I grew up watching hockey. All hockey: NHL Hockey Night in Canada; the Lethbridge Hurricanes, a junior team in the WHL; the IIHF World Junior Tournament at Christmas; and Olympic hockey every 4 years. If you ask most Canadians why they like hockey they will probably give you an answer along the lines of “it’s our game” or “it’s awesome” or “I don’t know, I just do.” If you ask them when they started watching, most won’t be able to tell you. It’s what was on TV. It’s what you watched with your family on Saturday night. It’s a part of our culture. If you ask them why they like whatever team it is they cheer for, they will probably tell you it’s the team their father cheered for. The average Canadian (not just a sports fan, I’m talking regular citizen of Canada) can tell you where they were and who they were with when Sidney Crosby scored the “Golden Goal” in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Hockey is a part of our culture. And while I still love to watch a good hockey game, there is nothing quite like the world’s beautiful game for me.
I was working at a music store and stocking the sports DVD section. I noticed the Premier League yearbook DVDs and wondered what this was all about. It was a World Cup year and many of my friends were really into it, so I decided to watch a game of soccer and see if I liked it. I don’t remember what game I watched, but I can tell you that this is when I fell in love with the game. There was something about the way the players used the ball and the field. So simple but so intricate at the same time. And there was something about the way the fans interacted with the game. Almost as though they were somehow part of it. It was different from hockey, where the fans are invested in the game, yet remain separate from it. I wanted more. I was hooked.
In my small city in southern Alberta, there weren’t very many options to watch soccer on TV. You could pay for 2 cable channels…GolTV and Setanta sports. So that‘s what I did. The bulk of the games were English Premier League games so that’s what I watched. I didn’t know anything about the players. I didn’t know anything about the teams. I didn’t know anything about the leagues. I didn’t know anything about the money. All I knew was I liked watching the blue team with the lion in the crest. They had this midfield that was like magic. I enjoyed watching them so they became my team. There was only one problem…they played in London, England. This meant waking up extraordinarily early on Saturdays to watch the games live. I was reading about the team and watching them on TV from a different continent. I’ve never seen them live, never stood in Stamford Bridge with fellow supporters, never shaken the hands of my heroes, never chatted with the coach. There is a distance.
Then Toronto was granted an MLS franchise. Still 4 hours by plane or 5 days by car to the stadium, but at least they played in the same country. The excitement around the club in the early days was electric. The stadium was always packed, and songs of support and adoration rang out and filled my living room whenever I watched a game on TV. Yes, there was still the TV between me and the team, but they were closer and you could feel the attitude toward soccer changing in Canada. People started to pay attention. Jerseys made their way into sports stores. You started to see people wearing hats, scarves, t-shirts. I actually got to see this team live in a Voyaguer’s Cup game…in Vancouver. There were literally 10 TFC supporters at Swangaurd Stadium. A far cry from the thousands that flooded BMO Field every week. I didn’t feel that connection that bonds supporters together like I had wanted to. There was still a distance.
Now there is a team in my city. I’m at every home game. I’m in a supporters group and write chants and make banners and wave flags. Things happen that I am a part of. The TV no longer stands between me and the game I love. There is no more distance. I have met the men on the field. I have chatted with the coach. I stand at Lansdowne Stadium together with Stony Monday Riot. I feel connected to the team and the supporters around me. I finally have a team I can call my own. Ottawa Fury FC are my team. Our team. We are all creating this team from the ground up, bit by bit. And more than anything, I want them to be successful. I want the players to develop and have successful careers. I want the team to be strong and successful and rooted in the culture and community of Ottawa. I want all fans to feel welcome and as connected to the team as I do. I want the sport of soccer to grow and expand across this great country for men and women. This is what we work toward. This is why I riot.