When I was ten years old, my father got a job transfer which sent us as a family from Toronto to Cheshunt, a small town just north of London in the UK. The first day I stepped out of my house I was greeted by a small group of boys in shorts, hands on hips staring at me.
"Ooojyu s'por'?" the biggest one said.
"Pardon?" I say in my meekest Canadian voice.
'Oooo J-yu suppor'?" He asked me again slowly. Ah. Who do I support? I had no idea what he was talking about. I shrugged.
"Well, it's iva Spurs or Arsenal, and it ain't Arsenal." He waited for an answer.
"Spurs," I said, logically.
"Right. You're wiv us." And those were my first mates.
Living as a boy in 1978 England, my dad was really reluctant to take my brother and I to football matches which at that time were often dangerous places to be. I never went to a first devision match in England, despite only living 8 miles from White Hart Lane, so although I fell in love with the team, I never had that visceral experience of supporting them live. But on Match of the Day, Saturday nights, there they were from time to time. And one day watching a match from Anfield, I noticed that unlike the hockey games i watched growing up, there was something else, a noise, an energy coming from the stands, a choir of equal parts support for their team and outright intimidation for their opponent. From time to time, a camera would cut to supporters in the Kop, massive smiles on their faces, singing together. Amazing. I wanted to feel that. I wanted to be a part of that.
I left England to return to Canada in 1981 and it was hard to follow football then from overseas. I came back home, went back to hockey and other than the World Cup Finals, or the FA Cup finals that were shown on TV, I really lost track of what was going on. Being one of the affectatious families without cable, I had no way to really watch football until the dawn of dodgy Russian streaming sites. It was only in 2007, disillusioned with hockey after the NHL lockout that I got back into the sport. My son had started playing and our little club on Bowen Island was thriving. I started watching and playing a little and, after the 2008 Championship, occasionally heading over to Swangard to watch Whitecaps matches.
My first match at Swangard, my son and I were sat in the stands surrounded by families and cheering along with Spike. But we were close to the south end of the grandstand and just to our right was a helluva a party, and it reminded me of the feeling I had listening to the Kop sing their hearts out for Liverpool back in the 1980s. Even my 9 year old son was drawn to it. At the second half we wandered over to the flags and the jeering and the carrying on, and we stood nearby and we soaked it up. In subsequent matches we always stood near the Southsiders, learned a few songs and joined in.
In 2011 when we moved to MLS, we got season's tickets supposed to be located near the Southside but not in it. Because of the weird way tickets were situated that first year, our Empire seats ended up being on the opposite corner from the Southsiders, a location my then 10 year old son nicknamed "The Library" because people kept telling him to sit down and be quiet. We started just heading to the Southside anyway, standing at the back of the section, my kids sitting on the tarps, me standing in front of them.
Both of my kids and I were in that position during the 2011 visit of Sporting KC, a famous game in which the Caps tied the match in the dying minutes with two late goals. The atmosphere was electric. We got hooked. We joined the Southsiders. And never looked back.
I am now an unapologetic ambassador for the Southsider experience. That terrific atmosphere that people experience at BC Place is as fun to make as it is to hear. This year a bunch of us are going to be trying all kinds of ways to get new people interested in what we are doing. We'd love to have more supporters join us in our section, and participate. Creating a participatory culture is very hard in Vancouver, but we have seen many initially shy people come and eventually join in. We would love to have YOU join us. If you want to a guide or you need someone to connect with, proceed directly to the top of 253 where a bunch of us informally known as the Pigeon Casuals will gladly welcome you with song sheets and flags. Or you can head down to where the drums are, where you can join our group on the spot, acquire one of our new scarves and quickly learn the chants.
All throughout the Southside are people that will encourage you to join in. We are inclusive, welcoming, friendly and rowdy in support of our team. Come and have a good time.
Joining the Southsiders is easy and this year, we are making it as easy as possible to be a part of what were doing. Here are a few easy ways to check us out:
- Come by Doolin's before the match and have a pint with us and say hi. We'll always have a membership table there where you can meet folks and buy a membership
- Join us on the march which leaves Doolins usually 45-60 minutes before kickoff
- buy a ticket in our sections 251-253 and come and stand with us
- grab a song sheet if you don't know the chants and ask anyone to teach you a few
- grab a flag to wave from our bin located at the front of our section. We have tons to lend out.
- join us at http://members.vancouversouthsiders.ca/user/login where you can buy a membership which will get you discounts on food, merchandise, away tickets and away travel and various events throughout the season.