Chapter 1: Halifax
The Canadian Premier League is a blast.
Do I wish more people knew about it? Of course. I want this thing to explode into the private homes of Canada and drag their inhabitants out and into the eclectic mix of stadiums by their eyeballs. Or wallets. Or something.
But on the low, I am enjoying this initial era of near anonymity. When this thing eventually blows up, my three season tickets are going to kill me (or at least my bank account). But for now, I feel like a sporting fat cat. Me – a season seat holder. Crazy.
Ok, so this is what this series is about. If you were a middle-aged sports fan, filled with near fatal levels of cynicism caused billionaire sports moguls and you were looking for a way to go home again, and then you stumbled upon a Soccer Supporters Group for a team that didn’t exist yet, and signed up, even getting one of their rarest of items, a coffee mug, but for tea – then you were in the right place at the right time for the CPL circa 2019.
Now don’t get me wrong. Your story might be as a kid whose academy got freebies for a game and you even got to be a mascot. Or maybe you were dragged out by a friend who wouldn’t shut up about it until you promised to use one of her spare tickets. Maybe your nephew plays in the league. Or maybe you’re just from Halifax. (I think everyone in that city has been to at least one game. I think the mayor checks in on you haven’t turned up – with some muscle). But what ever it was that has made you one of the few, the fun and the friendly – you are now part of one of Canada’s best kept sporting secrets.
Now I have written about this league’s shortcomings before a couple of times. And I plan to again many, many more times. That being said, getting in on the ground floor offers a lot of perks. The one I am writing about in this series is the best of them.
I have seen a Forge game in every single stadium in the CPL. Even Clarke Field.
As a result I am going to give you a peek into my travels, Road Trip-style. (I will also be creating a companion piece ranking all of the stadiums, but I digress).
I checked off my first stadium at the first ever CPL game. Tim Hortons Field – check! Since that’s the home team I won’t blather on too much. Suffice it to say, it is my easiest trip. Yet it is the stadium I have been to on time the least. Man I love marching there!
My first away day was with my partner Jannet and some intrepid souls from the Hammer as we made our way east. It just happened to also be Forge’s first ever away day. It was amazing. We had to call to get out tickets. Jannet was aghast. “I can’t just go online?” We ended up in Halifax near midnight and visited Marvin (the ticket guru) that very night, because – Halifax. (Jannet and Marvin had several calls, that covered the gamut. They talked best seats, about where Jannet’s best friends’ restaurant was in Mahone Bay. Then they talked about how Marvin used to work across the street from it. They talked soccer and I think about their parents. I am not the jealous type…but in Nova Scotia friendly is a new level) *Added note: Jannet, Sadie and I met Marvin for lunch when he was in Ontario for the Men’s Soccer Nationals. What a gem.
I remember walking to the restaurant for brunch the next day, pregame. I came across a Wanderers fan across an intersection. I did what all visitors to a new town would do. I booed him vociferously. It was only after he turned to face me that I noticed his two young kids. I felt a little like a heel. He smiled and waved and invited me to the pub for the pregame festivities. I reminded him I was booing him. He later bought me a drink.
Up The North! HFX midfielder, Aidan Daniels – FC13 Podcast
We showed up at a pub for brunch (Not the above fan’s pub, I saw him again post-game though). We sang songs. We made up new songs and sang those. The locals stared at us quizzically, then lofted some good-natured banter our way. They called us Torontonians. They knew what they were doing. One woman was especially feisty. She would buy me a drink later that day, at Dirty Nellie’s. Bob Young and his entourage arrived to surprise us. Bob stayed for pictures and shook hands. When he left, so did our bills. It was a great brunch and a nice brush with the big wigs.
We marched to the field. We sang. I booed a Wanderers’ Supporters procession. They waved and sang a little louder.
We had our own section at the stadium, kinda. We were loud. We tried to make fun of the stadium, but we were (not so secretly) charmed. I remember it was Star Wars Day, because I had our “May the Forge Be With You” sign. Folks liked it. Someone bought me a beer. Turns out we lost that game. Post-game, Jannet tried to bang on the HFX supporters’ drum by sneaking up on them and screaming, “Forge FC!” They gave her some freshly baked cupcakes. Someone offered to buy me a beer at the pub. After that it was time to head out to the bars. I remember very little from here.
The local team was at one of the bars and I tried to regale the Trinidadian contingent with one of my chants set to “Follow the Leader.” They were very impressed. No, sorry. I meant to write, they were very polite. I spoke to soccer fans who were at the game and danced with a local septuagenarian, who stole my heart. And I think my scarf too. I got lost walking to the bathroom and ended up in another bar with some locals. Again someone may have bought me a beer. And a whisky, too. It was time to go.
They say you never forget your first. But you also barely remember your first when they are that friendly and love a pub. I forgot a lot about that day. But I remember a great stadium, a friendly town, good beer and whisky, the Searles, a great location for footy, a cartoonist, Jannet making a solid case for Haligonians to accept Halifaxoids as it sounded closer to the city’s name, excellent stadium staff and one other thing. I remember Jannet and I planned our next trip to Halifax during before we left that one.
If you get a chance to travel the CPL, make this stop number one.
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