While the Canadian Premier League is still taking shape, James Hutton is well ahead of the game.
Hutton is president of the Barton Street Battalion, a supporters group preparing for the return of soccer to Hamilton. Other groups across the country are doing the same, hoping their city will also get a team when the CPL kicks off.
Hutton, a 26-year-old with a degree in marketing, used to meet up with friends to watch Toronto FC games locally in Hamilton. But when talk of a Canadian domestic league surfaced, with Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young a key backer, the group switched focus.
'If you want to come out and hang out with us, buy a scarf or a hat and grab a pint. It's as simple as that.' - James Hutton
"Within the group, we all said 'Would we support Hamilton over Toronto?' and the unanimous answer was yes," Hutton said.
In February 2016, Hutton's group sat down with the Ticats to talk soccer. There wasn't a lot of knowledge to share but it spurred the group on.
They came up with a logo, scarves and a name -- the Barton Street Battalion, after the main road that passes by Tim Hortons Field.
"It's just a collection of soccer fans who all believe in making Hamilton a soccer city," Hutton said.
Paul Beirne, who was a Day 1 staffer with Toronto FC, is overseeing the creation of the CPL. He says the Barton Street
Battalion is part of a wave of supporters groups that want to be part of their team and its culture.
"James, to his credit, has become a resource to these groups all across the country," said Beirne.
Good for the game
Winnipeg, the other city already promised a CPL franchise, has its own supporters' group called Red River Rising.
And there are supporters groups in Calgary, Fraser Valley, B.C., Halifax (Wanderers), Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. (Grand River Union), London, Ont., Mississauga, Ont. (Sauga City Collective), Quebec City, Regina (Pile O Bones), Saskatoon (Bridge City Firm) and Toronto.
Fans in Edmonton and Ottawa are watching to see whether FC Edmonton (North American Soccer League) and Ottawa Fury FC (United Soccer League) remain with their current leagues.
"It's not just about 'my local club in Winnipeg,' it's also about the good of the game across the country," said Beirne.
The CPL is still in its formative stages, with 10 employees. But it has been sanctioned as a member of the Canadian Soccer
Association, as have teams in Winnipeg and Hamilton.
The league has said it won't start with fewer than six teams with Beirne saying: "We have significantly more teams than that that we're working on."
The hope is the league will kick off in 2018 although no date has been announced yet. Beirne expects more teams to come on board later.
A boost to developing talent
Canada coach Octavio Zambrano is already a believer, saying the new league will be crucial to developing young talent.
"The starting of the CPL is really going to be the difference-maker in Canada as a soccer country," said the Ecuador
Hutton's group -- a core of 20 regulars shows up -- holds regular pub nights as well as viewing parties for Canada games. There is no membership fee.
"If you want to come out and hang out with us, buy a scarf or a hat and grab a pint. It's as simple as that," said Hutton.
Open to all
They meet regularly with the Ticats and the CFL team has allowed them to set up a booth at its home games and talk up the CPL.
"I can't speak highly enough about the relationship we've forged with the Ticats," said Hutton.
Hutton believes there are soccer hotbeds throughout the city and hopes the CPL team will tie them all together. He has talked to MLS supporters group in Toronto and Vancouver as well as some in the U.S. to pick their brains.
Anyone can come on board the Battalion.
"As long as you want to come out and stand and sing and have good time doing it, then you're more than welcome with us," Hutton said.
Hamilton has soccer history. The Steelers, part of the Canadian Soccer League, were once home to Canadian internationals Geoff Aunger, Alex Bunbury, Paul Fenwick, Gerry Gray and Mark Watson, as well as England's Justin Fashanu.
Past men's national champions include Hamilton Westinghouse (1920) and the Steelers (1986).