Every sport has its fans, but soccer is unique in the degree of passion and dedication that fans will go to support their club. It may sound like splitting hairs, but ask any supporter if there is a difference between being a fan and being a supporter and they will tell you that there is indeed a difference - a big difference. As professional soccer leagues such as MLS continue to grow and spread across the continent Supporter Culture grows and flourishes alongside it. Vancouver is no different from other MLS cities and the supporter scene here is definitely alive and well. The three most well known supporter's groups locally are the Vancouver Southsiders, Curva Collective and the Rain City Brigade. The Southsiders is the largest of the three groups with approximately 1,200 members as of this year. Each group has its own distinct personality as well as their own songs, chants, scarves and traditions.
Interestingly as soccer and supporter culture continues to grow we find that fans of the Vancouver Whitecaps are not just found within the limits of Metro Vancouver. Like the Vancouver Canucks and the BC Lions before them the popularity of the Whitecaps is starting to spread throughout British Columbia. Recently 86 Forever visited with Ryan Newton and Mike Corbin founders of the Nanaimo-based Georgia Strait Supporters to talk about soccer, the Whitecaps and supporter culture.
86 Forever: How long have you been a soccer fan and how did you become interested in the sport?
RN: Basically since the day I was born when my grandfather gave me a soccer ball and a Dundee United onesie! I started playing organized soccer when I was quite young and my interest continued when bad knees forced me to stop playing in my early teens. I had never really followed a team until about the mid-90s when I started to follow Manchester City.
MC: I'm a newcomer to the sport and really got interested during the 2006 World Cup when I would watch matches based upon recommendations from my colleagues and I loved it! I also support Manchester United and went to see them play at Old Trafford in 2010. I also went to Wembley to see a Euro 2012 qualifier.
86 Forever: How long have you been a fan of the Whitecaps and what got you interested?
RN: I started following them in the early 2000's when they were being shown on Shaw Cable in Nanaimo and it wasn't too long before I was hooked. When they announced they were joining MLS I was all over it because I been wanting to support a local football team in a major league for a very long time. I was a supporter instantly.
MC: I felt disgusted with myself for watching way too many TFC games during their first year in MLS in 2007, so I decided it was time to start going to Whitecaps matches. That's when I also learned about supporters culture in Canada and the Southsiders. I bought my first season tickets in 2009 and soon after started watching from the Southside. I can't imagine watching a match without standing – I mean how do people sit during a match? I have no idea! Also Swangard had a great atmosphere and the interaction with players like Jay Nolly made it a special place to watch a match.
86 Forever: What is your most memorable moment cheering for the Caps?
RN: My first ever game when the Whitecaps came back from 3 down to Sporting Kansas City. When Camilo scored the tying goal Empire Field went nuts. I took a moment to scan the crowd and I saw people of all ages and walks of life high fiving each other and cheering. That moment has been etched into my memory forever.
MC: My most memorable moment cheering for the Whitecaps would be beating TFC in 2009 and 2011. It was even made more memorable because I was booing Matt Jordan and I didn't spill my beer!
86 Forever: Who is your favorite Whitecaps player past or present and why?
RN: Gershon Koffie because of the fact that there is a bit of Canadian in him and by that I mean he plays hard, but clean. He takes a foul and gets up right away which is a quality that is lost in modern football and it's refreshing to see.
MC: Martin Nash because he was class in every way both on and off the pitch.
86 Forever: What would you like to see the Whitecaps achieve in a.) the short-term and b.) the long-term?
RN: Short-term: host a playoff game and win the Cascadia Cup. Long-term: keep developing the young talent which I believe is key in a league where you can't rely on importing players.
MC: Short-term: MLS Cup. Long-term: MLS Cups, Voyageur's Cups, Champions Leagues, Club World Cups (notice the plural of each one). Also I'd like the Whitecaps to continue to raise the standards of skill and fitness of our players because raised standards at the club level is hugely important to the future of the Canadian Men's National Team.
86 Forever: Could you describe how the GSS was formed and what you do as a group?
RN: That's a long story and no simple answer, but the short answer is that the GSS was formed over the course of 5 text messages earlier this year! There's more to this and it all basically started when I accidentally stood on the back of this guy's shoes while boarding the ferry on the first day of the 2012 season. We struck up a conversation and I was introduced to Mike. There was an immediate connection and it felt like we had all known each other for years. Since that initial meeting we've brought spouses, friends and family along as well as other supporters we've met over the years on the ferries and buses. It just keeps continuing to grow!
Most of us were Southsiders and we saw how Supporter's Culture was flourishing in the Lower Mainland and we wanted to introduce that to the Island. We wanted a name that identified with everyone from Vancouver Island as well as a logo. Nanaimo might be our base, but we have members that come down from Courtenay and as far up Island as Port McNeill. The one thing we all have in common is we travel across the Georgia Strait to matches, so it made sense to include that in our name.
There is no membership and no mandate other than getting like minded Whitecaps supporters together to have fun. We're not affiliated with any other Supporter's Groups although some of us do belong to the Southsiders and others do not and in that way we are similar to Curva Collective. People will probably have seen our scarves around BC Place and to get one of our scarves you have to be an Islander. This was done on purpose to get the supporters from the Island talking to one another. I've heard some great stories that because of the scarves people have met fellow supporters and formed solid friendships. Its stories like this that make it worthwhile.
I'd estimate that our group has a base of about 18 people, but we've had occasions when that number was as high as 30. We organize viewing parties about once a month, mostly in Nanaimo, but we also did one in Courtenay as well. They've been more successful than we ever expected and it's been really fun to do.
MC: For the first match of the Inaugural MLS season in 2011 I was travelling alone to the game and I met a couple of guys on the bus from the Comox Valley who were going to the game. I explained to them that I was going to Oscar's to pick up my Southsider's membership gear and invited them to come along. We also met a couple who had come down from Port McNeill for the match and I think that day four Southsider memberships were sold to people from the Island!
We stayed in touch from that day and over time the circle grew. I think that this is really what this Georgia Strait Supporters is all about – good friends coming together from all over Vancouver Island to support the Whitecaps.
86 Forever: Could you describe the 'personality' of the GSS?
RN: I guess it's the Islander in me, but I'd say we're pretty laid back!
MC: Friendship and humor. It's nice to be on the ferry or at Doolins and have someone come up to you to say hi and they're wearing a GSS scarf.
86 Forever: Describe any highlights you may have of supporting the Whitecaps as a member of the GSS.
RN: the first away viewing when 23 people showed up. It was our first "A-ha moment" and I knew we were onto something.
MC: for me it was the New York match we watched in Courtenay earlier this year with other GSS'ers. About 30 people showed up to watch and most of them were people I didn't know. Another highlight was the trip Ryan and I made down to Victoria to watch the U23's take on the Victoria Highlanders as part of the Juan de Fuca Plate. It was nice to experience what the Lakeside Buoys are up to down there and it is a trip I would like to do again next year.
86 Forever: Huge Cascadia match in Portland this weekend. What is your prediction?
RN: I can say I'm glad I'm not the coach this week! Kenny Miller is more than likely not going to start so I fear we will be lining up to play for a draw. The X-Factor in all this is Kekutah Manneh. He deserves a start and playing out wide with his pace will be key. If he plays well then we will win and if not we're in for a long night. Final score: 2-1 Vancouver.
MC: Let's just say I am pleased with all the positive Karma the Whitecaps have received this season against Seattle at home, New York away and Portland at home... we're due for a break if you catch my drift!
86 Forever would like to thank Ryan and Mike for dropping by to talk to us. To learn more about the Georgia Strait Supporters click here
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