With the start of the 2019 inaugural season of the Canadian Premier League approaching I thought I would take this opportunity to share my supporting experience while in Europe, and my hope for the new club in Winnipeg.
Securing my Ticket
In April 2016 I was fortunate enough to secure tickets to an Arsenal match while I was over in England. Now I should say I am a hardcore supporter of Arsenal Football club and have been for over 25 years. As a supporter of Arsenal, you can only get tickets through being a member of an official supporter’s club. After sending a request to Arsenal Canada, it was a few days until I was given the news that the Arsenal North Wiltshire Supporters club had a ticket for me!
April 28, 2016: Stadium Tour
I will never forget my first encounter at The Emirates Stadium, I remember it like it was yesterday! I got off the Tube at Arsenal station and walked into a nice quiet suburb in North London, I looked down the street and through a few trees I could see the emblem I love! On this day I had a stadium tour with a Club Legend Nigel Winterburn as a guide, walking around the stadium talking about his experiences was amazing, and reliving his famous goal against Chelsea in 1997.
April 30, 2016: GAME DAY!
This was an amazing experience as a supporter. On game day I decided not to do anything during the day, I was way too excited! I decided that I would head to north London early that day as I was scheduled to meet up with Danny Cross at Tollington Pub before the game to pick up my ticket. Again, I took the tube from Victoria Station to Arsenal Station, however when I walked onto the same street, the quiet suburb was transformed into a block party: there were food venders, and kiosks up and down the street, an amazing sight! After walking up and down the street feeling at home with 1000s of likeminded supporters I decided to head to the pub.
The Tollington Pub
After thinking about how I wanted to write this blog, I decided that the pub deserved its own section. Not mentioned above, I did visit the pub before my stadium tour a few days earlier, it was a quite English pub with tables, chairs, and a full menu of British Pub classics. On game day, however, this pub was PACKED!! Above the door read a sign “HOME FANS ONLY, OVER 18s ONLY, no children on match days – sorry” and to get in you had to be wearing home kit or produce a home supporter ticket! Once inside all the tables and chairs had been removed, and there was only standing room. One of the best things was asking to sit at a patio table with fellow supporters whom I have never met, but we had so much to talk about! They were instant friends and they flew in from South Africa for the match.
I met Danny outside the pub at the scheduled time, and like the two mates from South Africa, we instantly had so much in common. He asked me to join him for a few pints before the match! We discussed a whole load of Gunner stuff from “Wenger In or Out” to the possibility of winning the league again.
After enjoying a couple of pints with Danny and his wife, we headed back towards the stadium. Once at our seats behind the goal, I was amazed at the atmosphere! Don’t get me wrong, I knew what to expect, however living it was an amazing experience. For the full 90 minutes of the match I did not sit in the seat once! We were chanting, cheering, singing, berating, yelling, and laughing! I remember yelling at the official with some very colourful language and a little girl 2 rows down turned to me with the look of horror on her face, I immediately expressed my apologies, when the man beside me grabbed my arm and said “don’t be sorry mate, there is a family section at the other end of the pitch, you just let loose and enjoy yourself.” He was cut off by a chant “in Wenger we trust!” The match was tied until Arsenal’s sub Danny Welbeck had a 59th minute goal, to which 60,000 supporters erupted in joy, and it would be the only goal of the match. As if it was over in the blink of an eye, everyone was shaking hands and within minutes of the end whistle from the head official the stadium was empty!
The latter part of my trip I was in Malta, while there I also had a unique Supporters experience. I was invited to join the Maltese Arsenal Supporters to view the match. In Malta, the supporters club actually have a club house, and they also produce a monthly magazine devoted to Arsenal for their members! The club house was full of Arsenal mementos, and all the match day programs from the past 30 years! I was charged 2 Euros as I was an outside member to the club, it had a bar, and a huge screen for the game to be projected on.
Now here we are in April 2018, Red River Rising is positioned to be the official supporters club for the Winnipeg club of the Canadian Premier League, which is slated to start in April 2019! Will this be the MLS, or EPL? No, it is unrealistic to believe that the CanPL will hit the ground with full momentum, however we, as supporters, could build this league into whatever we want! If we understand the time commitment we are signing up for (10 years seems to be the consensus), the CanPL could become a major development ground for Canadian and international talent, who know where it will level out! I hope to see the culture grow around this club/league, meeting a location near IGF before the match, enjoying the banter of fellow supporters, having a pint in anticipation of the match, marching as a supporters group to the stadium, working with the club to make the experience amazing for all that support it, and showing/teaching Winnipeg what supporting footy is all about!