2015 WWC: A Banner’s Journey Across Canada

4 Jul
MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 15:  Shueme the mascot poses for photos with fans during the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup Group A match between Canada and the Netherlands at Olympic Stadium on June 15, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  Final score between Canada and the Netherlands 1-1. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

MONTREAL, QC – JUNE 15: Shueme the mascot poses for photos with fans during the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Group A match between Canada and the Netherlands at Olympic Stadium on June 15, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Final score between Canada and the Netherlands 1-1. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Every club and country has its die-hard, dyed-in-the-wool football fans and Canada is no different. The Voyageurs are the supporter group for our national men’s and women’s teams. They show up at every game, waving their banners and flags and singing and dancing in their seats. The following article by journalist and Voyageur member Daniel Squizzato takes you inside the inner circle of this group and provides a first-hand account of what it means to be a Canadian national team supporter.

“How are we going to get the banner to Montreal?”

Beneath roiling grey clouds, the damp but energetic group of a few dozen fans is making perhaps its most important logistical decision of the day. Half an hour earlier, Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium was packed with 35,000 fans watching the closing moments of Canada’s 0-0 draw with New Zealand in Women’s World Cup action. Now, the mammoth stadium—soggy from an early-game downpour—is empty save for some lingering members of the Voyageurs, Canada’s national teams supporters group, contemplating the fate of the banner that’s followed Canadian teams across the country and around the world.

It’s eventually decided that an Edmontonian who’ll be traveling to Canada’s next World Cup game—in Montreal, four days later—will dry the banner at home before stuffing it into his luggage and heading east. Sure enough, four days later, the banner surfaces at Stade Olympique, hanging along the edge of section 107 where Canada’s most vocal fans are trying mightily to affect the home team’s chances against the Netherlands (we’ll call it a partial success—the teams played to a 1-1 draw).

The banner’s impact on the game is minimal; its value is symbolic, serving as a reminder that there is a flesh-and-blood network of people that supports our national teams from coast to coast. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that this network exists, particularly as Canadian soccer circles tend to live mostly in the semi-anonymous and semi-legitimate realm of online avatars.

But this Women’s World Cup has provided me with a first-hand reminder that when it comes to passionately supporting our national soccer teams, I’m far from alone. In nearly a decade of regularly attending Canada games, I’ve had the chance to meet dozens, if not hundreds, of fellow Canada fans from Victoria, BC, St. John’s N.L., and nearly everywhere in between. Often, the introduction is distinctly modern—“yeah, I think I recognize you from your Twitter profile picture; what’s your username again?”

Social media is, of course, the best way to stay connected for a disparate fanbase separated by thousands of kilometres. For years, “the Voyageurs” existed primarily as a message board; but this tournament presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to solidify those connections—and it was an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss.

My weeklong Women’s World Cup journey first took me from my home in rural B.C. to Edmonton for Canada’s June 11 game against New Zealand—and it began, as every game does, with the pre-game get-together and march, a group of about 50 people carrying the flags of every province and territory along Jasper Avenue while bemused businesspeople looked on with a smirk before rushing back to the real world.

Then there was bouncing and singing in the LRT station (“hey, oh hey, who’s not jumping’s not Canadian!”) before a man—inexplicably wearing a fox costume—requested some quiet and we, being good Canadians, acquiesced.

It was 3 p.m. on a Thursday, after all.

But once we got inside the stadium, well, that was our home, our wheelhouse, the place where we could truly let loose and—well, wait a minute now. Before the game begins, we get some firm directives from a trio of Edmonton police officers dropping by Section FF: Sit down. Keep quiet. No flags. There are families sitting nearby, after all. The “but this is a World Cup!” argument, predictably, falls on deaf ears.

Fear not, however—“we’re red, we’re white, we’re awfully polite.” So the potential snafu was settled in classical soccer hooligan style: with the production of an email from the organizing committee, giving us special dispensation to stand, sing and wave flags in our section.

After our run-in with the po-po and a half-hour thunderstorm delay, we could get down to the business of shredding our vocal chords and attempting to have some fun (“oh New Zealand is full of sheep, sheep and more sheep”).

I stood and chanted alongside many familiar faces—the rowdy Saskatonian with a propensity for removing his shoes, the Vancouverite who somehow kept showing up in World Cup promotional videos—and dozens of new ones who’d piled into our section as the game went on. Indeed, by the final whistle, our collection of supporters had doubled as nearby ticketholders decided that belting out the tune to “Seven Nation Army” over and over with us was infinitely more fun than passively waiting for the Mexican wave to make its way around the stadium.

The game itself against New Zealand left plenty to be desired (a scoreless draw that could easily have turned into a loss for Canada), but the attitude was upbeat. Onto Montreal we went.

Four days later, there we were again, assembled at a dive bar near Stade Olympique, with Labatt 50 flowing, the chicken schnitzel poutine flying, and the spirits soaring. There again was the shoeless Saskatonian, the “famous” Vancouverite and dozens upon dozens of eastern Canadian supporters with whom I’d gone into battle before, there to watch Canada take on the Netherlands.

“Qu’est-ce que vous chantez?” came the cry hours later, deep within the confines of Montreal’s white elephant stadium. It’s the first half of a call-and-response chant, borrowed from French club RC Lens and adapted for our colonial purposes.
“Nous chantons les rouges allez!” bellows back half of the group.

“Qu’est-ce que vous chantez?” comes the question, thrice more. We yell and bounce, not oblivious to—but also not concerned about—the presence of onlookers’ camera phones, capturing our behaviour like that of a bizarre endangered species.

Soon after we’re whisked through stadium security. Get us out of the concourse, away from the poor children. We wouldn’t want them thinking there’s more to attending a sporting event than overpriced soda and corporate-branded thundersticks.

Inside the stadium, our outrageous plan to fly a Canadian flag inside a Canadian stadium at a Canada game—a flag that had successfully passed through the security checkpoint—is quickly kiboshed by venue security. Perhaps it was for the best, though—it gave us all an unobstructed view of Canada’s first World Cup goal from open play since 2007, a solid strike from up-and-coming midfielder Ashley Lawrence to give Canada a 1-0 lead over the Dutch.

The positive energy carries through to the game’s waning moments. A long-time supporter from Ottawa, who has carried cheese curds across countless international borders for the purpose of having pre-game poutine at every far-flung Canada game he’s attended, remarks to me that the team is looking vulnerable. Sure enough,the Netherlands equalize.

Deflation, only for a moment. And then, once again, noise, a collection of Canadians wholly convinced that their tireless screaming will lead their national team onto victory.

On this occasion, the effort falls short. But once again, the Voyageurs linger in an empty, cavernous stadium to see each and every one of their national team players off the field.

There’s a melodic plea to retiring goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc to stay with the team, a chant for young star Kadeisha Buchanan to the tune of “Tequila” and an ode to Josée Belanger, who would go on to play the hero for Canada in its Round of 16 match a week later. Some of the players, likely drained from the dramatic match with the Dutch, hung around for an hour to sign autographs and meet with fans.

“We’re gonna win the Cup
We’re gonna win the Cup
And now you’re gonna believe us
And now you’re gonna believe us
And now you’re gonna believe uuuuus….
We’re gonna win the Cup!”

The tune rang out for hours on Rue Hochelaga, after Canada’s result earned it a first-place finish in their World Cup group. Whether or not those singing it (with what little remained of their voices) fully believed it at that moment is beside the point.

We’re critics and we’re cynics. But at the end of the day, we’re supporters. Why else spend thousands of dollars and fly thousands of kilometres to watch a team play?

Many of those same haggard fans made the trip down to Toronto for a men’s World Cup qualifying match the following day. The banner came with them. And when the question was raised about how it would make its way to Vancouver for the Canadian women’s next game, the “famous” Vancouverite volunteered to stuff it in his luggage for the long trip west.

While the end of the group stage sent members of the Voyageurs scattering back to their points of departure around the nation, the banner now sits in Vancouver, where Canada plays its quarter-final against England on Saturday, and where the Women’s World Cup final will be held on July 5. That piece of fabric, like the fans and teams it represents, has been on a wild journey over these last few weeks.

But the Women’s World Cup journey will undoubtedly end at BC Place in early July. Whatever happens, I’ll be there along with my fellow Voyageurs. I just hope the Canadian team will meet us there.

– hopechaser

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