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Supporter Politics are Just as Bad as Every Other Kind of Politics

Most of my readers are the passionate fans of Canadian soccer you would expect at a blog than runs articles about how much better Ali Gerba is than Diego Maradona. But I know that a few of you casual fans find your way here from time to time. It is to your benefit that I dedicate the next paragraph, and to your sorrow that the rest of the article will be completely irrelevant. To put it bluntly, I am going to dive into the minutiae of our soccer culture that only its most hardcore adherents could possibly care about.

Canadian soccer supporters groups from coast to coast are full of some of the greatest guys and gals you'll ever meet anywhere. They're also full of guys who don't agree with each other. Like any community, we have our disagreements that boil over into arguments that rapidly escalate into feuds. These feuds can be over the important issues, like how one can best support the national team, or insignificant nonsense, like whether one's son playing in a European youth league is being maltreated by a corrupt and imbecilic Canadian Soccer Association just because he wasn't called up for a U-20 camp. It runs the gamut from the petty to the professional and everything in between.

Yesterday, a long-time Montreal Voyageur who posts by the name of Trident declared on the Voyageurs' forum that he was starting a Canadian supporters' group of his own. The group is in a nascent stage, of course, but they're Trident has stated that he has the backing of several Canadian fans who regardless object to the way the Voyageurs do things and are ready to stand behind their national team in a different way starting tomorrow against Honduras. Already, a few other Montreal-based Voyageur notables have declared their support.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, this has produced a lot of discussion, a lot of hand-wringing, and a wheelbarrow full of angst. It is, in short, Canadian supporters' politics in the finest tradition.

I want to make my opinion on Trident's new group clear off the top. I'm a proud Voyageur and don't agree for his reasons for splitting off. But I respect Trident as someone who is deeply passionate about Canadian soccer. I don't believe for a second he'd rush into starting a new supporters' group just to satisfy his ego and that he genuinely feels there's a pent-up need, at least in Quebec, that the Voyageurs aren't addressing. If he adds to the pool of Canadian supporters I sincerely wish him all the best. Although as a Voyageur I might be inclined to jealousy or territoriality, the simple truth is that if there is a large number of Canadian fans the Voyageurs aren't impressing, another group should be founded to reach them. It's like the Red Patch Boys vs. U-Sector: they may seem to be in competition, but ultimately they both want the same thing. After almost four seasons and in spite of the rivalry, having two (and with the addition of the North End Elite, three) prominent supporters groups has been better for Toronto FC than one monolith ever could have been.

What bugs me is the fact that everything related to a supporters' group in this country so easily becomes a political minefield. We have the Montreal guys accusing the Toronto guys of being self-absorbed, the Toronto guys accusing the Montreal guys of being petty and narrow-minded, the Vancouver guys mocking both groups... listen, when I am the one accusing you of regionalism you know it's getting a bit over the top. Different parts of the country have different cultures and different priorities but we ought to be able to work together on something as simple as cheering on the national teams we all love.

This factional thinking permeates almost everything our national supporters' group does. The Voyageurs were founded by a bunch of prairie guys and came into its own as a true national coalition almost by happenstance. Many, though far from all, of the most prominent Voyageurs today are Torontonians, but then again Toronto is the largest city in the country, hosts to a plurality of our national matches at all levels, and home of our largest soccer club, so of course that's going to happen. Even I, as die-hard a Westerner as you'll ever meet and one who is convinced the national team needs more of a presence in this half of the country (more on that another day), have made peace with that. The Ontario Voyageurs want to cheer Canada on to victory, and I want the same thing, and the rest is details.

This doesn't mean we should ignore our differences. As I said, if there's a corps of Canadian supporters who don't like the way the Voyageurs do business, I'd be more than happy to see them go their own way. Even if it's just disaffected Québécois supporters who feel a separate group best reflects their style of support, more power to thm. A larger, more diverse supporters' culture is a stronger supporters' culture. And a bit of rivalry can be fun, of course.

That said, let's be careful to see the difference between rivalry and civil war. Blowing minor slights or accidents into national incidents is a quick way for us all to alienate each other. Many West Coast Canadian supporters already feel dangerously alienated from their brethren to the east, pulled apart by geographical isolation and the rarity of visits from any of our national teams. If the centre of the country is tearing itself apart on top of that, if we blow everything up into a re-enactment of the Seven Years' War, we risk undoing all the tremendous growth Canadian supporters' culture has seen in the last three years, and no amount of regional pride is worth that sacrifice.