New England Soccer Today

Home is Where the Heart is

Photo credit: Demetri Vidalis, PE

Photo credit: Demetri Vidalis, PE

Initially, Joe Franchino didn’t know what to expect when he decided to forgo his seat in the club suite for a spot in the Fort, where many of the Revolution’s ardent and vocal supporters stand and chant for 90 minutes.

Over half a decade had passed since the former Revolution skipper last stepped onto the Gillette Stadium pitch. Following his retirement in 2008, Franchino hadn’t exactly made it a habit of returning to a place he was once revered. How would the fans react? What would they say?

“I had no idea what it would be like,” Franchino told via phone on Monday. “They might heckle me or whatnot, but they welcomed me with open arms, and the experience was phenomenal.”

It was that, and so much more for Franchino, who became a fan favorite during his nine seasons in Foxborough thanks to his fierce play and relentless determination. To him, the whole day, which took place under a clear blue April sky, had a magical feel to it.

“It was great just to go there and see people that you saw 10 years ago,” Franchino said. “A lot of the faces that I saw – I couldn’t believe that they were still there, and they’re still coming to the games. The loyalty that they showed to support our club, and to be a part of that, and to raise the scarf – it shows that we’re all in it together.”

And that’s exactly how Franchino felt as he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with many of the same supporters who once fervently chanted his name and cheer his squad. He shook hands, traded high-fives, and posed for one selfie after another. For 90 minutes, he experienced first-hand what he’d only witnessed from a distance – albeit a short one – as a player out on the pitch.

Photo credit: Hank Alexandre

Photo credit: Hank Alexandre

It was a cathartic experience. The former skipper fought through his fair share of personal demons toward the end of his career. He eventually drifted away from the game that he loved.

Then Saturday arrived, and with it, the promise of a new day. An opportunity to return to a place filled with familiar and friendly faces. Sure, he could’ve saluted the crowd prior to the game before retreating to a pricey club-level seat with all of the amenities, and supporters would’ve loved it just the same. But Franchino felt that he belonged somewhere else.

“I wanted to be down there with the die-hard fans,” Franchino said. “Being away from the club for so long – I wanted to experience that and come down there.”

And he didn’t just stand and watch, either. During his trip to the Fort, he helped unfurl the ubiquitous blue “Supah Revs” banner at the start of the game, cheered and chanted from the first to final whistle with supporters young, old, and in between, all of whom gave their former skipper a hero’s welcome.

“To sit in there with some of those people, and for them to acknowledge me, and let me be part of that – it was a classy thing,” Franchino said. “It just shows what our fans are about and what this club is about, and it was a great experience.”

Photo credit: Chris Aduama/

Photo credit: Chris Aduama/

It was also the path less taken. Many retired athletes are content to observe their former club in relative isolation, keeping a safe distance from crowd in a posh luxury box. Many, but not all, as Franchino proved over the weekend.

After Saturday’s seminal experience, there’s a hope among Revolution supporters that Franchino’s appearance in the Fort starts a trend, and that many former players will soon follow suit. But Franchino is the first to admit that wasn’t his intention, even though he would encourage other retired players who, like him, are looking for a way to get back in the game.

“It felt like it was the right thing to do,” Franchino said. “Any player that retires and is away from the game, I would say ‘definitely’ – I had the best experience I possibly could’ve ever thought.”

Franchino also met up with coach Jay Heaps and strength and conditioning coach Nick Downing, both of whom he once played alongside. He was greeted by Revolution owners Robert Kraft and Jonathan Kraft prior to the game, and both made it a point to make him feel welcome.

He hopes to someday come full-circle with the Revolution, and rejoin the club in a coaching capacity or in a front office position. He’d be fine with either. After all, it would allow him to pull into the stadium every morning, just like he did during his playing days. To take a young player under his wing, or perhaps, scout a college prospect who harbors the dream of playing professionally. And who knows? Maybe he’ll even make a return trip to the Fort.

“I loved the experience,” Franchino said. “I thank everybody for how they drew it up, and it just felt like home. I had a great time, and I’ll remember it forever.”

Photo credit: @weberking

Photo credit: @weberking

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