Why I Chose To Riot
by Théo Gauthier
Proudly flying the colours at Carleton
I fell in love with the soccer crowd before I fell in love with the sport itself.
As a kid watching “Soccer Saturday” with TSN’s Graham Leggat in the early 90’s, I was mesmerised not by the images, but the sound! How were these crowds so organized as to create a beautiful sonic tapestry, something much more sophisticated than the crowds of the sports I was brought up with? I mean, the closest thing I had heard up to that point was “Valderi, Valdera” being sung at Olympic Stadium during Expos matches, or “Nah nah nah Goodbye” at Canadiens matches – and that was a unique characteristic of sports fandom anywhere in North American pro sports (the common thread there is obviously Montréal, a city and people not afraid of standing out, of doing things “à notre façon”).
But this – this was different. What sounded like an entire stadium singing relatively complex melodies in perfect unison. It was, and is, a beautiful thing.
Eventually, I was able to unshackle myself from the impositions of my society: religion, allegiance to the Canadiens de Montréal, and the philosophy that soccer is a sport played by Canadian children when the hockey rink melts. The turning point was France ’98, and David Beckham’s red card v. Argentina.
The 1998 World Cup had already drawn my attention, in no small part due to four solid years playing EA’s FIFA soccer series on Sega Genesis. The sport sank its teeth into me when the greatest injustice I had yet to witness in sport (if you don’t count the 1994 baseball strike) played out before me; Argentina’s Diego Simeone playacting his way to get young phenom David Beckham sent off in their quarterfinal match against England. From that moment on, I was emotionally invested in the sport. Thankfully I suppose, England lost that match or I would have become a fan of that country’s national team for life (bullet dodged there!). Enter stage right: Zinedine Zidane, Bixente Lizarazu, Fabien Barthez, Thierry Henry, Lillian Thuram, etc., etc., to capture my imagination.
The rest of that tournament was spent cheering on Les Bleus, a love affair that continues to this day.
I was Canadian, however, and a proud one at that, so my attention quickly turned to what was happening domestically. Canada’s national team at that point looked like a bunch of stand-ins for what would surely be a wave of young talent that would make its way to qualify for the World Cup. Winning the Gold Cup in 2000 seemed like a confirmation of this upward trajectory. How wrong we were, as that turned out to be the highpoint of the program’s achievements.
I say “we”, because by that time I had found another group of misfits such as myself online, a tiny group of soccer-loving, Canadian national team enthusiasts calling themselves The Voyageurs. Shortly after finding out about this group of supporters, my friends and I made the trip to Toronto’s Varsity Stadium to see Canada play Trinidad and Tobago (a match we won 1-0, by the way, despite the CSA making T&T feel right at home with Caribbean bands playing, and a lack of cooperation on a supporters section).
I was hooked for good. The Voyageurs were just like me, an archipelago of individual soccer fans in a sea of North American indifference to the sport. For the sport to grow here, and to emulate what I had first heard on “Soccer Saturday”, there would have to be a tectonic shift in the landscape for that archipelago to become a landmass.
One of the great obstacles to this shift was a lack of local clubs to support. Sure Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver had 2nd division clubs with tiny supporters groups, but it wasn’t until TFC was born, and the Toronto chapter of The Voyageurs showed other MLS clubs “how it was done” that supporter culture in North America really took off. One by one Seattle, Portland, and Montréal followed, grew, and generally set the bar for soccer supporter culture in North America to the point where there are too many cities to cite for the quality of their supporters groups. Supporter culture came to be not just accepted in these cities, but embraced.
Ottawa is not one of those cities. The challenge was always going to be great for this type of phenomenon to take root here. The typical “fan experience” in Canada’s Capital is to sit calmly in your seat as one does at the National Arts Centre (or a Bluesfest lawn chair), clap your hands politely when there is a nice sequence of play and to really let yourself go if the Noise Meter is on the Jumbotron (oh my, clutch your pearls embarrassingly after you’ve done that – and pat yourself on the back for breaking that dastardly meter!).
The Bytown Boys have carried the torch through some pretty bad local teams, and for this they must be commended. This year, with the launch of a true professional team in Ottawa, the Bytown Boys were joined by two more supporters groups, Stony Monday Riot and Fury Ultras. I joined the Stony Monday Riot, and in so doing lent my free time and energy to the struggle in getting this type of “thing” accepted in Ottawa.
It hasn’t been easy; a Supporters Section originally planned for the part of the stadium that was as far from the pitch as you could get, overzealous security (they had NO idea what to make of us, their instincts being to marginalize us), overpriced tickets, the selling of tickets in our section to stunned casual fans, and most recently a ludicrous idea to play arena rock over the loudspeakers during matches. To be fair to the club, however, most of the issues brought up to them have been addressed in a timely manner.
Despite this, the Supporters Section has continued to grow in numbers, in volume, and in acceptance. This weekend, we will be joined by returning students at Carleton, Ottawa U, Algonquin and La Cité Collégiale. Here’s a demographic that hasn’t been gentrified or beaten down by the conformity of the public service. We expect it to be LOUD.
As for me, I will be among them singing, shouting, waving flags and continuing to build this thing we’ve started. We haven’t achieved a “beautiful sonic tapestry” yet, but we’ll get there. And hey, if any of what I’ve written speaks to you, come join us!
We’re a fun bunch – come join us!