing that could possibly make it better would be having Toto perform it live.”
So, what do you say, Toto? See you on November 29 in Foxborough?
We’ll be waiting here for you.