On the bus with a group of fans, some rowdies, some youth, some diehard supporters, some staff members, and even some first-timers. You couldn’t ask for a better mix.
This is the first time on the road as one since the first away game at York9. And while York Lions Stadium remains the easiest away day, it has lost a little of its novelty. It’s still a fun game, but it is usually a car ride to the stadium, then a drive directly back home. The area doesn’t lend itself to an extended day of pre-game pubs or restaurants. The stadium itself is a little nondescript. It feels exactly like the shared home of a university; an MLS development squad; and a CPL side struggling to hit its stride.
So this trip was a little different right from the start.
As we packed the drums and piled onto the bus, the buzz of our excitement was obvious. Everyone was all smiles, chatter and anticipation. We didn’t know quite what to expect, but we were eager to experience it. I won’t say we stayed at that fevered pitch for the duration of the five-hour plus drive, there were a couple of lulls, but it was fun. And it was evident that we were all in the mood for a footballing adventure. Forge’s staff worked tirelessly with us to make this trip happen, and even shared some of our antics on their media channels, which is always fun.
But there were bigger perks to come.
At the pre-game meetup, the travelling support was introduced to Bob Young and Costa Smyrniotis of Forge. And a very special opportunity was presented to the group that only recently became possible, a chance to talk to the commissioner.
I know Caretaker Bob comes off around the league as a kind of arch-villain, because he “owns the league,” but I cannot express how far from that archetype the man is in person. He sat down at every table on the patio and engaged the supporters in conversation. Sure, about the team, but also about themselves and what brought them out to Forge games. He ended each conversation with an earnest “thank you for making the trip.” He makes you feel appreciated and needed as a supporter. It might seem hokey, but when you are with him as a fan, it is cool.
The commissioner was also open and accessible, which was nice. In my capacity as a fan, he wanted to know what I wanted to see improve. And to his credit, he didn’t flinch from uncomfortable truths or difficult realities. He had suggestions and ideas to share. I can’t wait for the opportunity to speak to him not as a fan, but as a writer (working on it).
A happy gang, sufficiently fed and watered then made our way to the stadium. Security was pleasant, respectful and curious – but not overzealous. A really good example of how the league can work with their fans. Top marks.
TD Place itself is awesome. It’s hard to imagine how they could do it any better (actually I guess a grass pitch would do it). The location is so great. So much to do before and after the game – restaurants, pubs, shopping, etc. It has great sight lines and you feel close to the pitch. It has all the amenities you’d expect from a modern professional stadium.
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What really makes it of course is the fans. And the Supporters didn’t disappoint. They are loud. They bounce. And they are young, diverse and active. Full credit to Capital City SG and Bytown Boys SG. They have created a solid community out there. It showed on their recent trip to York, but it really comes to life at home. Being invited to the pub after the game is what CPL SGs do best – letting fans put aside the rivalries of the 90 minutes plus of games and share in their love of the game and its camaraderie.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Barton Street Battalion and friends were in full voice. We brought energy (and the aforementioned drums). The players took notice. And Bobby’s shout-out to the fans in his post-game comments was a testament to that.
Fans who only knew each other through Twitter accounts or on Facebook, or as the person they bump into in the concession line at Tim Horton’s Field occasionally, got the chance to make a few new friends and have a few more meaningful conversations.
I don’t know what exactly I expected out of the first large-scale, long-distance Battalion bus trip, but what we got was beyond what I hoped for.
This league is growing. We all recognize how special it is to be a part of it.
Oh, by the way, the game ended in a somewhat controversial draw.
Can’t wait for next year.
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