We may have seen the start of something unique to Canadian soccer on Sunday night. A league in which the Supporters of each team work together for the common good of the beautiful game rather than despise one another. If you have been paying attention, you know that Supporters Groups, optimistically supporting non-existent teams in a non-existent league, have been cropping up across the country. If you haven’t been paying attention, head over to January’s Rumour Roundup and scroll to the bottom of the page. In a coming together that was typically Canadian, representatives from the groups in Halifax, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Regina, and Winnipeg joined together via conference call to talk about their CPL hopes and dreams. They were joined by Paul Beirne, a key executive for the new league, whose main message was to keep going. “Don’t wait – just get going and start building things”.
James Covey from Halifax kicked things off, telling the group about the fantastic relationship that has been established between the supporters and Sports & Entertainment Atlantic, the ownership group driving the Halifax bid. They held their first meeting on February 8th, 2017 and were “pleased to welcome Patrick Lowe, from Generation Adidas, who is working with Sports & Entertainment (SEA) on the bid for the Halifax CPL club”. Lowe has helped SEA to make educated requests for constructing the future temporary stadium, and the city has already put out a tender for resurfacing the field that takes into account these future stadium considerations. Covey informed the group that the city has “three vender bids for actual stadium construction. They have stadium concepts. Supporter section on one end, beer garden on the other”.
Covey made the point that the city was already behind the team, sharing that Mayor Mike Savage told Derek Martin, the President of SEA, that “this has to happen”. Another point of positivity was the fact that SEA seems to have recognized the importance of the fans already in this stage of development. “They seem to get the whole thing of not trying to run our show, our side of things”, Covey explained. The Halifax group will certainly continue to grow, especially as more news is released.
Barton St. Battalion, Hamilton
James Hutton from Hamilton was up next, representing the oldest CPL Supporter’s group-it will be reaching a year of age within the next couple of months. Hutton discussed how being around for that amount of time comes with its own challenges. “We’re in a unique space”, he explains, “we’re still trying to grow, but there’s only so much you can do without having the product yet”. The Hamilton group has been privileged to have an ownership group that has been active in promoting the league, and has been open about their ambitions from the start. Bob Young, the owner of the Tiger Cats and future owner of the Hamilton CPL team, has expressed a great deal of enthusiasm, and has also opened his organization to input from the Battalion members by sending representatives to attend some of their meetings. Although there has been less noise lately from the ownership group, the Battalion continues to soldier on – holding regular events and viewing parties. They have also been able to win some media attention, becoming the feature of a Hamilton Spectator article on the development of a local professional soccer team.
Grand River Union, Kitchener-Waterloo
Continuing to travel west across the country, Levi Oakey and this writer shared what is happening with the Kitchener-Waterloo group. I was excited to share the progress that Grand River Union Supporters have already made in mobilizing the local community to come out to events. After meeting each other as a result of our mutual love of soccer over Facebook, we began to discuss the prospect of creating a supporter’s group to promote the idea of a CPL team in the Kitchener-Waterloo region. Barry MacLean, the owner of the PDL team KW United, was already enthusiastic about moving KW United up to become a professional club. This meant that Jeff Hughs, a representative of the club, attended Grand River Union’s inaugural meeting on January 10th and encouraged the group to keep moving forward.
Oakey elaborated on the history of KW United and the supporters around it. Oakey was involved in the founding of Forsyth Machine, which had been the original supporter group of the local PDL team. Oakey told the group how “we started Forsyth Machine to mobilize around KW United, but we found it hard to get people from around the area to come out. The idea of a CPL team has brought out a much wider group of people”. Grand River Union has made bringing a diverse group of people together their priority. Oakey explained how they have “approached the local refugee centre a number of times. They’ve told us that football is a real need, connecting people with the society”. In one of their latest events, the group was able to get a great showing of families to come to a viewing party for the Women’s Bronze Celebration Match.
Adam Johnston from Winnipeg updated the group on the progress they have made so far in mobilizing support for a local team. Their first meeting was held in late January, and “about eight to nine people showed up, which isn’t bad for a rainy January night in Winnipeg”. At the meeting, the group discussed all of the rumblings of the CPL, and decided that they “should rally behind the Winnipeg PDL team”. Johnston shared that the group decided to take a bit of a wait-and-see approach before developing a name and really diving into promotion. “Once the name is announced”, Johnston shared, “we’ll get some ideas on what to name the supporter’s group. We’re really waiting for more information, and are wanting to just support local soccer”.
Pile O’ Bones, Regina
Last of the supporter groups represented (but certainly not least), was Rob Notenboom from Regina. Notenboom gave a bit of history about the group that had amassed around the hoped-for CPL team in Regina, explaining how “lots of us have travelled a lot, a lot of us have done the supporters thing”, but there’s “quite a disconnect between the 10 of us who are the converted, and anyone else in Regina”. Despite this, Notenboom is optimistic about the future of the Pile O’ Bones Supporters. He believes that despite the mix of people who are “between disbelief and yeah that would be really cool tell me when it happens” mentality, the lack of enthusiasm in the wider population “will be overcome pretty quickly once we get some franchise information”. Notenboom echoed some of the other groups in saying the group doesn’t “want to end up pushing anyone away. Big tent mentality, this is their place; everyone is welcome here”. Pile O’ Bones will be attending the WCP Cup in Regina, which is a large and successful open soccer tournament held each year in the EventPlex. It will hopefully be a great opportunity for “10 guys to go and make a little show”. They have a “plan to go and pull out the Canadian chants and give some information” about the CPL and Pile O’ Bones.
Project Manager, CPL
The little band of soccer pioneers were very excited to have Paul Beirne as a part of the conference call, and freely peppered him with questions. Beirne was a great sport, and did his best to answer the many queries that flew at him; although some answers were understandably not forthcoming due to the need for nondisclosure by the league. One of the main messages that Beirne had for the group was to keep moving forward, keep driving enthusiasm. “I heard some people say we’re not doing much until we have more information”, he said, “I can tell you that owners get really energized when they hear that things are happening out there in their city”. He explained how “it’s almost a mutual appreciation society. The owners want to get some feedback and hear they’re doing something that people like”. Beirne also encouraged all of the groups to get involved in recruitment. He expressed how each supporters group should “be representative of whatever your community represents”, and encouraged the groups to think about ways to recruit.
When asked about any forthcoming announcement, Beirne explained that “we’re purposely at a quiet time”. He went on to encourage the group by saying “you can take some energy from the fact that we are in this quiet time and are very busy”. Since there is “no blueprint for how to start a professional league like this”, a lot of work needs to be done. He did explain that we should hopefully be able to see an announcement in the coming months. Beyond that, 2026 is the lightning rod for the movers and shakers of the CPL. The hope is that the CSA will be able to make a solid bid to host the World Cup in 2026, and “we’ve got to improve the Canadian player pool to the degree that we’ve earned a place in that global conversation”.
On the growth of the league after its inception, Beirne is confident that in 10 years time the league will have 12 clubs participating. He anticipates that the league will start with 6, grow to eight quickly, and then continue to grow. When asked if he can confirm the league will start with 6 teams, Beirne said “No, that’s a variable. But if I was a betting man I’d say 6, but we’d know who the 7th and 8th are”. When asked about the Voyageurs Cup, Beirne tantalized the group by simply saying “There’s a really good reason for optimism in that tournament, but I can’t tell you more”.
For now, those driving the Supporters movement for the CPL must be satisfied with the comfort that Paul Beirne and the CSA continue to work toward kickoff. The coming together of these groups is a step in the right direction in mobilizing the nation behind the beautiful game, and hopefully preparing Canada for the CPL’s success.