We call him Jersey Boy. He comes with Pie Girl and stands up behind us. A great guy, he's usually wearing the jerseys of other teams, usually big European clubs. Last night it was an Ibrahimovich shirt from Inter Milan. He gets a good ribbing from me from time to time, because it is a bit of a joke to show up at a Whitecaps match with another team's jersey on your back. But Jersey Boy is alright. He has a few Whitecaps ones as well, and he's a fierce Whitecaps supporter, singing the full ninety.
We give him a hard time because there is a phenomenon out there that I and others find a bit confusing. Often we see people coming to Whitecaps matches wearing the shirts of other teams: often big Euro outfits like Chelsea, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus. Last night behind me there was a Santos shirt, which I found cool in a bewildering way. The only time we find this vaguely acceptable is when it relates to a Whitecaps player, like the guy who sometimes wears a Pedro Morales Malaga jersey, or the Tico couple who came to watch Kendall Waston wearing his Saprissa number.
But in general I'm not sure what people are saying when they wear another team's jersey at a Whitecaps match. I think it is actually a kind of longing for connection with a team that they follow but have never seen. It is the idea that you can come to a Whitecaps match and, if you believe just hard enough, it might feel like Stamford Bridge. Sometimes they even try to start chants from those grounds. While I'm sure your spite for West Ham is noble, it's a bit misplaced when we're playing Columbus.
Football is such a global phenomenon, people who have never been within five thousand miles of Manchester declare themselves United supporters and many times I've been mocked for my support for our inferior local product. But what these folks don't understand is the nature of real support - it's not simply a matter of following your team in the standings and watching them early on a Saturday morning. It's about the fundamental difference between a passive consumer of a product and a participant in your local community.
When it's really on, support is an intimate connection with your local side, no matter what the level of play. The Whitecaps are our local side. We run into the players on the street, shake their hands after a game, tweet at them, congratulate them. And they respond. We have a relationship, and it's emotional and real. When we won the Voyageurs Cup a couple of weeks ago, we were joined in that amazing feeling of having stuck with our guys for thirteen years and being vindicated for our support. It was a trophy that mattered to us almost more than the players themselves. They won it for us.
"Yes but the Premier League/La Liga/Bundesliga is the best football in the world." Of course it is. But why then are there supporters for every other club in England? You think our new friends at Grimsby Town don't know that there is better quality football played in their country? Why do they go out on a Tuesday night away at Chester to watch their team play? Because when Paddy Amond headed home the equalizer with the last touch of the game, it was genuine excitement for a group of people who have built and sustained their local club for years, including raising the money to buy the players that would get them back into the Football League. Their club is a key part of who they are as a community. Mariners. Cod fishermen united in sorrow and dismay punctuated by odd moments of elation. Because football is still largely a sport played by local clubs, with local players, supported by local people. Because when you gather with hundreds or thousands of your fellow supporters, you bond together and express what it means to be participating in a community, and not simply a part of a segmented market demographic. You create a sense of belonging, rather than the suffering the alienation that comes with being a consumer in a "market" watching the "on-field product."
For sure, MLS is an distortion and even an exploiter of that local sentiment, but the Whitecaps are more than simply an astroturfed franchise of a centralized league (hello LAFC!). They have a 40 year pedigree as a local club that predates the creation of the MLS by more than 20 years. They are a part of the century-old soccer history in Vancouver. They are ours, no matter what patch is on the shirt sleeve.
Last night it was amazing to see the supporters of CD Olimpia opposite us. It might well have been one of the biggest away supporters sections I've ever seen at BC Place. There are a lot of Hondurans in this area, many of them with deep family ties to Olimpia, and they were there in force, cheering on their far distant home town, the heroes wearing the shirts they grew up, playing for the club that means so much to them, for the city they no longer live in, for the country that formed them.
To the young Canadian guy I saw wearing the Arsenal shirt last night, I wonder what he was thinking? Did he even see what was going on? He stood in the back of the supporters section, arms folded across his chest, hoping perhaps, that if he squinted hard enough, he might see Olivier Giroud materialize on the turf at BC Place. But the magic never comes until you change your shirt colour and start to sing. And then you see what I mean.
It's fine to follow a big club, but look what's in front of you. A local team, top of the league, top of their Champions League group, 2015 Canadian Champions, on the verge of winning a sixth Cascadia Cup, with a good shot at the MLS Cup. This is the best season for our local team in a generation. The players love us and the feeling is mutual. There is something very special happening at BC Place this year
Come out and join us. Get behind them. Come and stand and sing with us. Be a part of this. You'll be more than forgiven for properly getting on our bandwagon.
And leave your Messi shirt at home.