So, this weekend is kinda massive for me. No, it's not just because of the new Avengers movie - the club I love dearly, even more than the Whitecaps, is back from the dead starting this Saturday.
As we mentioned on Episode #74 of From The Backline, the Highlanders returned to life thanks to the efforts of former coaches Dave Dew and Marvin Diercks, who purchased the assets and brand rights to the team. The team itself is a shadow of its former depth - no women's program, no youth academy - but that's understandable when you consider the coaches are doing this unpaid. As the official supporters' group, the Lake Side Buoys, put it in their March 26th post:
Dave and Marvin will be coaching and heading up the VOLUNTEERS to run the team. ... These guys see themselves as caretakers of the club. I commented that they were more "Vancouver 86ers" than "Whitecaps" and they both laughed and nodded in agreement.
There's a reason this strikes a chord with me, and it's not simply because the team is back. When the USL PDL iteration of the Highlanders moved from Bear Mountain Stadium in Langford to Royal Athletic Park in Victoria, they did so alongside the announcement of a community part-ownership of the club. If you held season tickets, you owned a part of the club. While that aspect never quite panned out as we'd hoped, the thought that I could walk down the street and see a local club that I'm invested in not just because I scream obscenities at opposing players but because I hold a legitimate stake in the club was (and is) a powerful motivator. I bought season tickets - the first time I'd ever done so for any sport - the night of that announcement. This wasn't just a club - now it was my club. Fast forward to 2015 and the idea that a volunteer coaching staff would pick up the reins and keep the team going is about the closest thing to reclaiming that vision of a team entrenched in the community short of a supporters' trust.
Which brings me to this weekend - a 4pm match against Kamloops on Saturday, followed by a 12pm match against Abbotsford on Sunday. For those of you on Vancouver Island, I cannot recommend a matchday experience at Royal Athletic Park enough. Open air, quality local soccer and a boisterous supporters' section make for an excellent afternoon. I'll be there, kit on, scarf raised, throat likely hoarse after 30 minutes and loving every minute of it. As I said off the top, the Victoria Highlanders are above the Vancouver Whitecaps in my sports pantheon every day of the week. I've taunted Bryce Alderson, disparaged Caleb Clarke and made funny voices towards Sean Melvin. I've been despondent over Marco Carducci's heroics in securing the Juan de Fuca Plate, and jubilant (and, let's be honest, super-gloating) over the stalwart defensive play and leadership of Tyler Hughes which led to the Highlanders winning the Plate back.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Victoria Highlanders have returned. Prepare for a highland invasion. You've been warned.
"It's a long ride... home on the ferry..."